WeatherTech Laguna Seca Raceway, USA

15 – 18 August 2019


Masters Endurance Legends USA – Race 1
Auberlen Rules while Bennett Spins: Masters Endurance Legends Saturday Race at Rolex Monterey Reunion

An expected showdown at the front in the FIA Masters Endurance Legends race here at the Rolex Monterey Reunion at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, proved immediately an easy drive in the park for Bill Auberlen, driving the 1999 BMW V12 LMR. A spin and subsequent stall on Lap 1 ended Craig Bennett’s winning hopes.

Weather proved to be the great equalizer as thick fog and misting rain, typical of Monterey coastal, wine country weather, began to lift slightly as the cars rolled off (9:45 am PST) for pace laps — all on slick tires for the drying track. The conditions were a bit treacherous as three of the cars spun on the pace lap. Bennett, who explained, “In qualifying, I had a brake-bias problem. The car wanted to spin every time I got on the brakes. The rears were locking up.” However on the grid for the race, he was confident the problem was solved.

Auberlen was surprised to find himself completing lap one without Bennett, who spun and stalled on Lap one, in his mirrors. “That was kind of crazy. I didn’t expect that. That Lola Judd is a Rocketship.” For Auberlen, driving the V12 BMW was quite satisfying. “This car is like being reunited with Apollo or the space shuttle. It’s so fast and so amazing to drive — just effortless.”

Despite the difficulties, Bennett still managed third, in the crowded 26-car field of prototypes and GTs, a lap down from Auberlen and runner-up, Spencer Trenery, in the Riley XI Daytona Prototype. All teams must make a mandatory two-minute stationary pit stop during the course of the race. In the second half, Bennett tried to whittle away, but to no avail.

A no-show in qualifying, due to a sensor problem Friday, gave way to a stellar back to front drive from Porsche factory star Patrick Long in the Lola B2K10. Starting 25th on the grid, Long made meticulous work, bringing the Lola to fourth position by lap four of the race. A brilliant drive! After the driver change, during the mandatory pit stop, car-owner Erich Joiner took the wheel and maintained the fourth place finish.

Travis Engen in the 2005 Audi R8 LMP Steven Zacchia in 2002 Ferrari 550 GT1 had a race-long scrap for fifth, carving through traffic late in the contest and running nose-to-tail for the entirety. Ultimately Engen prevailed in the entertaining dice.

Sunday’s race should be under significantly different, warm, sunny conditions, as the late afternoon start will actually mark the end of the festivities of the Rolex Monterey Reunion.

Bill Auberlen loves the Rolex Monterey Reunion, “ I laid down some massive rubber (on the cool-down lap) in front of the BMW tent! I race here, but I’m a fan too. I hope the fans appreciate BMW bringing these great cars out as much as I do.”

Masters Endurance Legends USA – Race 2
Bennett Avenges His Lola’s Demons with a Win in the Masters Endurance Legends Sunday Race at Rolex Monterey Reunion

The Sunday FIA Masters Endurance Legends race marked the end of two weeks of historic racing competition on the iconic Monterey Peninsula, here at the Rolex Monterey Reunion at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Despite closing the show, the race proved a thriller with Craig Bennett taking the win in the 2012 Lola B12/80 Prototype over Bill Auberlen in the 1999 BMW V12 LMR.

The weather was the absolute seasonal opposite of Saturday’s race as mild temps and sunny skies shone today on the Monterey Peninsula circuit versus the cool, misty and foggy conditions of Saturday’s contest.

Auberlen took off into the lead of the 40 minute timed race at the line and through the hairpin, but got four wheels off in turn 3. Bennett took an easy lead and immediately began to march away — leaving Auberlen a busy race ahead. “Somehow we changed the compound of the tires, to what seemed a very hard compound and they just never activated,” Auberlen considered. “I knew it right away (when he approached turn 3), oh, we’re in trouble. The car in cold wet conditions, was much faster yesterday.”

