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Race Recap – 2017 ChampCar Endurance Series – Christmas at Laguna

Laguna race start

Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca
Double 7 Weekend, 12/16-17/2017

Story by Doc Waldrop;
Photos by Chelsey Vickery

Laguna Seca garage action

For the second weekend in a row, ChampCar Endurance Series (CCES) teams were affected getting to the racetrack for two days of endurance racing. While the Barber race was largely one of inconvenience due to snow and icy roads, the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca round had much more real consequences for the race teams. The raging wildfires had simply wiped out many of the drivers and team’s homes, possessions, livelihoods, and yes, even racecars. Everything.

Still, 28 teams of the original 45 entries that Laguna Seca caps the entries at, gathered on Friday for a test day at the 11-turn, 2.238 mile iconic track nestled in the foothills outside Monterey, Ca. Perhaps the most well-known corner in the world, simply known as the Corkscrew, makes its home there as well, featuring a drop of some 10 stories from the blind left at turn 8 to the right-handed turn 8A leading to the sweeper known simply as Rainey Curve.

Along with the usual routine maintenance a racecar goes through at the track several teams experienced more work on their cars than perhaps they wanted to with the Uncommon Friends Datsun 240Z replacing a holed radiator and theErgoLab.com Miata replacing a differential, an outer tierod, and no less than two wheel bearings. The Western Division Chumpionship team, that of Arsenic Racing, dodged a real bullet when after suffering a misfire in cylinder 3 discovered a piece of a broken feeler gauge stuck in the underneath the bucket of the exhaust valve.

While down on overall numbers the racing action on the track featured some more prominent teams from the CCES, such as Basil Weenie Racing BMW 325is (having made the long tow from their home base in Texas) and the always potent Mazda of Miata P.I. A two-car entry from Doorslammers was also a team to be reckoned with their Fiero and Miata as was the V-8 swapped Lotus from B Team Just Plain Stupid Racing.

As the green flag fell and the fastest cars made their way to the front, the two Doorslammers entries soon led the field, the #48 Fiero and the #95 Miata overtaking the #174 Lotus, the #799 Basil Weenie BMW, and the Thing 2 Racing Datsun 280Z. On lap 18, both the Lotus dropped off the track (with a differential failure) and the #489 Miata of ErgoLab.com, out with a faulty alternator and a spare that had incompatible electrical connections. Both teams went scrambling looking for parts, the somewhat rare 1974 Lotus Elite at a distinct disadvantage to the Miata.

Barely over an hour into the 7-hour contest the #48 Doorslammers Fiero had opened up their lead to 45 seconds over the tightly bunched #95 Miata, the Basil Weenie 325is, the #30 Miata P.I. entry, and the hard charging #246 Datsun 240Z with legendary sports car driver John Morton behind the wheel in 5th place.
Incredibly, they were the only 5 cars on the lead lap, such was the furious pace up front. The #48 Fiero had set the then fastest time of the day (FTD) with a blistering 1:46.874 on only their 8th lap. Could they maintain this pace for the remaining 5+ hours?

As the first round of driver changes and refueling came and went, the answer seemed to be yes, as the #48 continued to set FTD with a 1:45.293 and then a 1:44.759 on lap 83. The #95 Miata was chasing down the #30 Miata P.I. team for 2nd place when suddenly the #48 dropped down to P7 after a long pit stop just past the 3-hour mark in the race with hub problems. There were now only 3 cars on the lead lap: The leading #30 Miata P.I Mazda, the #95 Miata from Doorslammers, and the #246 Datsun from Uncommon Friends Racing. Shortly thereafter, #48 Fiero returned to the track and moved back up to 6th place, and reset the FTD AGAIN in the process with a 1:44.524. The #799 pitted from having run as high as 3rd and dropped out of the top 15 with a bent tie rod after contact on track with the #175 PCP Racing Ford Escort.

