Laguna Seca: Tom Sutherland preview

Los Gatos, Calif.'s Tom Sutherland Is Excited to Be Racing at Laguna Seca In Saturday's American Le Mans Series Headliner LOS GATOS, Calif., May 18 - He's young. He's talented. And he's local. Tom Sutherland of Los Gatos, Calif., who...

Los Gatos, Calif.'s Tom Sutherland Is Excited to Be Racing at Laguna Seca In Saturday's American Le Mans Series Headliner

LOS GATOS, Calif., May 18 - He's young.

He's talented.

And he's local.

Tom Sutherland of Los Gatos, Calif., who turned 21 on April 3, will be one of the youngest drivers competing in the six-hour "American Le Mans Series Monterey presented by Patron" race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. on Saturday. But being young and going wheel to wheel against many veterans of international road racing doesn't intimidate Sutherland. He's been winning races since the age of 8, when he posted his first go-kart victory at the Salinas Airport Raceway. He also set the record for being the youngest driver to compete at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when he competed in a Formula BMW USA race at the Brickyard in 2004.

The American Le Mans Series presents races from Florida to California and as far north as Canada, so Sutherland is especially excited about racing at a facility that is just an hour's drive from his home in Los Gatos. It's also the place where he first drove a true race car, as he successfully completed the Skip Barber school there at the age of 15. He's competed at the 2.238-mile, 11-turn road course with its famous Corkscrew about 10 times since then in a wide variety of cars, including Atlantic, Star Mazda and GT race cars. He even set a new track record there in 2006 enroute to winning a SCCA Formula Ford race.

"Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is one of my favorite tracks; it's smooth, technical and fun. I remember going there to watch my dad in World Sports Car races," said the second-generation driver who will be teamed up with Tom Weickardt of Whitefish Bay, Wis. and Kyle Marcelli of Barrie, Ontario at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Tom Sutherland is the son of Rick Sutherland, a veteran road racer who has even competed at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Rick Sutherland is also the chief executive officer of ClickAway, a computer, networking and IT company with stores in Almaden, Campbell, Los Altos, Santa Cruz and Sunnyvale as well as Internet sales on-line at ClickAway.com. ClickAway will be represented by decals on the car Tom Sutherland will drive at Laguna, the bright-red Genoa Racing No. 36 LMPC car. It's currently second in the class point standings, and the Zionsville, Ind.-based team will be going for its third podium finish in as many races at Laguna.

Tom Sutherland likes to visit with the fans at the autograph sessions like the one that will be held in the American Le Mans Series paddock at Laguna Seca from 11:15 a.m. to noon on Saturday before the six-hour race begins at 2:30 p.m. that afternoon. One of his favorite racing memories was meeting one of his heroes, Alex Zanardi, who was competing in a CART champ car race there when Sutherland was about 9.

"I got his autograph and my picture taken with him at a party at a hotel in the area before a CART race at Laguna," Sutherland recalled. "I still have it; it's hanging on a wall at my parents' house in Los Gatos."

Like most road racing fans Sutherland enjoys walking around the course to see the cars go through the different turns, although now he does that during practice sessions in search of techniques that could improve his own lap times. "At Laguna we always started out with the people from Firestone in Turn 1, and then we walked around from there the rest of the day," he recalled. "We would always make the hike to the Corkscrew; that's always fun."

But he says driving Genoa Racing's car in the headlining race will be even more fun.

"I think it will be a blast!" he said. "The track is so smooth now that I really love it. I know of about 10 to 15 family members and friends who are coming, and there will probably be more who show up on race day," he said. "A few people from ClickAway are coming too. We always go to the Wharf for dinner the night before the race.

In addition to racing, Sutherland is also taking summer classes at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, where he is studying psychology and business. "It's going to be a busy summer," he admitted.

But this weekend his entire focus will be on another strong finish for the Genoa Racing team.

"We want another podium for sure," he said. "And what would be even better would be a win."

CBS will air a documentary-type program on the event at 1:30 p.m. Eastern time the following Saturday, May 29. The weekend schedule and live timing and scoring can be found on imsaracing.net. Live, on-line video streaming of the entire six-hour race by TodoCast.tv is planned for the series' Web site at americanlemans.com.

-source: tomsutherlandracing.com.

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Series ALMS
Drivers Alex Zanardi , Skip Barber , Rick Sutherland , Tom Sutherland , Kyle Marcelli