By Lap four Auberlen had worked his way back up to second, but was two seconds off Bennett’s pace. By lap 12 Craig Bennett had pulled out a 10 second lead. He said, “Yesterday I wasn’t comfortable to run up there and I lost it trying to be too careful. This car is so capable — and I’m still learning it. But that run today made up for a lot.” Bennett posted a scorching best lap of 121.918 during the race, but coasted to the victory in the end.

Travis Engen in his 2005 Audi R8 LMP caught Spencer Trenery in the Riley XI Daytona during lap two of the 40 minute race. Trenery then passed the Audi during the mandatory two minute stationary pit stops and continued in third.

By the end of lap 3 Porsche factory racer, Patrick Long, had thrusted his Lola B2K10 from 25th to 8th. A Safety car was dispatched on laps 6-7-8 as the Nissan NPT 90 of Dwight Merriman stopped on track. Safety crews push started it and got it going again. By lap 9 after the double-yellow laps Long had passed Spencer Trenery for third and began whittling away at Auberlen who continued to struggle with difficult handling.

During the mandatory pit stops. Bennett came in on Lap 12, giving the lead to Auberlen who agin lost the lead in his own stop. Long pitted from third handing the Lola over to teammate and car owner, Erich Joiner. Back on track, Trenery went after Joiner with a vengeance. The two lap dice had the two prototypes nose to tail with Trenery forcing the issue on the inside on the hairpin twice — succeeding the second time around in the late stages of the race.

In the GT class, the Porsches, Corvettes and BMWs mixed it up with the slower prototypes.
BMW factory racer, Connor De Phillipi, 2011 M3 GT, inherited 2nd place on lap 12 during the pit stops. That set up a cruise to the top GT spot, and eighth overall for co-driver and North American BMW Racing Program Chief, Thomas Plucinsky. De Phillipi loved the weekend drive: “This weekend has been really fun, the E92 is one of the most successful GT cars BMW has ever built. Getting out of the M8 and into this car, the systems are nearly as good as what we have now.”

Thomas Plucinsky said, “This weekend was awesome! This was a huge opportunity to get in the car and do some laps.”

With a great variety of great historic race cars, a star-studded cast of several pro-drivers, the
FIA Masters Endurance Legends group was well received and put on a great show.

Masters Historic Formula One USA – Race 1
Thornton Wins Eventful Masters Historic Formula One Saturday Race at Rolex Monterey Reunion

Greg Thornton, walked away from a scrappy wheel to wheel field that included two blown engines and a lost rear wing to win the FIA Masters F1 race here at the Rolex Monterey Reunion at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Driving his ex-Elio de Angelis Lotus 91/5, Thornton checked out early and maintained a flag to flag to flag win.

Foggy, cool temps in the morning gave way to mild temps and sunny afternoon skies in Monterey making for perfect spectator weather. As in qualifying, Thornton said the track remained slippery, albeit improved grip over qualifying. What made the race winner uneasy during this particular session was the restart.

During the first lap of the race, The Ensign MN179 of Bud Moeller and the March 821of Chris Farrell both blew their Ford Cosworth DFV motors, leaving oil on the racing line. The race was stopped so WeatherTech Raceway Safety crews could clean the track. Stewards allowed for the full 20 minute session, despite the delay to the day’s race schedule.

“The problem with a restart is the rules contradict,” observed Thornton. “When you are doing an original start, you are not allowed to overtake until Turn 4. On a restart you can overtake on the line. So I just needed to make sure I could keep the crowd behind me.” Thornton had no problem in doing just that as he extended his lead to five seconds within two laps.

The dice for second between Ireland’s James Hagan in a Tyrrell 11 and Local San Francisco resident, Martin Lauber in a March 741 was a wheel to wheel sprint that went throughout the remainder of the race — Hagan prevailed in the end. “I am very good at making my car wide when I have to. I just had to beat (Lauber) at his home track!” At one point the two crossed the start-finish side by side. According to Hagan, “I was on the inside and there was no way he could get around me on the outside. I feel ecstatic. It’s great to race close with somebody and feel safe.”