Behind the threesome, with 3 hours to go, the #7 Supleen Miata was 3 laps down in P4, the #969 Neomaxizoomdweebies BMW 325is a further lap down in 5th place and the #299 APT Racing BMW 535i was 10 laps down to the leader running in P6. Seventh place had the #330 Bare Bones Miata (which had run as high as 2nd place as the leaders pitted), leading the #48 Fiero, and the Marlow-Mercedes Werks’ C320 ##684 running in P9.

As teams headed to the checker, the #48 team was brought back to the paddock on a tow strap, the victim of yet more hub problems, and the Doorslammers #95 had pitted and dropped to 3rd place. This moved the #246 Uncommon Friends’ 240Z up to 2nd place and they proceeded to whittle the #30 Miata’s lead down steadily from 1 minute to just over 30 seconds when the #30 Mazda pitted on lap 151 with just under 2 hours to go in the race. No sooner had the Miata P.I.’s entry left the pits, the right front ball joint failed, and they were brought in on a rollback after not having even completed a lap following fueling and the mandatory driver change for the last stint.

As the #30 steadily fell in the running order, the #246 Z set about to record their personal FTD with a respectable 1:45.796 and when the 2nd place #95 Miata pitted with less than 30 minutes to go the Uncommon Friends team cruised to a 7-lap margin of victory at the finish. Despite the late pit stop, the #95 held onto 2nd place, followed across the line 1 lap down by the #969 BMW, the Supleen Miata a further lap down, and the Bare Bones Miata in 5th place, yet another 3 laps down. The 240Z team’s hard work and persistence had indeed been rewarded after a very disappointing weekend in the Spring race saw them finishing in 34th and 39th position out of 46 entries.

Sunday’s race saw several strong contenders for the overall win back in the fray including the #489 Ergolab.com Miata which had fixed their suspension problems along with the Basil Weenie BMW which had done the same with their tie rod. The #48 Doorslammers Fiero had been withdrawn leaving the #95 Miata as the team’s only entry. Considering their 2nd place finish on Saturday it was not a bad choice for a car to back on Sunday’s 7-hour race. The Bare Bones Miata was up until midnight replacing a bad rear seal on the engine so there was plenty of activity in the paddock garages. The winning Uncommon Friends 240Z would start 8 laps down to the field, the result of their Margin of Victory of 7 laps plus an added lap.

The Arsenic #166 grabbed the lead at the start and didn’t look back until the 1 ½ hour mark into the race, slowly putting some distance on the #799 Basil Weenie BMW which was in turn being reeled in by the #30 Miata P.I. Mazda. The #95 Doorslammers Miata was just barely 1 lap down running in P4. As the race approached the 2 hour mark the #116 was just about to lap the #799 BMW in 2nd place when they both dived into the pits for their mandatory driver change and refueling, handing the lead to the Miata P.I. car which also hit the pit some 5 minutes later. Also at the time, the #95 Miata gained their lap back and set about chasing down the leaders.

The #30 was clearly on a mission passing the #799 for P2 and in doing so set their FTD with a 1:49.332 on lap 69 and in turn closed on the leading #116 Arsenic Miata, finally passing them for the lead on lap 73 and resetting their FTD with a 1:48.699 the next lap. The #799 BMW then overhauled the #116 as well with the #95 Miata running in P4. Such was the pace upfront that the #7 Supleen Racing Miata running in 5th place was already 2 laps down and the race wasn’t even 3 hours in! The Uncommon Friends Datsun had moved into the top 15 but was still 6 laps down a race reached the 3-hour mark and with #30 resetting their FTD down to a 1:48.172 it was not looking very good for the #246 to make up any more laps on the leaders. The Arsenic #116 pitted about this time from P3 on lap 87 and was never seen on track again, the victim of an issue with their intake valves sticking open, making for obviously poor combustion.

