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Fumsn565 2022 04 27

What to Watch for: Hyundai Monterey Sports Car Championship Presented by Motul

The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Sports Cars at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca This Weekend

By David Phillips

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Yet another dimension to the 2022 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship comes into play at this weekend’s Hyundai Monterey Sports Car Championship Presented by Motul.

Like Daytona International Speedway’s unique road course that encompasses nearly the entire 2.5-mile oval, the rugged runways of Sebring International Raceway and the confines of the Long Beach street circuit, WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca has plenty of left and right turns.

But the 2.238-mile circuit overlooking California’s Monterey Bay offers IMSA competitors new twists and turns or, to be more precise, new hills and dales. The schedule’s first natural-terrain road course, WeatherTech Raceway features elevation changes galore from the downhill entry to the Andretti Hairpin and the climb exiting Turn 6 to the dizzying drop down the Corkscrew. Add a mix of tight corners, sweepers and medium-speed bends and you have one of North America’s most challenging racetracks.

In recent years, these hills, dales, corners, sweepers and bends have been dominated by Daytona Prototype international (DPi) Acura ARX-05s of assorted colors. In ’19 and ’20 they were the colors of Team Penske; last year saw Wayne Taylor Racing’s Acura first to the checkered flag. So, any oddsmaker would have to put the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura and the No. 60 Acura of Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian as the heavy favorites this weekend.

And yet … after stumbling in the season opener, Cadillac Racing is on a two-race winning streak, the last featuring a 1-2 finish for the No. 01 and No. 02 Caddy DPi V.Rs fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing. Nor should the Whelen Engineering Racing Caddy be overlooked, given that the No. 31 Cadillac finished on the podium at WeatherTech Raceway each of the past three seasons. Speaking of podiums, JDC Miler MotorSports will be looking to score its fourth podium in as many tries this season and indeed is fully capable of putting the No. 5 Cadillac in victory lane.

The GT Daytona (GTD) history is more (make that much more) mixed. Porsche is the defending GTD winner, as the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports 911 GT3 R took the victory last year, backed up by the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche in third spot. Similarly, Acura NSX GT3s finished first and third at WeatherTech Raceway in ’20 and, continuing that theme, Lamborghini Huracán GT3s were first and third in ’19.

If more evidence of the fierce GTD competition is needed, two other marques – BMW and Ferrari – graced the podium in ’20 and ’19, respectively. So far this season, it’s been the typical GTD free-for-all with the No. 16 Wright Porsche, the No. 47 Cetilar Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 and the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing BMW M4 GT3 winning at Daytona, Sebring and Long Beach, respectively, and only Team Korthoff Motorsports’ No. 32 Mercedes-AMG GT3 making the podium more than once.

Suffice to say, your chances of picking this week’s GTD victor are only slightly better than winning the next Powerball.

Per usual for 2022, this will be the first visit to WeatherTech Raceway for the new GTD PRO class. Given that the GTD and GTD PRO cars are identical, to some extent we can look to the GTD record for a hint of what’s to come this weekend.

With ’21 WeatherTech Raceway GTD winner Pfaff moving to GTD PRO, the No. 9 Porsche figures to be a favorite – assuming lightning (or in their case, a rogue lug nut) doesn’t strike twice. Corvette Racing looked to be well on its way to winning at Long Beach before one of the No. 3 Corvette C8.R GTD’s wheel nuts went into a shallow orbit on pit lane, while The Heart of Racing Team will be out to prove the No. 23 Aston Martin Vantage GT3 can win without unwitting assists from its closest competitors even as BMW, Lexus and Mercedes look to make their first visit to victory lane in ’22.

As for Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2), there can really only be one favorite, namely PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports. After all, the team is looking for a WeatherTech Raceway grand slam after capturing class honors in ’19, ’20 and ’21 at what is effectively the Fresno-based team’s home circuit.

On the other hand, a couple of those wins were not exactly in the face of overwhelming opposition, given that the No. 52 ORECA LMP2 07 was the only LMP2 entrant in ’20 and one of just two cars to contest the class the previous year. That said, PR1 Mathiasen won again last year against deeper competition and, more recently, bested eight other LMP2 competitors at Sebring this year after placing fourth at Daytona. Of course, that was with a different driver lineup than what the No. 52 will field at WeatherTech Raceway.

Stiff opposition is sure to come from 2022 Rolex 24 At Daytona class winner DragonSpeed USA’s No. 81 ORECA, particularly as the team looks to rebound from an early exit at Sebring when Juan Pablo Montoya crashed trying to avoid a spinning car. Montoya – who drove to victory in Acura Team Penske’s aforementioned 2019 DPi win at WeatherTech Raceway – is back with Henrik Hedman in the No. 81 this week.

All told the WeatherTech Championship’s first taste of a natural-terrain road course in 2022 will be well worth watching. If you can’t watch it from the hills and bleachers overlooking WeatherTech Raceway, be sure to catch the action on NBC at 3 p.m. ET Sunday.