WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca hosts round 2 of the 2019 Intercontinental GT Challenge this weekend with eight full-season manufacturers on the entry.
16 cars have been nominated to score points towards the global GT3 championship, but whilst the top class is stacked with factory-backed talent, the overall entry has stuttered somewhat, just 20 cars form the full grid, well down on the total from 2018. with just three GT4s and a solo GT Cup entry added to the GT3 front runners.
Audi’s 2019 spec R8 LMS GT3, Porsche’s 2019 spec 911 GT3.R and the Evo version of the Acura NSX GT3 all make their IGTC debuts this weekend.
Laguna Seca has hosted the California 8 Hours since 2017.
Championship positions since Round 1 (Bathurst 12 Hour)
MERCEDES-AMG, x4 GT GT3, Manufacturers’ Championship: 1st (33 pts)
A double IGTC podium at Bathurst handed Mercedes-AMG an early eight-point lead in the Manufacturers’ standings. A lead they will defend with the maximum four nominated entries.
GruppeM Racing has added a second car to its line-up after Maxi Buhk, Maxi Goetz and Raffaele Marciello finished third in Australia. They’re joined by fellow AMG factory trio Yelmer Buurman, Maro Engel and Luca Stolz who also raced but failed to score points at Bathurst.
Meanwhile, championship regulars Strakka Racing to the IGTC this weekend after missing 2019’s season opener. The team’s two-car line-up includes reigning champion Tristan Vautier who clinched the 2018 crown by finishing third at Laguna Seca in October alongside former co-drivers Buhk and Engel.
PORSCHE, x2 911 GT3 R, Manufacturers’ Championship: 2nd (25 pts)
Buoyed by its maiden victory at Bathurst, Porsche heads to the California 8 Hours with two unchanged driver crews, the brand-new 911 GT3 R, and a pair of American customer teams eager to make their local knowledge count.
Wright Motorsports are no strangers to the California 8 Hours where they finished fourth in last year’s race, held in October, and also competed in 2017.
Bathurst winners Matt Campbell, Dirk Werner and Dennis Olsen line-up for the Blancpain GT World Challenge America team with a seven-point advantage over Buhk/Goetz/Marciello, while Romain Dumas, Sven Mueller and Mathieu Jaminet are paired together with Park Place Motorsports who make their IGTC debut after claiming IMSA podiums at Laguna Seca in each of the last five years.
BENTLEY, x2 CONTINENTAL GT3, Manufacturers’ Championship: 3rd (16 pts)
Bentley left Bathurst ruing what might have been after the misfortune of a variety of causes hit both Continental GT3s. Double points finish limited some of the damage before travelling to Laguna Seca.
The team has two new names aboard the #108 this weekend after handing debuts to Markus Palttala and Lucas Ordonez. Both will benefit from valuable seat time alongside Maxime Soulet ahead of Bentley’s expanded Total 24 Hours of Spa assault in July.
BMW, x2 M6 GT3, Manufacturers’ Championship: 4th (12 pts)
With Walkenhorst Motorsport’s M6 GT3 side-lined after less than an hour, BMW’s Bathurst assault rested squarely with Schnitzer who remained a front-runner throughout before finishing fifth following a Safety Car-interrupted final stint.
Both teams return this weekend with unchanged driver line-ups for BMW’s first crack at this race.
Augusto Farfus, Martin Tomczyk and Chaz Mostert will be eager to build on their solid start in Australia, while Laguna Seca offers Walkenhorst trio Christian Krognes, Nicky Catsburg and Mikkel Jensen the chance to re-set after their frustrating first outing.
NISSAN, x2 GT-R NISMO GT3, Manufacturers’ Championship: 5th (8 pts)
Nissan were another manufacturer with the pace but not the luck to feature higher on the Bathurst results sheet. Josh Burdon’s last gasp fastest lap hinted at what might have been for KCMG, whose GT-R NISMO GT3s both spent time at the sharp end after working their way forwards in the opening hours.
The Hong Kong team remains largely unchanged for their and Nissan’s California 8 Hours debuts, with IMSA regular Oliver Jarvis leading the line in #18. The one addition concerns long-time NISMO factory driver and 2015 Blancpain Endurance Series champion Alex Buncombe who joins Katsumasa Chiyo and Burdon aboard #35.
FERRARI, x1 488 GT3, Manufacturers’ Championship: 6th (4 pts)
HubAuto Corsa and Ferrari will hope to get their Intercontinental GT Challenge campaign back on track at Laguna Seca after a troubled outing at Bathurst where an early accident ended hopes of the good result its practice pace suggested.
Australian duo Nick Foster and Tim Slade return for their second outing of the season alongside Ferrari factory driver Miguel Molina who also raced with the team at the Suzuka 10 Hours in 2018.
AUDI SPORT, x2 R8 LMS GT3 EVO, Manufacturers’ Championship: 7th (3 pts)
It’s fair to say things could have gone better for IGTC’s reigning Manufacturers’ Champions at Bathurst where its four entries scored only three points between them after a disastrous run of luck. However, if there’s one event where Audi would choose to kickstart its 2019 campaign then the California 8 Hours is surely it where they were first and second in both previous IGTC events here and with a 100% pole position record.
