Laguna Seca: GM Racing preview

Pontiac Teams Ready For Laguna Seca Stevenson Motorsports going for hat-trick with GXP.R Setup II winner Prey in Banner Pontiac No. 06 Cristiano da Matta makes return to racing in GAINSCO No. 98 Detroit, Mich., May 14, 2008 -- Pontiac...

Pontiac Teams Ready For Laguna Seca

Stevenson Motorsports going for hat-trick with GXP.R
Setup II winner Prey in Banner Pontiac No. 06
Cristiano da Matta makes return to racing in GAINSCO No. 98

Detroit, Mich., May 14, 2008 -- Pontiac Grand-Am teams are headed west to take on the rolling terrain of Laguna Seca in round five of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 to be run at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca May 17. Stevenson Motorsports will be going or their third win in as many races with their Pontiac GXP.R.

The 2.2-mile, 11-turn road course featuring the downhill Cork Screw turn will be the next challenge for the 13 Pontiac powered cars this weekend. The 2007 race was not kind to the Pontiac contingent. The top placing Daytona Prototype (DP) was fourth, SAMAX, with the top placing GT Pontiac coming fourth, Banner No. 07.

The Stevenson Motorsports team is carrying a two race win streak to the Monterey Peninsula. Drivers Robin Liddell and Andrew Davis have stood atop the podium in Mexico City and at Virginia International Raceway (VIR). The team from North Carolina is looking for the hat-trick this weekend.

"Laguna Seca should be a great track for the Stevenson Motorsports Pontiac GXP.R," Davis said. "We have a lot of momentum coming into this event with the recent victories, but our focus is on continuous improvement as a team. The Rolex Series is more competitive than ever, and now is not the time for us to quit fighting. We need to continue to execute our plan in a flawless manner in order to match the results from the previous two events. The Laguna Seca circuit will suit the GXP.R quite nicely. However, front grip has traditionally been a difficult thing to find at Laguna. I think it will be very important for us to work to a set-up that will maximize grip levels at the front of the car. This will certainly be a task with the limited amount of track time that we get before the race. Although I consider Laguna Seca to be a fast circuit, it will be an advantage to the Pontiacs to get away from the tracks that have extremely long straights."

In the No. 06 Banner Racing Pontiac GXP.R Chris Prey the winner of the reality racing TV show Setup II will drive with racer and team owner Leighton Reese. Prey will be making his Grand-Am debut as a part of his winnings from the show.

"Chris was over my house this past weekend and I had him on my simulator and he was running fast Laguna laps," Reese said. "You see all these guys coming up from karting and open-wheel looking for drives. Unfortunately, the faster the car goes the less opportunities exist. Between my team and GM we made the deal happen with Chris. If this helps Chris get a boost in racing career, that would be great. He did a good job on the show. He got the car to the front without hurting it. One or two things can right on a race weekend and everything else can go wrong. Hopefully he can start strong and I can back him up and get us on the podium. I am optimistic on having a great race."

Banner 07 drivers Kelly Collins and Paul Edwards lead the GT point standings. The duo has finished no worse than fourth place this season with a win at Homestead. Last year Laguna had the pair fourth, but they are ready to return back to the top step of the podium.

"I expect nothing but good results from the team at Laguna," Collins said. "We are going to get our edge back, get the whip out and keep our focus on the championship. We've had some tiny mistakes in the last few races that have cost us the top positions. The GXP.R should be a good car at Laguna. The Pratt & Miller guys work hard on the setup there. It has been a tough place for us in the past. The track is very smooth, billiard table like. You need to have a car that is good in the low to mid-speed corners, not pushing or loose, and be able to put the power down. Traffic with DP cars is horrid at Laguna. There are some many transitions, too many places for them to stick their noses in. I anticipate about three full course cautions. The sand traps are right off the edge to track and bury the cars. The driving is getting wild, reckless and rowdy this time of the season."

Autohaus Motorsports drivers Lawson Aschenbach and Tim Lewis Jr. are fourth in the driver standings. The Florida pair is looking to get up on the podium for the first time this season and Laguna Seca could be that opportunity.

"I am very excited about going to Laguna," Aschenbach said. "I have raced there a lot the past couple of years. The team is really coming together and everyone shares my excitement. We need to have a good weekend, and get rid of our random problems. We need a good finish. I think we have reached the end of our random issues. The team is ready to put together a clean weekend. Tim and I have the speed and we have the team support, but the top 10 GT are tough and one little mistake can cost you. We are anxious for the next couple of races. The stretch of tracks coming up I know well and am looking forward to running."

PR1 Motorsports will run their third race of the year at Laguna Seca. Mike Forest and Thomas Merrill partnered for the teams first outing at Homestead. The team finished 10th at VIR and are headed toward the front of the GT field with every race entered. The former open-wheel drivers and team are coming to grips with the GXP.R and sportscar racing.

"Now having two races in the Grand-Am series I have learned many things about sports car racing," Forest said. "One would be the differences between the cars. The Pontiac GXP-R is known for its low end torque, which certainly was a big help when we were forced to run without the low gears last event. Another difference between open-wheel and sportscar racing would be how tight the racing is in Grand-Am. Running a sportscar where there is considerably less downforce allows for much closer racing with your competitors because the car does not become unstable when in the draft of a lead car. Having the Daytona Prototypes adds a lot to the racing as well, having to be mindful of not only your own race but the one that is coming from behind requires additional focus. Despite our difficulties with the transmission and loss of gears one through three at VIR I felt it was an improved result over Homestead. Laguna Seca will be the first Grand-Am event I've been to where the track will be familiar, which should be a big help. It will allow more time to refine our approach, as opposed to building from the ground up. With our improved success from Homestead to Virginia I feel that we can have a very solid result at Laguna Seca and keep fighting our way to becoming a front running team."

