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Laguna Seca Preview

FANTASTIC FINALES COMING UP! LAGUNA SECA RACEWAY, Monterey, California (October 6) -- The world's best sports car racers have one last chance for championship titles and glory in 1998. That's here at Laguna Seca Raceway where they'll race...

FANTASTIC FINALES COMING UP!

LAGUNA SECA RACEWAY, Monterey, California (October 6) -- The world's best sports car racers have one last chance for championship titles and glory in 1998. That's here at Laguna Seca Raceway where they'll race for U.S. and world championships during the Visa Sports Car Championships presented by Honda October 23, 24, 25.

Thirty-two GT sports cars - racing versions of high-performance road cars, some priced over $1,000,000 -- are being shipped to Laguna Seca for the final 1998 FIA GT Championship race on Sunday, October 25. Bernd Schneider and his Mercedes CLK-LM co-driver Mark Webber have a three point lead on their Mercedes factory team mates Klaus Ludwig and Ricardo Zonta, who recently signed with the BAR Formula 1 team for 1999. It looks like the two duos will battle here for the title, unless something very unusual happens at Round 9 of the ten round series in Homestead, Florida, on October 18. Usual has been a Mercedes sweep with Schneider/Webber first and Ludwig/Zonta second, or vice-versa.

The three-hour FIA GT Championship finale will be the last race ever for Ludwig. He's retiring after an almost 20 year career during which he's won the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times, been German Champion five times and finished in the top five of German, European or World championships 10 times. For him to retire a winner and a champion would be a dream come true. "Laguna Seca is one of the tracks I love the best," he says. "It's a demanding track and an exciting track - the Corkscrew, in Europe, impossible. To win there would be very special for me."

Victory at Laguna Seca would also be very special for the factory Porsche drivers who've been fast in Austria, England, France, Germany, Hungary and Japan, but haven't managed to win with their Porsche 911 GT1-98s. Leading the pack are Allan McNish, winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June, whose co-driver is 1992 World Sportscar Champion Frenchman Yannick Dalmas, and Jorg Müller, the 1996 International F3000 Champion whose co-driver is Uwe Alzen. It will be a very long Winter in Germany if Porsche goes winless. Winning here would give the Panoz team the last and best laugh. Panoz Motor Sports is a small high-performance car manufacturer headquartered near Atlanta. It has taken on German giants Mercedes and Porsche with a car that' s typically American. With the looks of an action-figure car, the Panoz GTR is powered by a big-bore Roush Ford V8 mounted up front, instead of a high-revving Mercedes-Benz V12 or turbocharged Porsche flat-six behind the driver. In the hands of David Brabham and Eric Bernard, it goes like a rocket. They've led many a lap but had lousy luck - their best finishes, third-places in England and France. They're hoping that will change at Laguna Seca and they'll lead at least the most important lap, the last one. Going for the FIA GT2 Championship are Chrysler Viper GTS-R drivers Olivier Beretta and Pedro Lamy, currently tied in points. In addition to fighting each other, they'll have to fend off a passel of Porsche 911 GT2 drivers, a bunch of hot-shoes in Saleen Mustangs and the duo of Cor Euser and Harald Becker who've been consistently fastest in qualifying with their Chevy V8-powered Marcos LM 600, which has a body with so many bulges you would think it's on steroids.

The opening race of the Visa Sports Car Championships presented by Honda double-header is Saturday, October 24. It's the 2½ hour finale for the World Sports Car Championship and SPORTS CAR GT Series presented by Virgin Interactive championships. Ferrari driver Wayne Taylor is out to get back the WSC crown. It was taken away last year by current points leader Butch Leitzinger who drives a Riley & Scott Mk. III made in Indiana and powered by a Ford V8.

A Panoz GTR driver is sure to be the SPORTS CAR GT1 champion, either Brabham, Bernard or Andy Wallace. The GT3 championship will go to one of four Prototype Technology Group BMW M3 drivers -- Bill Auberlen, No Fear co-founder Mark Simo, Ross Bentley or World Challenge Champion Peter Cunningham -- unless Porsche 911 RSR driver Cort Wagner wins big at Laguna Seca, like he did last month at the Sebring Classic when he broke an eight race PTG winning streak.

FIA GT Championship driver highlights

#1 Mercedes CLK-LM Bernd Schneider 34 Germany 1997 FIA GT Champ, '95 German Touring Car Champ, '87 German F3 Champ, F1 '88-89 Marc Webber 22 Australia 1996 British F3 Championship 2nd, '92 Australian karting champion

#2 Mercedes CLK-LM Klaus Ludwig 49 Germany 1992 & '94 German Touring Car Champ, 24 Hours of Le Mans winner '79, '84 & '85 Ricardo Zonta 22 Brazil 1997 F3000 Champ, '95 Brazilian F3 Champ

#3 Panoz GTR David Brabham 33 Australia 1993 24 Hours of Le Mans winner, '89 British F3 Champ, F1 '90 Eric Bernard 34 France 1987 French F3 Championship 2nd, F1 '89-94

#7 Porsche 911 GT1-98 Allan McNish 28 Scotland 1998 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Yannick Dalmas 37 France 1994 & '95 24 Hours of Le Mans winner, '92 World Sportscar Champ, '86 French F3

#8 Porsche 911 GT1-98 Jorg Mueller 29 Germany 1996 International Formula 3000 Champ, '94 German F3 Champ Uwe Alzen 31 Germany 1994 Porche Supercup winner, '95 ADAC Cup winner

#51 Chrysler Viper GTS-R Olivier Beretta 29 France 1997 GT2 Championship 3rd, F1 '94 Pedro Lamy 26 Portugal 1992 German F3 Champ, F1 '93-96

#51 Chrysler Viper GTS-R Karl Wendlinger 29 Austria 1989 German F3 Champ, '88 Austrian F3 Champ, F1 driver 1992-95 David Donohue 31 USA 1998 24 Hours of Le Mans GT2 winner, '97 North American Touring Car Champ

#65 Porsche 911 GT2 Franz Konrad 47 Austria 1997 Porsche Cup winner, '83 German F3 Champ

#56 Porsche 911 GT2 Claudia Hrtgen 27 Germany 1997 Daytona 24 Hours GT2 winner, '95 Austrian Touring Car Champ Stephan Ortelli 28 France 1998 24 Hours of Le Mans winner

#60 Porsche 911 GT2 Michel Neugarten 41 Belgium 1997 24 Hours of Le Mans GT2 winner, stunt driver/Peter DeNiro double in movie, "Ronin"

#70 Marcos LM 600 Cor Euser 41 Holland 1993 & '96 Dutch Touring Car Champ Harald Becker 44 Germany 1992 German Touring Car Championship 3rd, '83 German FF Champ

SCHEDULE (GATES OPEN 7:00 A.M. DAILY) FRIDAY, OCTOBER 23 Practice & qualifying 8:00pm - 5:15pm SATURDAY, OCTOBER 24 FIA GT Championship qualifying 10:00pm World Sports Car Championship & GT Series presented by Virgin Interactive 2 hour race Noon FIA GT Championship final qualifying 3:30pm SUNDAY, OCTOBER 25 Sports Toyota race 10:20pm FIA Grand Touring Championship 3 hour race 12:15pm Barber Dodge Pro Series race 3:45pm

Tickets range from an advance sale three-day Super Ticket (event and paddock admission) for $60 to daily general admission tickets at the gate: Saturday ($30) and Sunday ($40). Complete ticket information and orders can be obtained by calling 800-327-SECA or logging on to www.laguna-seca.com.

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