A late pass on Dane Cameron’s Action Express Racing Cadillac with under two minutes to go made Renger Van der Zande the hero of the race as he guided Visit Florida Racing to America’s Tire 250 victory at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Ricky Taylor had to run wide on the exit of the Andretti Hairpin to hold off Action Express Racing's Christian Fittipaldi at the start, but then had no problem pulling a 1.3sec lead in just one lap, chased by Marc Goossens in the Visit Florida Racing Ligier, Eric Curran in the second AXR Cadillac, Misha Goikhberg in the JDC Miller Oreca and the Nissans of Scott Sharp and Johannes van Overbeek.
Taylor had a 3sec lead after 10 laps, with Goossens 4sec behind Fittipaldi, and having to work hard to hold off Curran.
On Lap 29, Fittipaldi, some 14sec down on Taylor, handed over the AXR #5 Cadillac to Joao Barbosa and the Taylors responded by pitting the next lap.
Following the stops, Jordan Taylor’s lead over Barbosa was 8sec, and Dane Cameron now in the #31 Caddy was past the VFR car which now had Renger Van Der Zande at the wheel.
Behind, Ryan Dalziel fell off the road briefly at Turn 3, but the #2 Nissan remained apparently healthy.
A full-course yellow flew with 1hr16mins still to go hurting those who’d already stopped, and giving a new lease of life to the others. The #31 Cadillac of Cameron led from the restart, chased hard by Taylor, but with Barbosa, Van Der Zande and Dalziel in close attendance.
That meant when they pitted with 45mins remaining, every little hesitation hurt, every corner that could be cut would provide a benefit. Cameron emerged in front, but the VFR team sent Van Der Zande on his way with only fresh right-side tires. That swifter stop got the #90 Ligier ahead of Barbosa and the pair of them were also now ahead of the Wayne Taylor Racing machine.
Over the final stint, Van Der Zande kept the pressure on Cameron, forcing the Californian to take more chances through traffic, and the #31 Caddy was also now suffering a flapping right-rear fender from an earlier brush with the GTLM Risi Ferrari.
Finally, the VFR Ligier pounced at the top of the Corkscrew with just 100sec of the race remaining, and over the next two laps, he pulled away to win by 2.248sec.
The Taylors were a further 6sec adrift, with the JDC Miller Oreca beating Barbosa to fourth place.
GT Le Mans
John Edwards got spun around in Turn 1 at the start and fell behind even the GTD field, as Toni Vilander’s Ferrari 488 held off Dirk Muller’s Ford GT, chased by Alexander Sims’ BMW M6, and the Porsche 911 RSRs of Patrick Pilet and Laurens Vanthoor. Behind, the second Ford of Ryan Briscoe ran ahead of the Corvettes.
The 911s were soon all over the trunk-lid of Sims’ M6 and on Lap 23 they were both past – although Vanthoor’s #912 car was then repassed by not only Sims but also Briscoe’s Ford. Pilet went the opposite way and two laps later was up into second, albeit already now 11sec behind Vilander’s Ferrari.
After the first round of stops, the Risi Competizione Ferrari was still leading, now driven by Giancarlo Fisichella, but it was Joey Hand in the #66 Ford who passed Dirk Werner at the wheel of the #911 to claim second, with Bill Auberlen’s BMW #25 in fourth ahead of Richard Westbrook who took over the #67 Ford from Briscoe, and the recovering second M6 now driven by Martin Tomczyk.
Following a punt from Westbrook, Auberlen’s beached #25 BMW at Turn 3 brought out the yellow flags and while Vilander resumed in the class lead, it was Edwards in the #24 BMW who was giving chase, ahead of Dirk Werner’s Porsche and Garcia in the #3 Corvette.
The Vilander/Fisichella Ferrari, holding a 12sec lead, made its final stop with 32mins to go. Validness emerged fourth, and recovered to third, and with 2mins to go, he grabbed second from Werner and closed on the fuel-saving Edwards.
However, Edwards kept his head and finished ahead by less than a car length, with Werner third ahead of Garcia, Westbrook and Hand.
Despite heavy damage on his Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan following contact with the tail of the #4 Corvette, Madison Snow initially led comfortably ahead of Daniel Morad’s Alegra Porsche 911 GT3 R, Sage Karam in the 3GT Lexus RC F, Patrick Lindsey’s Park Place Motorsports Porsche and Ozz Negri in the #86 Acura NSX.
However, after 11 laps Snow pitted as the hood damage started to obscure his vision.
The first round of scheduled stops saw a major reshuffle, with #16 Change Racing sending Jeroen Mul's Lambo out in the lead ahead of Andrew Davis in the Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8, Jorg Bergmeister in the Park Place Porsche, Jesse Krohn in the Turner Motorsports BMW, and Robert Alon who’d taken over from Karam in the #14 Lexus.
The Alegra Porsche expired on Lap 49 while in Pat Long’s hands, removing one of the strongest contenders in the class. But it was the solitary full-course yellow that caused the biggest upheaval. Suddenly it was the CORE Autosport in the hands of Colin Braun that led on the restart ahead of Krohn, Alessandro Balzan in the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488, Andy Lally in the #93 Acura NSX, and Corey Lewis in the Change Lamborghini.
A late splash of fuel for Krohn dropped him down the order, and the leading CORE car suffered similarly, handing the lead to the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari which extended Balzan/Nielsen’s championship lead and scored its first win of the year.
The Andy Lally/Katherine Legge #93 Acura was second, 6.5sec behind the leader but 7.8 ahead of Bergmeister/Lindsey in the Park Place Porsche, and the crestfallen Jon Bennett/Colin Braun and Krohn/Klingmann.