SCC: Laguna Seca: Finlay Motorsports preview

BODIES IN MOTION With Momentum And The Home-Track Advantage, Finlay Motorsports Looks To Take Its First Grand American Victory At Laguna Seca * This is the home track race for Novato resident Memo Gidley; he saw his first race at Laguna Seca,...


With Momentum And The Home-Track Advantage, Finlay Motorsports Looks To Take Its First Grand American Victory At Laguna Seca

* This is the home track race for Novato resident Memo Gidley; he saw his first race at Laguna Seca, drove a race car for the first time and finished second here driving a Champ Car for Target Chip Ganassi.

* McDowell won the Star Formula Mazda championship at Laguna Seca in 2004 after qualifying on the pole and finishing second. In four career appearances at Laguna Seca, he has finished on the podium three times.

* Gidley recently drove Paul Newman off the Tonight Show back lot in the 2-seater Champ Car after an interview with Jay Leno. The event was part of the promotion for the Long Beach Grand Prix.

* The Finlay Motorsports #19 Air Force Reserve / Make-A-Wish Foundation / Commercial Defeasance Dinan-powered BMW Riley Daytona Prototype is a prime candidate for victory at Laguna Seca; in just its third Rolex Series event, the team led 22 of 84 laps -- and set the fastest lap of the race -- at California Speedway earlier this month.

* McDowell and Rob Finlay -- both in their first full season of professional competition -- will co-drive the #60 Commercial Defeasance BMW M3 in the Grand Am Cup race on Saturday. The duo is looking to regain the championship points lead they held until a mechanical DNF at California Speedway.

Ask any racing driver, and they'll tell you that momentum and the home track advantage are as real as the wrenches the crew uses to work on the car.

And the Grand American Road & Track 250 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, April 29 -- May 1, presents the Finlay Motorsports team with the ideal opportunity to bring those exact tools to bear on the task of winning the team's first race.

Co-driving the #19 Air Force Reserve / Make-A-Wish Foundation / Commercial Defeasance BMW Riley Daytona Prototype in the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series race on Sunday will be teammates Michael McDowell and Memo Gidley. In just its third Rolex Series race, the team led 22 of 84 laps in the previous event at California Speedway on April 3 and are currently tied for 10th in the championship.

McDowell has a particular fondness for the Laguna Seca track; it was there in 2004 that he put the finishing touch on a dominant season (victories in 8 of 10 races) in the fiercely-contested Star Formula Mazda series by winning the championship after starting from the pole and finishing 2nd. In four career appearances at Laguna Seca, McDowell has finished on the podium three times.J

"Laguna is one of the great racetracks of the world, and both Memo and I have done well there in the past," says McDowell. "It's the first true road course of the season, which is a particular strength of ours, and it's a track the team and engineers know very well, so we should be fast right out of the box. Leading at the California Speedway race really gave the team some momentum, and we're working to ride that right into victory lane."

McDowell's co-driver, Memo Gidley, lives in Novato, and Laguna Seca has played a pivotal role in his career. When first starting out, Gidley was enrolled in the Jim Russell Racing School's Mechanic's Training Program -- and delivered Domino's pizza at night -- to get his first experience behind the wheel of a racing car. Since then, Gidley, who has 38 Champ Car races to his credit, has raced at the track many times, including a thrilling battle for the 1997 Toyota Atlantic championship.

"Laguna was where I saw my first auto race, and it definitely shaped the early stages of my career," says Gidley. "I finished second there in a Champ Car race for Chip Ganassi, so between Michael and I, we definitely know how to pedal a race car around the track as fast as it will go. That's important because these Rolex series races are so close and competitive you have to make the most of every advantage, however big or small."

Gidley's racing duties have taken him into interesting situations recently; two weeks ago, he appeared on NBC's Tonight Show with Paul Newman as part of The Long Beach Grand Prix. Memo drove Paul off the NBC back lot in the 750HP, Ford powered, two-seater Champ Car, after Jay's interview.

"An interesting experience, to say the least," said Gidley. "Paul and Jay are both car guys and racing fans, so we had lots to talk about and had a great time together. I'd like to have been in a single-seater at Long Beach, but this was definitely a thrill, and I'd like to thank Champ Car for the opportunity."

In addition to the Daytona Prototype in the Rolex series, Finlay Motorsports will also field a BMW M3 in the Grand Am Cup race on Saturday, co-driven by McDowell and Rob Finlay. The duo had a strong start to the season, finishing 3rd at Daytona and 4th in Santo Domingo, and leading the championship going into the California Speedway race.

There, after slashing their way up through the 71-car field from 29th on the grid to 2nd in the race, the duo experienced one of those 'wrong place, wrong time' moments -- a backmarker went wide in a turn and hit a cone which then flipped up and punctured the radiator on the Finlay/McDowell car. The team was credited with a 48th-place finish, dropping them to 8th in the championship battle.

"We had a tremendous race going before that blasted cone came out of nowhere, but that's racing for you," says Finlay. "The team gave us the fastest car on the track, and we were making the most of it. I'm excited about Laguna Seca because it's a track I really like, and I'm looking forward to Michael and I getting our team back in front where it belongs."

The 200-mile/90-lap Grand Am Cup race will start at 2:45 pm, Saturday, April 30. The 250-mile / 112-lap Rolex Series race is scheduled to take the green flag at 12 noon (PDT) on Sunday, May 1, and will be televised live on the SPEED channel.

The next race on the schedule is 6 heurs du Circuit Mont-Tremblant, on the 2.65-mile Mont-Tremblant road course in Quebec, Canada, May 19 - 21.

Finlay Motorsport's sponsors include the Air Force Reserve (, the Make-A-Wish Foundation ( and Commercial Defeasance LLC ( The team's technical partners include engine supplier and BMW high performance specialist Dinan Cars (, chassis builder Riley Technologies (, Hoosier Tires (, Red Line Oil ( and Cobalt Friction Technologies (


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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Memo Gidley , Paul Newman , Michael McDowell , Chip Ganassi , Rob Finlay , Jay Leno