The Riley-Matthews Daytona Prototype (DP) team of Marc Goossens and Jim Matthews has carried on where they left off at the end of the 2007 season. The duo won the last race of 07 and have logged a win at Mexico City, placed eighth at the Rolex 24, came fourth at Homestead-Miami Speedway and added a third place at VIR. The team from North Carolina is second in DP points.

"I think we had a good second part of last season with obviously the win in the last race at Miller," Goossens said. "We just kept building on the momentum, and things didn't always come our way last year. So far this season, it has worked out much better for us. The new bodywork, the Pirelli tires and the close working relationship with everyone at Pontiac and CRD are paying off now. We really have everything working for us. But the season is still long and there is quite some competition out there, so we just have to keep working hard and hopefully keep scoring maximum points at this stage. I like Laguna because it is a very technical track. There are all types of corners and you can't afford to make any mistakes because there is no room for error. So keeping focus and a good strategy will hopefully bring us another good finish next week."

The Number 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing team with drivers Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney are looking for a break through this weekend in Monterey. The duo has posted a best finish on the year of second at the Rolex 24 Hour in January, but wants a win.

"Laguna Seca is one of the best road courses in the world and I always feel so lucky that I get to race there," Gurney said. "For me, it's the only race on the schedule that I get to drive to instead of fly to. I usually get a speeding ticket about halfway through my five hour drive up from Irvine but it is all part of the Laguna process for me. I made my return to racing in 2005 after two years away when GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing made its debut in the series at Laguna Seca, so it is a special place for all of us. We will always remember being quickest on our first day and we want that tradition to continue this weekend. We can't wait to get back to racing to try to get our championship back on track. We've had some terrible luck lately, but the speed of the car is there and the team is performing well, so we believe that wins are coming. I will have a big contingent of family and friends attending, so I think it is the perfect weekend to get back into victory lane."

In the second GAINSCO No. 98 entry, Cristiano da Matta will be making his return to racing after a career suspending collision with a deer at Road America in 2006 causing serious head injuries. The 2002 CART Champ Car champion and Formula 1 veteran endured over two years of therapy that will pay off this weekend when da Matta joins teammate, 1996 Champ Car champion, Jimmy Vasser for his racing return.

"I've had enough vacation, man," da Matta said. "It's very nice to get back to work. I have actually been pumped for a long time, since I got back and first drove this race car in March. The GAINSCO team and Bob Stallings were the only ones who gave me a chance to drive. Many other teams said come back after I did some races with somebody else, but only Bob and GAINSCO gave me a chance. I can't thank them enough. I like Laguna Seca very much. It is actually one of my favorites. If I could choose a track to get back into the car, I'm sure Laguna would be in the top three. It's a special place for me. I know the track quite well. I've tested there and I have raced there in Champ Cars and Indy Lights. I have no worries about the track."

SunTrust/Wayne Taylor Racing has endured three races where significant on-track contact has adversely affected their finishes. Michael Valiante started from the pole at VIR and second at Homestead in the team's new Dallara. Together with Max Angelelli the team has shown a lot of track speed. Unfortunately the racing contact has them mired in 14th in points and hungry for a top finish this weekend.

"It's always about finishing and winning," Angelelli said. "Really, the main thing -- the only thing -- I'm looking at is I believe we'll be competitive once again, and finishing is going to be the most important thing we can do. As has been the case all year long, we're looking for another great result this time. We've had speed at every race this year. If we just would've finished those races, we would have had great results. The problems we've had have been out of our control. To be so competitive with a brand new car really goes to the show that the SunTrust team and Dallara are such top-notch organizations. Working under those conditions allows us to go out and expect to win races week in and week out. The championship looks more difficult than ever because we're talking about trying to catch a team like Ganassi."

The Krohn Racing team with their new Lola has been threatening a win since they debuted the car at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Nic Jonsson and Ricardo Zonta have posted a podium finish in Mexico City and the Laguna Seca circuit looks made for their high downforce No. 76 Krohn Pontiac Lola. In the companion No. 75, Tracy Krohn and Eric van de Poele are 10th in the driver points.

"I have driven at Laguna quite a lot," van de Poele said. "I drove in 1994 with IMSA GTO with Nissan 300 ZX. In 1997, I raced two races in one weekend. One was the Riley sports car with Wayne Taylor and the second race was the FIA GT race with Lista. I also drove there with the Ferrari 333 SP and the Riley & Scott Judd. It is already a long time ago but it seems like yesterday. The layout of the race track is beautiful. It's not a very fast race track, but it's quite interesting because you have quite different corners -- left and right and up and down. It's quite tricky! It is especially tricky in the rain. I had a fantastic race in the rain in 1998, so I would love to have some rain! I think we could be quite more competitive at Laguna than on the other race tracks we have raced at so far because there are no big straights. We know that has been the part of our new car development which we have not achieved as much progress as we would like. We have done a few tests and it looks promising. It looks like we have the best compromise for this kind of race track. I am looking forward to being there because I think we are going to be better than usual during this part of the Lola development."

Round five of the Grand-Am Rolex series will be run on May 17 and televised, tape delayed, on the SPEED Channel, May 18 at 12:00 p.m. ET.

-credit: gm racing

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