Three Takeaways from the Motul Course de Monterey

By David Phillips

IMSA Wire Service

The Motul Course de Monterey Powered by Hyundai N at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca proved the 2024 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is nothing if not unpredictable. Two of the three class winners were decided in the final 20 minutes of the race, two class winners captured their first victories of the season and none of the class polesitters were able to translate their qualifying pace into a race win. Indeed, only one of the three top qualifiers made it to its class podium.

Where the Action Was

Utter the words “Laguna Seca” and racers immediately conjure images of the Corkscrew, the left-right sequence also known as Turns 8 and 8A that features a blind approach before plummeting some 10 stories down to Turn 9. Understandably so. It’s among the most picturesque and challenging stretches of pavement in all of racing, the approach to which Jimmy Vasser, IndyCar champion turned co-owner of IMSA’s Vasser Sullivan, once likened to standing atop a double black diamond ski slope.

And yet, comparatively unheralded Turn 4 was the place to catch the action on Sunday. Assuming you could see it, that is, as clouds of dust from cars dropping one, two, three and four wheels off the pavement regularly drifted across the bleachers lining the exit of the corner. Most significantly, Turn 4 determined the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) and Grand Touring Daytona (GTD) class wins with the checkered flag virtually in sight.

First, Jack Aitken zigged the No. 31 Whelen Cadillac Racing Cadillac V-Series.R when he should have zagged amid a cluster of GT cars, enabling Nick Tandy to sneak the No. 6 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963 through on the inside and subsequently show the No. 31 Cadillac a clean pair of heels en route to the No. 6 Porsche’s first win of the season, the 100th win in sports car competition for Roger Penske and the 600th IMSA win for Porsche.

A few minutes later, Robby Foley’s No. 557 Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT3 (a/k/a the No. 96, which carried the special car number to commemorate the team’s 557th start with BMW, the most of any team in the world) caromed off the No. 40 Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Acura ARX-06 and into the dirt while trying to keep Philip Ellis and the No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 at bay in the battle for the GTD lead. Like Tandy, Ellis seized his opportunity to grab a lead he would hold for the Winward squad’s third win in four races this season.

Porsche Country

The Monterey Peninsula is certifiably Porsche country, and we’re not talking about the fleets of Porsche 911 derivatives cruising around Pebble Beach and along Highway 1. Not only did Tandy and co-driver Mathieu Jaminet score the first win of the season for the No. 6 Porsche, their victory represented the German marque’s first overall win at WeatherTech Raceway since 2007 by a Porsche Crawford Daytona Prototype shared by Patrick Long and Jorg Bergmeister.

Not that Porsche has not enjoyed success there, witness several Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) class wins by the Porsche RS Spyder (not coincidentally entered by Penske Racing) along with a bevy of GT class wins including last year when Kay van Berlo and Alan Metni guided the No. 91 Kellymoss with Riley Porsche 911 GT3 R to the top of the GTD podium. That GT success continued on Sunday when Sebastian Priaulx and Lauren Heinrich wheeled the No. 77 AO Racing Porsche to the GTD PRO win after passing the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports McLaren 720S GT3 Evo and the No. 4 Corvette Racing by Pratt Miller Motorsports Corvette Z06 GT3.R by the midpoint of the race. Porsche’s “double” brought the marque’s IMSA win total to 601.

Racing Is the Pits

Races are won and lost in the pits, or so says one of motorsports’ oldest chestnuts. That proved partially true on Sunday, notwithstanding the action in Turn 4 that dictated the outcomes of the GTP and GTD contests. Pit stop and tire strategy (of course called from teams’ pit boxes) certainly played a role in the outcomes of the various class competitions as well.

At the outset of the race, it appeared for all the world as if the No. 01 Cadillac Racing Caddy would run away with the GTP class while Corvette Racing looked set for a GTD PRO 1-2 as the Nos. 3 and No. 4 Corvettes loped away from the field. But the lead Cadillac dropped to third on the pit stop exchange and then slid further down the order when the decision not to change Michelin rubber on the final stop proved ill-advised.

The Corvette challenge was blunted by the race’s only full-course yellow (caused when the No. 7 Porsche shed a chunk of bodywork), which wiped out Corvette’s early advantage and enabled the Pfaff McLaren to take the class lead. The AO Porsche demoted the No. 4 Corvette with Tommy Milner behind the wheel to third on the subsequent restart and Milner was unable to make any forward progress for the remainder of the race as Alexander Sims in the No. 3 Corvette slipped to fifth in GTD PRO in the final going.