The Visit Florida Racing #90 Ligier JS P217 rebounded from their headquarters being flooded in Florida after Hurricane Irma, by taking their first win of 2017. at Laguna Seca. A gutsy strategy call on the final pitstop, combined with a daring move into the Corkscrew from Renger Van Der Zande sealed the win.
“I don’t think this could’ve come at a better time.” said Marc Goosens, Van Der Zande’s co-driver. The Florida outfit had to rebound from a rough start of the year, and even a mid-season car change to their current Ligier JSP2-17.
Second place in Prototype was the #31 Wheel Engineering Cadillac of Dane Cameron and Eric Curran. The #31 was able to leapfrog the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac which had lead most of the race thanks to a great pitstop from the team with 41 minutes remaining. They remained in the lead until the fantastic move from Van Der Zande in the #90 going into the Corkscrew with just over two minutes remaining.
The #90 VFR Ligier took just two tyres on their final stop, a strategy that had been on the table for most teams but ended up only being executed by the #90. From there the #90 hunted down the #31, finding a gap going into the Corkscrew when the #31 got stuck behind slower GT traffic. Van Der Zande, now in clean-air, was able to check out from the Cadillac and would bring the car home after leading just two laps.
The #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac finished third, despite a strong first stint from Ricky Taylor, Stephen Simpson in the #85 JDC-Miller Oreca came home in fourth after a late race battle with Joao Barboso promoted the team’s 07 into P4.
Laguna Seca was the home race for the #52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier, the team based just two hours away in Fresno, California. Despite some time out front on strategy and speed from Olivier Pla the #52 managed just a seventh place finish. Coming home sandwiched between the two Extreme Speed Motorsports Nissans.
The freshly painted all-black #24 RLL BMW came home at the top of the classification in the always competitive GTLM class. The BMW M6 driven by John Edwards and Martin Tomczyk was dead last overall before they could even make it to Turn 2 on the opening lap, after being turned around and having to wait for everyone to pass by before safely rejoining the track. From there it was an uphill battle for the #24.
Tomczyk was quick to commend his co-driver in the post-race interview saying “”He [Edwards] did an amazing job. He could keep the pace, he did everything he needed to.” “I’m really happy and proud…” Tomczyk said, adding that this win was his first in the states, “so let’s celebrate.”
Second place in class was the #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari who snuck by the #911 Porsche in the race’s final minutes. Toni Vilander, who qualified the car was able to close the two second gap between him and the #24 BMW in just one lap, and even challenged the BMW with a last lap drag race to the checkered.
Dirk Werner brought home his #911 Porsche 911 RSR in third, with the Antonio Garcia closing out the #3 Corvette’s day in fourth.
The sister Corvette – the #4 with Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin had a tough day – with Turn 1, Lap 1 contact damaging their rear spoiler that warranted repairs, putting that car off the pace. They still managed to finish the two hour and forty minute race, though ninth, and last in class finish.
The only major off-track excursion for any GTLM cars was Bill Auberlin in the #25 BMW who went into the sand at Turn 3, and after beaching the car brought out the race’s only Full-Course Yellow with just over an hour remaining. The #25 came home eight in class, beating only the aforementioned Corvette.
It was an extremely emotional victory for Alessandro Balzan and his teammate Christina Nielsen in the #63 Scuderia Corsa team. The #63 inherited the race lead after late pitstops from the GTD class leaders, including the #54 CORE Autosport Porsche who lead for a majority of the race’s second half. After taking the lead with just over five minutes to go Balzan brought the car home in first.
“Honestly I’m so emotional right now,” said an emotional Balzan, “I wanted this win so bad this year. It’s incredible.” The win was magnified when considering Ferrari’s history at Laguna Seca, and its 70th anniversary, “I’m so luck to be able to drive a Ferrari,” Balzan said.
Andy Lally, also on a fuel run was able to bring his #93 Acura NSX home in second after a nice first stint from his teammate Katherine Legge. The Acura, who was sporting yet another new livery this weekend was just six seconds behind the #63 who appeared to be out of fuel and coasted home from the Corkscrew on the final lap of the race.
Third in GTD was the #73 Park Place Porsche with Joerg Bergmesiter bringing that car to the checkered. Rounding out the top four with an extremely good race, and potential race win was it not for the need to make a late stop for fuel was the #54 CORE Autosport Porsche with Colin Braun having a fantastic stint in the second half to keep the car out front.
The race’s only retirement was the #28 Alegra Motorsports Porsche, a drive shaft failure put that car out of the race with an hour and half remaining.
Next up for IMSA is the season finale at Road Atlanta next month, Petit Le Mans on October 7.