Laguna Seca was certainly a happy hunting ground for Audi’s previous-generation R8 LMS GT3, which makes way for the new Evo version in 2019.
Last season’s winners, Audi Sport Team Land, boast a crew with four California 8 Hours victories between them – lap record holder Kelvin van der Linde remains unbeaten in the IGTC era – while 2018 runners-up Audi Sport Team WRT are ready to unleash two-time Super Pole winner Christopher Haase.
HONDA, x1 NSX GT3 EVO, Manufacturers’ Championship: 8th (0 pts)
After skipping Bathurst, Honda makes its championship debut this weekend and, with it, extends the record for a number of full-season manufacturers competing in a single IGTC round. While the previous-generation NSX GT3 contested 2017’s inaugural California 8 Hours, Honda Team Motul’s Evo version will be fighting for points against seven rival brands.
And Honda’s driver line-up suggests it means business. Renger van der Zande returns after competing for the Japanese marque at Macau’s FIA GT World Cup race in 2017, Bertrand Baguette has been a mainstay of Honda’s factory Super GT roster since 2014, and Mario Farnbacher raced the new Evo at the Daytona 24 Hours earlier this year.
GT4 AND GTC
In GT4, three teams with existing California 8 Hours experience are battling for class honours. TRG returns with a Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport and a driver-crew headed by Spencer Pumpelly who finished second with the same team last season. The familiar trio of Jonathan Miller, Daren Jorgensen and Brett Strom are back with their BMW M4 after the latter two drivers also competed at Bathurst, while PF Racing’s Ford Mustang includes two-thirds of its 2018 crew: Jason Pesek and Jade Buford.
Elsewhere, experienced Slovakian GT squad ARC Bratislava has entered the GT Cup class with a Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo for Miro Konopka, Andrzej Lewandowski and Zdeno Mikulasko.
1 10 Audi Sport Team WRT Dries Vanthoor/ Frédéric Vervisch/ Christopher Haase – Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo – GT3 Overall
2 18 KCMG Alexandre Imperatori/ Oliver Jarvis/ Edoardo Liberati – Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 – GT3 Overall
3 27 HubAuto Corsa Nick Foster/ Tim Slade/ Miguel Molina – Ferrari 488 GT3 – GT3 Overall
4 29 Audi Sport Team Land Kelvin van der Linde/ Markus Winkelhock/ Christopher Mies – Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo – GT3 Overall
5 30 Honda Team Motul Bertrand Baguette/ Mario Farnbacher/ Renger van der Zande – Honda NSX GT3 Evo – GT3 Overall
6 34 Walkenhorst Motorsport Christian Krognes/ Nicky Catsburg/ Mikkel Jensen – BMW M6 GT3 – GT3 Overall
7 35 KCMG Katsumasa Chiyo/ Alex Buncombe/ Josh Burdon – Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 – GT3 Overall
8 41 PF Racing Jason Pesek/ Jade Buford/ Chad McCumbee – Ford Mustang GT4 – GT4
9 42 BMW Team Schnitzer Augusto Farfus/ Chaz Mostert/ Martin Tomczyk – BMW M6 GT3 – GT3 Overall
10 43 Strakka Racing Christina Nielsen/ Adam Christodoulou/ Dominik Baumann – Mercedes-AMG GT3 – GT3 Overall
11 44 Mercedes-AMG Team Strakka Racing Lewis Williamson/ Gary Paffett/ Tristan Vautier – Mercedes-AMG GT3 – GT3 Overall
12 67 TRG – The Racers Group Chris Bellomo/ Jason Alexandridis/ Spencer Pumpelly – Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 CS MR – GT4
13 88 ARC Bratislava Miro Konopka/ Andrzej Lewandowski/ Zdeno Mikulasko – Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo 2015 – GT Cup
14 107 Bentley Team M-Sport Jordan Pepper/ Steven Kane/ Jules Gounon – Bentley Continental GT3 – GT3 Overall
15 108 Bentley Team M-Sport Lucas Ordonez/ Markus Palttala/ Maxime Soulet – Bentley Continental GT3 – GT3 Overall
16 113 RHC Jorgensen/Strom by Strom Motorsport Daren Jorgensen/ Brett Strom/ Jonathan Miller – BMW M4 GT4 – GT4
17 888 Mercedes-AMG Team GruppeM Racing Maro Engel/ Yelmer Buurman/ Luca Stolz – Mercedes-AMG GT3 – GT3 Overall
18 911 Park Place Motorsports Romain Dumas/ Mathieu Jaminet/ Sven Müller – Porsche 911 GT3 R – GT3 Overall
19 912 Wright MotorsportsMatt Campbell/ Dennis Olsen/ Dirk Werner – Porsche 911 GT3 R – GT3 Overall
20 999 Mercedes-AMG Team GruppeM Racing Maxi Buhk/ Maxi Goetz/ Raffaele Marciello – Mercedes-AMG GT3 – GT3 Overall