MONTEREY, Calif. – What follows in this post isn’t so much a recap of things that happened at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, as much as it is an outlining of what is to come following the results of things that happened at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, across the Mazda Road to Indy and Pirelli World Challenge.
- Whose headliner was it anyway? In theory, the concept of two of INDYCAR’s usual dancing partners – the full complement of Mazda Road to Indy series and the Pirelli World Challenge GT and GTS classes (as well as the TC classes, which used to be on INDYCAR weekends but were moved off for 2015 due to lack of available track time) – getting their own headline weekend sounded good. In reality, it didn’t feel as “big” as it should have… which wasn’t really anyone’s fault but stemmed from a few factors. From the promotion of the event seeing both listed as co-headliners with neither taking precedence, to both series feeling aggrieved by track time, load-in dates and schedule quirks, to Pirelli signage needing to be covered up on Cooper Tire podiums and vice versa, it seemed a case of “please, it’s your feature, sir,” to then “no, please go ahead, it’s yours.” With Pirelli World Challenge announcing both Sonoma and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca again for next year, with Mazda Raceway moving to October, it would make sense for the Mazda Road to Indy to crown its champions in front of INDYCAR teams at Sonoma in 2016, rather than in front of a small group of hardcore, dedicated insiders and fans who made the trek out west for the second time in three weeks. You could make the argument the Mazda Road to Indy champions being crowned at Mazda Raceway made sense, and there was live streaming via RoadToIndy.TV throughout the weekend. But in reality, the scope of what champions Spencer Pigot, Santi Urrutia and Nico Jamin wasn’t exposed to nearly as wide an audience or media gathering as they – or the Mazda Road to Indy series and its partners – deserve.
- Deserving MRTI champions. Now that Pigot, Urrutia, and Jamin have their titles – and their Mazda Motorsports advancement scholarships for 2016 – we’ll break out features on each of them in the coming weeks to tell more stories about what they’ve done and where they’re going next. Suffice to say if they didn’t win their titles, their careers would be at a crossroads…
- And hard luck MRTI runners-up. … To piggyback off the last bullet point, the question of “what’s next?” for drivers like Jack Harvey, Ed Jones and RC Enerson (Indy Lights), Neil Alberico (Pro Mazda), Jake Eidson and Aaron Telitz (USF2000) now arises, as the next generation of drivers who are talented but unsure of where the next step in their career may come. For Harvey, to have lost consecutive Lights titles in crushing fashion, it’s a bitter pill to swallow. However, both he and Jones impressed in IndyCar tests, and hopefully either or both have a chance to join Pigot in advancing into the Verizon IndyCar Series next season.
- Overlooked weekend race winners. Outside of Pigot and Jamin, who swept the Indy Lights and USF2000 races, winning the last race on a championship weekend is somewhat unfortunate because you get overlooked by the title races. In this case, Garett Grist was overlooked after one of his best weekends yet in the Mazda Road to Indy – he swept the two Pro Mazda races. And in Pirelli World Challenge, aside of the climactic championship battle between Johnny O’Connell and Olivier Beretta, you had Alessandro Balzan show what he can do in a car with an authoritative win over teammate Alessandro Pier Guidi. The other PWC weekend winners included Eric Lux (GTA), Colin Thompson (GT Cup), Kris Wilson (GTS), Adam Poland, Corey Fergus and Ernie Francis Jr. (TC), Jason Wolfe and Paul Holton (TCA) and Joey Jordan (TCB), the latter of whom completed a three-race weekend sweep, in a Mazda 2, at Mazda Raceway.
- PWC’s next move(s). News came late Sunday night as part of the Pirelli World Challenge championship celebration that WC Vision’s Scott Bove had resigned as CEO, along with its 2016 schedule release. The line of note, “Scott Bove did not do this alone,” from Bob Woodhouse spoke volumes, although it must be stated Bove made plenty of decisive and good strategic moves that helped the championship’s growth over the last five seasons. How the series addresses the concerns and pulse of its paddock from here will determine how much the series can continue to grow beyond what has been done the last few seasons.
- A thrilling end to GT title bout. While Johnny O’Connell and Olivier Beretta had dueled for the PWC GT season title, O’Connell took several opportunities Sunday to praise Ryan Dalziel, who many will acknowledge as one of the top sports car drivers in the world at the moment. Had Dalziel not had two conflicts that cost him three races, the likable Florida-based Scotsman could well have usurped “Johnny O” for the title. As it was, O’Connell’s championship victory was a popular one – few seemed to care for Beretta’s driving tactics most of the season, and this great photo from Richard S. James showed the reality of what happened at the Corkscrew. It was the defining moment of the season.
- What’s next for Mazda Raceway? Simple answer is we don’t know. This could well have been the last professional weekend before Porsche Rennsport Reunion in two weeks run under SCRAMP operations; ISC has entered into a 90-day due diligence agreement with the track within the last month or so. As ever, watch this space…