Laguna Seca is one of those circuits every driver wants to get right. Forget the heritage, the great names to have turned a wheel in years gone by, and memories of darker days in motorsport. Fact of the matter is that Laguna Seca is one of the most technically challenging circuits in North America, meaning six hours will start to take its toll quickly on driver and machine.
And given how close it is at the top of the American Le Man Series standings, nobody can afford that. From the series’ five racing categories, the gap from first place to second at its highest is just 14 points. Indeed, in the LMP1, GT and GTC divisions, the top two teams are tied for the lead. A slip up in California would be a tough hurdle to overcome as the season progresses.
Despite an eleventh hour mechanical failure at Sebring cruelly denying them the chance to fight for victory, Muscle Milk Pickett Racing has entered the 2012 ALMS season swinging. Spoils at Long Beach went Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr’s way after a feisty battle with Guy Smith and Chris Dyson in the Dyson Racing Team entry, and the duo will be looking to eek out a lead at the Mazda Raceway and put the memories of a bad weekend last year firmly to bed.
Dyson and Smith will be sure to push them all the way though. Fortune may have shined down on them in Sebring but their category win was no less deserved. The Dyson team has a Championship to defend after all, and given the demonstrative pace of the Lola-Mazda thus far this season, they clearly don’t plan on letting it go lightly.
There are similarities in the ever-intensifying battle in the GT division. Reigning Champions BMW Team RLL took victory in a hard-fought Sebring 12hrs during which their closest rivals – Corvette Racing’s Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner – fell short. But already Joey Hand and Dirk Muller are bolstering a strong partnership, and though victory in Long Beach ultimately went the way of the Chevy duo (Milner’s first in the series, by the way), the BMW M3 is fast establishing itself as a potentially dominant weapon on-track. After a particularly close battle for the top spot in Long Beach, Gavin and Milner will be looking to hit the ground running this weekend.
Level 5 Motorsport has stolen a march in LMP2 after two formidable victories in 2012. So far Christophe Bouchut’s endurance racing experience has proven invaluable (he’s raced at the Le Mans 24hr every year since 1993) to team owner and team-mate Scott Tucker against closest rivals Martin Plowman and David Heinemeier Hansson in the Conquest Endurance Morgan. The chances of a hat trick for the HPD ARX-03b in the early stages of the season are already looking good.
Peter Le Saffre and Damien Faulkner in the Green Hornet Racing will be looking to distance themselves from Alex Job Racing’s Cooper MacNeill and Leh Keen in the GTC Porsche 997 GT3 standings – whose sister Lotus entry in the GT category will be looking for better luck after a disappointing Long Beach bow – while CORE Autosport look to increase the gap back to Muscle Milk’s sister LMPC outfit.
How fans will react come raceday to the Laguna event being bumped from its traditional season-closing spot is anybody’s guess. Chances are though, under the baking California sun and with so much still to play for on-track, they’ll be few people complaining in the grandstands.
Shots of last year’s ALMS Laguna Seca event courtesy of Camden Thrasher