The first year of WeatherTech Sprint Cup competition couldn’t be more competitive as the deciding event looms Sunday. The slimmest of margins, one point, separates the leaders heading into the Monterey SportsCar Championship Powered by McLaren at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
The race will be the seventh and last in the WeatherTech Sprint Cup championship, added this season for the GT Daytona class (GTD) in its non-endurance events. Zacharie Robichon, co-driver of the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, enters the Laguna Seca weekend with a 175-174 advantage in the standings over Mario Farnbacher and Trent Hindman, drivers of the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX GT3.
While Farnbacher and Hindman also could clinch the overall GTD championship under the right scenario, the inaugural Sprint Cup title will be determined by which of the two cars – the No. 9 or the No. 86 – finishes better in Sunday’s race.
For the trio of drivers in the hunt, it’s like a childhood dream realized.
“For a lot of folks my age, what is now known as WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca is part of those legendary tracks on a certain video game that most guys my age sort of grew up playing and racing on,” said Hindman, the 23-year-old American in his first full season of WeatherTech Championship competition.
“I’ve been fortunate to go there a lot over the years, and anytime I get to go there, it still kind of gives me the goosebumps, just thinking about the 4- or 5-year-old Trent playing Gran Turismo 2, Gran Turismo 3, sitting on a couch with a hand controller, hoping that I’m racing there one day.
“It’s another evolution in the sense that, hey, we’re not going to this place to just race, but to race for a championship. That’s something that any kid who’s ever picked up a PlayStation controller and played that game was probably hoping for at some point in their lives. Just the fact that I’m able to sort of live out that dream and even have the opportunity is something that I find very special.”
Robichon, the reigning Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama champion also in his rookie WeatherTech Championship campaign, has a similar affinity for the iconic road course in Northern California – though this weekend will be his first time on the 2.238-mile circuit.
“Being a track that’s quite famous, it’s been on all the video games for the last 20 years,” Robichon, 27, said. “I probably spent hours on it when I was 10 years old, so I kind of know the layout. But that doesn’t give you the real impression of what you’re going to get. I’ll approach it like I do any other track and be cautious when I get there, and lean on more experienced guys around me.”
Robichon catapulted into the Sprint Cup lead on the strength of back-to-back GTD wins at Lime Rock and Road America. He and co-driver Scott Hargrove know what’s at stake this weekend but they haven’t placed any emphasis on it.
“It’s crazy to think we’re leading the championship right now in the Sprint Cup,” Robichon said. “But I’m trying not to get too hung up on that and just focus on keeping doing what we’ve been.”
Meanwhile, Farnbacher and Hindman have a dual purpose at hand this weekend. They could potentially win the Sprint Cup crown without winning one of the races, as long as they gain at least two points on Robichon. The No. 86 duo could also wrap up the overall GTD title if they leave Laguna Seca with a gap of more than 35 points on the nearest competitor. They take a 37-point lead over Robichon into the weekend.
“Our focus is not, ‘Hey, we need to finish in this position to win a championship,’” Hindman said. “Our focus is on we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing and if we have the opportunity, we’re going to go for a race win.”
What they have been doing is consistently running near the front. While the only 2019 win for the No. 86 came at Watkins Glen in late June, it’s been followed by three second-place finishes in the four races since. And knowing that the No. 86 won last year at Laguna Seca with Katherine Legge and Alvaro Parente at the wheel gives the Acura drivers more confidence.
"Laguna is the final race of the Sprint Cup and we have a lot of opportunities to perform well there,” Farnbacher said. “We just need to keep our focus and have a clean weekend because anything can happen and all of our competitors are very strong. It will be interesting, for sure, but we will never give up. The race isn't over until the checkered flag is waved, and we will be fighting until the very end against the field."
The Monterey SportsCar Championship Powered by McLaren airs live at 3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC, the first IMSA telecast on the major network as part of IMSA’s long-term partnership with NBC Sports. IMSA Radio also will have live coverage throughout the weekend on IMSA.com and RadioLeMans.com, with the race call also airing on SiriusXM Radio.