As the #95 Doorslammers Miata pitted on lap 94 the #30 and #799 became the only 2 cars on the lead lap with the Miata pulling away from the BMW. By the time lap 110 had been logged the Miata had lapped the BMW and dived into the pits the next lap with the Basil Weenie following them some 5 later. As the BMW picked up their timer at pit in, the driver exclaimed “WhooWEE, that’s FUN!!!” despite having gone a lap down during his stint. A perfect stop yielded 1st place to the #799 when the #30 failed to exit pit row, having to change a right front hub bearing!!! Disaster had struck the Miata yet again leading the race on what should have been a routine stop!

The lead was not long for the #799 though as the #95 Doorslammers Miata passed them just short of the 4-hour mark. Running nearly identical lap times in the mid 1:50s range neither car could gain an advantage and the gap from 1st to 2nd place remained in the 8-10 second range. In the flurry of activity up front, almost lost was a great battle for the remaining podium spot as the #7 Supleen Racing was holding off the #330 Bare Bones Racing entry in 4th, the #00 Two Beaners in a Bucket car in 5th (all Miatas) and the MIBB Racing BMW #147, all on the same lap, now 4 laps down to the leaders.

Soon after, the #7 Miata was seen falling from P3 and this allowed the repaired Miata P.I. Mazda to regain 5th place on the same lap as the others. They were all spaced out to each other running consistent laps, but the #30 finally overhauled the #00 Miata for 3rd place just short of 2 hours to go with the 5th place MIBB BMW 3 laps down. The leading Doorslammers Miata came into the pits a brief time later dutifully following the #799 in. They would both be good to the checkered flag finish, but by a faster pit stop the Basil Weenie car had pulled to within 11 seconds of the Mazda. The race was on, but it was no contest from here on out.

The #95 clearly had the bit between their teeth when with 1:45 left in the race they started lowering their personal FTDs with a 1:48.218 on lap 159, on lap 162, a 1:47.800 and 5 laps later a 1:47.670. Not to be outdone, the #246 Uncommon Friends Datsun set the overall FTD on the same lap with a 1:455.239. The Datsun had also moved up to 4th place behind the #330 Bare Bones who proceeded to lower THEIR FTD with a 1:50.346. The next 2 laps were a personal FTD frenzy as the #799 BMW set a 1:48.779 and the #95 answered with a 1:47.381 on the same lap. Not content still, the Doorslammers Miata then ripped off a 1:47.357 on lap 182 and then a 1:47.168 on the next lap. The BMW could not answer and slowly fell back.

With 45 minutes to go, by their faster times the #246 Datsun passed the #330 Bare Bones Miata to move up to 3rd and the #95 had pulled away from the BMW to lead by just under a half of a lap. Once again, the Doorslammers #95 reset their FTD to a 1:46.467 and with 20 minutes to go they put the BMW down to 2nd place for good, lapping them with an outside pass in the slightly banked turn 10. As the sun set beyond turn 1 making visibility difficult, the checkered flag fell showing the #30 Miata P.I. Mazda recovering for 5th place on the same lap (207) as the Bare Bones Miata.

Down 6 laps to P4/P5 and all on the same lap, 6th place was claimed by the MIBB Racing BMW, followed by the 7th place Supleen Miata which had claimed that spot from the No Gray Matter #255 Honda CRX with under 15 minutes to go in the race. Another Honda, the Volunteers Racing Prelude #317, claimed P9 all alone on lap 198. The APT Racing D class BMW 535i rounded out the top 10 entries.

Proof that racers never give up, the #446, a new build by the Crash Test Mummies, had trouble clearing registration first and then took the next 3 DAYS chasing electrical gremlins, finally fixing a faulty kill switch and clearing tech later Sunday afternoon. With one hour to go, they entered the race FINALLY. Unfortunately, in their haste to get out on track, a transponder had not been mounted and they failed to register a single recorded lap!!!

Teams headed out to home after two days of hard racing with rumors flying around of another new build coming in February by the Uncommon Friends team and the Arsenic Racing team vowing to come back for the Sonoma round in mid-February with a much stronger car for 2018. We sure hope the Crash Test Mummies team joins them…for the start of the race, not the finish.

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