In this edition of our WeatherTech SportsCar Championship (WTSC) round table we visit Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. With just two races to go, there are championships on the line and traffic will be tight! We talked to Joao Barbosa, driver of the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Corvette DPi, and Scott Pruett, driver of the No. 15 3GT Racing Lexus RCF GT3. Here’s what they had to say:
Q: What challenges does a track like Mazda Raceway present?
Barbosa: It is a big challenge because it is the first time we are going there with the Cadillac. It is a challenging track on its own, and it will be hard to learn find the best set up for the car. There isn’t another track that we’ve already been to that we can say ‘oh let’s use that as a baseline for Laguna.’ It just has a lot of characteristics that are different from anywhere else that we race. The track hasn’t been that kind to us in the past! But we are looking to turn that around with some good results. It is a challenge in a number of different directions. It is a low grip track because there is no grass there and there tends to be a lot of sand on the track. But I think overall we’ve been finding a good direction with the Cadillac and have some things that will hopefully work at Laguna. The little details make a big difference.
Pruett: First, it’s a great track to go to. Who doesn’t to go to Monterey, Carmel, all the things that happen there, the Rolex Historics and all those great car event’s. Now when you go there with a race car and you look the challenges that go with that, it always tends to be grip. Without a doubt. I think it’s just the way the track is itself. I’ve been there with Indy Car, sports cars, I’ve been there with all these different things over the years and that’s the common thread with everything. I feel that when we are looking at the car setup, we are always looking to find that balance where you’re looking at the long run, tire durability, performance over the run, trying to find the most grip you can. As the weekend progresses, and more rubber gets on the track, the challenge becomes less and less.
Q: What is the tire strategy for a track like Mazda Raceway?
Barbosa: I think it will be the same for everyone. The big thing is that with that low grip, the tires are sliding around a lot and that is really demanding on the tire. So you need to have a car that works well with the tires so that it can work well with the car. If the car isn’t working right, that will make the tires work more than they should be. So having that balance will let you keep the tires at the peak performance for longer in the stint and that is super important. Just having a car that can be consistent all the way through the fuel and tire run, that is the key. Be as fast as you can be at the end of that run—hopefully as fast as you were right at the start of it!
Pruett: For the race it will be four new tires every pit stop. Different than a couple times this year, like Watkins Glen, where we were double stinting them and they were fantastic. They were going faster in the second stint than they were on the first stint. For Mazda Raceway, for sure, four tires every stop, a pretty straightforward race. It’s going to be a pretty hectic race because you’re going to have Prototypes, and PC’s, GTLM and GTD’s on a very short track.
Q: What is your most memorable moment from Mazda Raceway?
Barbosa: Unfortunately, they are not very good ones! (ha ha.) I remember being in the Corkscrew with the Corvette and we were having a good race but then I got drilled by an LMPC car. That finished any hope of good results.
Another memory is just that there have been a number of times that fuel economy has been really important there. Not sure why that has happened, but it becomes a different challenge for the driver if you are doing that, because you want to still get as close to the best lap time as you can but also have to be smart with your fuel. So you drive a lot differently to make that happen.
Hopefully this can be the year that I have some good memories to add from this track!
Pruett: I’ve had so many great memories. The wins we’ve had on the Daytona Prototype side, the podium’s I had on the Indy Car side. And even going back to the day when I ran go-karts there. Laguna Seca is very much a home track for me. I remember the last turn, of the last lap, probably in 1978, in a go-kart. So a lot of great memories!
Q: What can fans expect to see at this year’s Mazda Raceway race?
Barbosa: For sure this will be a very good race. Just no question. IMSA is so competitive right now, there are at least five or six cars that are capable of winning and it keeps getting tighter. It is awesome for the fans. And really for us too because we are all so motivated by the competition and there is such a good show up front. I know it will be very tight for the win, everyone is thinking of points and trying to come out with wins here at the end of the season.
Pruett: Fans can expect to see a lot of action! When we’re talking about how many cars are going to be on that short track, it’s going to be hectic. It’s going to be chaos for the whole race. For the drivers, it’s going to keep us on our toes and for fans, it’s going to be some great racing. When you go to Laguna Seca you hear about the corkscrew and you’ve got to get up there, to the top, and see it. It’s a great vantage point. Because it is so hilly, fans can get a great vantage point and see two and three and four turns.