Sizzling Speeds Highlight Motul Course de Monterey Opening Practice

By Mark Robinson

IMSA Wire Service

The repaving of WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca did its job, as expected. In Friday’s opening practice for the Motul Course de Monterey Powered by Hyundai N, the fastest laps turned in each of the three IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship classes eclipsed their respective track records.

Of course, a new standard may only be set in a qualifying session or the race, but the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP), Grand Touring Daytona Pro (GTD PRO) and GTD teams all looked well on their way to making it official this weekend.

Filipe Albuquerque clocked the best overall and GTP lap – 1 minute, 14.434 seconds (108.240 mph) – in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Acura ARX-06. That was three-tenths of a second better than the GTP record lap set by Matt Campell in a Porsche 963 last year and within a half-second of the series track record held by Albuquerque’s teammate Ricky Taylor in the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class in 2022.

“The session went really, really well,” Albuquerque said. “I felt good in the car. Now it’s completely different. Last year, we struggled here but it’s almost like a completely new track. The new asphalt changes it completely, but I love it.

“I would say that this is one of the tracks that required new asphalt just because of more grip,” he added. “I really respect the bumps and things that we go to on each track, (but) this one was one of them that just was sliding so much in the past, it was not fun. It looked almost like rally crossing in a way and it’s not my favorite.”

Philipp Eng, in the No. 24 BMW M Team RLL BMW M Hybrid V8, was just 0.019 seconds behind Albuquerque on the timesheet, with Mathieu Jaminet third in the No. 6 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963, 0.089 seconds from the top.

Both Cadillac GTPs were limited in running Friday for different reasons. The No. 01 Cadillac Racing Cadillac V-Series.R missed much of the first half of the 90-minute session diagnosing and fixing a water leak, turning 22 laps. The No. 31 Whelen Cadillac Racing Cadillac only completed 14 laps before Jack Aitken went off course and into the tire wall at Turn 4. Aitken was uninjured.

“Practice was running quite well, but unfortunately coming into Turn 4 I had a little bit of a snap on the entry,” Aitken said. “I let the car recover a little bit, but it was out on the dust and I didn’t anticipate that it would lose grip that quickly and I was heading straight for the wall. I couldn’t do much about it.

“It doesn’t look like a terrible amount of damage, though it’s going to be a little bit longer day for the guys. I’m sure we’ll be back in action tomorrow. It’s just a shame to cause more work. I’m fine.”

The fresh pavement provided even more speed for the GT classes. Seb Priaulx pushed the No. 77 AO Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R around the 2.238-mile, 11-turn road course in 1:21.182, nearly a full two seconds better than the GTD PRO record. Philip Ellis was tops in GTD with a 1:21.475 lap in the No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 that was more than two seconds quicker than his co-driver ran in the same car two years ago.

A second practice is set for 12:15 p.m. ET Saturday, with qualifying streaming live on Peacock at 7:35 p.m. The two-hour, 40-minute race airs live on NBC and Peacock starting at 3 p.m. Sunday.

Car No. 557? Who Are You?

If you see a strange car number at WeatherTech Raceway this weekend, don’t be alarmed. It’s just the record-setting No. 557 Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT3.

The GTD car usually numbered 96 is changing its figures to commemorate Turner Motorsport becoming the team with the most race starts for BMW worldwide, surpassing the famous Schnitzer Motorsport team. Robby Foley and Patrick Gallagher will pilot the No. 557 in Sunday’s race.

Team owner Will Turner reminisced on the journey to becoming one of the most prominent IMSA teams that now competes in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge and VP Racing SportsCar Challenge as well as the WeatherTech Championship.

Turner remembered how he maxed out credit cards to finance the team in 1998 as he moved up from the club racing ranks.

“We really did start out very humbly, building our cars in the shop with minimum resources,” Turner said. “I would get my hands dirty. I would need band-aids for scraping knuckles on stuff. You know, ordering pizzas in for all-nighters trying to get the cars ready. Sleeping five guys to a hotel room – somebody’s in the bathtub, somebody’s in the closet – that stuff really happened.

“Everybody jammed into a rental car because we did what we needed to do to go racing.”

Turner has built the team into a destination for drivers. Among those who’ve raced for him are Joey Hand, Jesse Krohn, John Edwards, Dirk Mueller, Boris Said, Dane Cameron and the great Bill Auberlen, the winningest driver in IMSA top-tier series history.

While he’s appreciated the accolades, wins and championships, Turner may be proudest of his determination to make Turner Motorsport a home for his staff.

“A goal of mine is that the continuity of what we’ve been doing all these years, it’s not just for me,” he said. “I have a lot of my crew and a lot of my employees that have been working for me for a lot of years, and they support their family with racing. And I know it sounds kind of cheesy, but one of my goals is really to make sure my crew guys and girls have jobs for the next year. And that’s always difficult in sports car racing.

“It’s important to me to keep this thing going and make sure that the people that have worked so hard and are as passionate about the sport as I am have jobs moving forward.”

Andreas Roos, Head of BMW M Motorsport, commended the team for the achievement.

“What a milestone for Turner Motorsport,” Roos said. “Congratulations on the record-breaking 557th start in a BMW race car and a big thank you for your decades-long trust in our brand. It is always a pleasure and great fun to work with Will Turner and his crew, who have a great professionalism. The long list of victories and titles speaks for itself: Turner Motorsport is an integral part of BMW M Motorsport’s racing program in North America, and I hope it will be like this for many more years.”

Retired NASCAR Driver Kurt Busch on the Scene at WeatherTech Raceway

Kurt Busch raced on hundreds of tracks throughout his stellar career, but never WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. That’s why he was thrilled to be a guest of Lexus Racing on Friday and take in the opening practice from the Vasser Sullivan pit stall.

“I’m like a kid in a candy store,” beamed Busch, who was known for his road racing-prowess in the NASCAR Cup Series and participated in the 2005 Rolex 24 At Daytona. “I’ve never been to Laguna Seca; it’s like that unicorn track. I’ve been racing for the last 30 years, in Sonoma and all over California and Nevada where I grew up. Never got a chance to come here and race anything. I’ve done a ton of laps (at WeatherTech Raceway) on sim just because of how cool this place is. To have the connection with Toyota and the Lexus family, I appreciate the hospitality and the red carpet that they rolled out at Vasser Sullivan.

“It’s just cool listening to the drivers and what they’re communicating to their teammates and what issues they’re working on with the car and the track. It’s very similar to NASCAR. With the repave, you’re going to have a ton of speed but you’re going to have a ton of changes in the chassis setup. It’s just really cool and really getting my racing juices flowing with the team.