On lap 5, the Tyrrell 10 of Ethan Shippert lost its rear wing in Turn 3. A local yellow flew as safety crews cleared the track of the debris. Thornton commented, “The problem with leading is you are the first one to come up on these things.” What’s worse, the leader lost his tachometer. “I called to (engineer Chris Dinnage) and told him my tacho would go to zero every time I change gears. He says ‘well you know when to change gears — listen to it’ (laughs).”

Porsche factory driver, Patrick Long, was forbidden by the Stuttgart Automaker from further participation driving the 1983 Williams FW08C, with car owner Erich Joiner, stating it was “too dangerous.” However, Joiner took the wheel and marched through the filed from last on the grid, setting fast lap for the race, to fourth. Getting through another wheel to wheel battle between Chris Bender’s Arrows A6, Danny Baker’s McLaren M23 and Steve Hartley’s Arrows A4, was an additional challenge. A blanket could have been tossed over the four as they crossed the line at the checker.

Overall the race was quite a spectacle and the fans seemed to enjoy the ongoing battles. “Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves,” commented Masters CEO and LEC CRP1 driver, Ron Maydon.

Masters Historic Formula One USA – Race 2
Thornton Sweeps the Weekend with Masters Historic Formula One Sunday Race Win at Rolex Monterey Reunion

Greg Thornton again checked out from the crowd in the FIA Masters F1 Sunday race here at the Rolex Monterey Reunion at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Driving his ex-Elio de Angelis Lotus 91/5, Thornton’s flag to flag win made for a sweep of the weekend’s two races including pole position. A well tendered drive from the back by runner-up Erich Joiner, was left wondering ‘what could have been’ had his transponder worked during Friday qualifying.

Thornton powered away at the start from Ethan Shippert’s Tyrrell 010 from the line, followed by
the thunder of 16 Ford Cosworth DFVs. Missing from the grid today were Bud Moeller’s Ensign MN179 and Chris Farrell’s March 821 which suffered engine blow ups yesterday. Thornton was running a fresh DFV from the beginning of the weekend. Again, sunny skies and moderate temperatures made for a spectacular show. The group completed 13 laps in the 20 minute session.

“It was on rails this weekend,” Declared Thornton as he celebrated the sweep in his paddock. “The boys told me to slow it down a bit, so I took a second off it and just brought her home.” An engineer by trade, Thornton was very analytical, “The track was slick all weekend. Last weekend I watched other cars on slicks, coming out of the final corner (turn 11) and losing grip. To make up time, I put the load on the fronts and gently eased the throttle.”

Two stellar drives by Erich Joiner in the Williams FW08C both Saturday and Sunday resulted in fourth and second places respectively. “I would have liked to know what would have happened had we started from the front row,” pondered the runner up. “When you start last you just keep passing cars. I just tried to have fun. Yesterday I made some risky passes, but today I just really tried to pick my moments.” Joiner also races a Porsche professionally in the Blancpain GT World Challenge series.

Great scraps continued throughout the field. Once again the Arrows A6 of Chris Bender and ex-Brett Lunger McLaren M23 of Danny Baker ran close until the Arrows expired with a mechanical on lap 10. Steve Hartley in the Arrows A4 was also in they fray until retiring on Lap 7.

Martin Lauber caught Shippert for second place on Lap 9, Then Shippert faded and retired. Lauber blew up with a lap to go, ceding second place to James Hagan in the Tyrrell 011 — who was then passed by Joiner.

The field of Masters Historic Formula One cars, while all running Cosworth DFV motors, represented a diverse and special era from the mid 1970s to the early 1980’s where a team of twelve or so people could fabricate a car, buy a customer motor and competitively go racing in the world’s top-elite series. The oldest cars in this weekend’s field included the high-airbox 1974 Shadow DN3, owned and run by Harin de Silva; a 1975 Hill GH1, run by Brad Hoyt; and a 1976 Penske PC4, run by Doug Mockett. The relative newest were Joiner’s 1983 Williams; and Bender’s 1983 Arrows.

The series next heads to Circuit of the Americas November 1-3, where it will be a historic support race for the Formula One United States Grand Prix.