There are benefits to running a daytime four-hour enduro at a track with an infield covered with irrigated Bermuda grass. The first is no major dust clouds blocking your vision when someone drops a wheel. Another is a race that goes from green to checkers without a single caution period.
That’s what happened in June when WERC racers faced off at Auto Club Speedway. No yellows allowed more time for actual racing, and more time for team strategies to play out as the teams planned.
With five of the fastest cars vying for the ESR win and for the overall win, Team InterMedia Racing exchanged the ESR and overall lead with Lang Racing Development throughout the race.
Team Intermedia’s Ligier JS-51 was turning laps upward of 4 seconds faster than Team Lang Racing Development, but the GM LS V8 used more fuel than the Honda K engine in Lang Racing’s Norma. That meant Team Intermedia might need to pit three times for fuel, so the team’s drivers needed to commit to fuel-saving strategies.
“We knew we were going to have one more stop than they did, and we knew that in order to do it on two stops we had to conserve fuel,” said team owner and driver Tom Hope. “It was a matter of managing the pace as well as managing the fuel. To be honest, it went down to exactly how we wrote it up, which is pretty unusual.
“After about lap two in the race, we just started short-shifting. Normally, we run it up to 6,800 or so, and so we were short-shifting at 6,000. And then we coast going into the corner and be real progressive on the throttle coming out, so we do everything we can to conserve fuel. We needed to get like 4.8 miles per gallon, whereas normally it will get 4 mpg. We were able to run to that number. Luckily, we have a great team here, HM Racing, and they’ve got the telemetry to help and they’re able to really monitor it and coach the drivers on what they need to do, tell them what pace they need to run. The car is a blast, 175 mph on the oval, and it just sticks like glue.”
In the end, Team Intermedia Racing finished first overall, with Team Lang Racing Development was second, and Team SPG Motorsports in third.
Team Chill Motorsports has been the car to beat in ES this year in the WERC series, and the team proved it again at Auto Club Speedway in June.
They took the ES lead and held it through hours, one, two, and three and till the end, with only ESR cars in front of them. There was only one other car in ES, Team Speed One Motorsports, which was running similar lap times early on, but they dropped out after 42 laps.
“Since we didn’t have a lot of competition in ES, we were just kind of hunting for the overall, I guess, but we knew we weren’t even close to the prototype,” said driver Brett Strom.
Team owner and driver Chris Hill said the team had some issues early on with an out-of-class car, but they dispensed with that car and put their collective heads down and set their sights on the finish.
“The first stint was actually really crazy,” Hill said. “Kurt Johnson, our second driver, really drove an amazing race, too. He’s joined the team in the last year, and he’ll run at Utah and Laguna.”
Team Chill Motorsports by Strom took the ES win and third overall. Team Speed One Motorsports finished second.
Team BMW Z4 owner and driver Dean Mansour has traditionally driven three-hour enduros by himself. Four hours behind the wheel on a 90-plus-degree day is next level. Nevertheless, Mansour drove the whole race by himself, with Team Strom Motorsports providing pit crew services for his two stops.
“I tried to get help, but no one wanted to jump in. It went really well. The E86 Z4 is an incredible racecar. No one is using them, and it’s just awesome, particularly at this track,” Mansour said. “It’s a very high-speed track and over the banking it’s a huge advantage.”
Asked how he could sustain pace for four hours of driving, Mansour credited years of doing yoga and a good racing seat.
“The big thing is to try to be calm in the car and be quiet in the car so that you’re not expending energy on things you don’t need to,” Mansour said. “It’s a hard thing to say: You want to relax to go faster, and you want to relax in your seat so you don’t fight the g’s because if you do, you won’t last. You’ve got to let the car drive well and be careful and quiet with your motions, and let it hold you. Getting a good seat is really important, getting a good seat that fits tight.”
By the end of hour four, Team BMW Z4 took the E0 win, followed by Team Tazio Ottis Racing in second and Team Occupy Pit Lane in third.
The E1 field consisted of six cars, one of the two largest classes in the race. With one third-place finish in this year’s WERC schedule, Team Hemisphere Endurance was determined to finish on top, bringing in 14-time NASA National Champion driver Dave Schotz, and Brett Strom to take a stint.
Team Hemisphere Endurance had the E1 lead at the two-hour mark, but fell back to second behind Team Jirafa/Lang Racing Development. Hemisphere was turning laps about 1 second faster, and by the time checkers flew Hemisphere had retaken first place in E1 and the win, despite having to make two unscheduled pit stops.
“I’m always spoiled at Auto Club because it’s daylight, so I love that,” Schotz said. “When we came in we noticed the left rear was corded, so I came right back in and we put a left rear on. About three laps later, the left front popped. I had to drive in with no tire, and then after that, the car was on rails. There was no excuses. I had three-out-of-four new tires. The car was awesome. Brett Strom knows how to set them up, that’s for sure. Jean-Luc DeFanti, Strom and me, it was a good four-hour run.”
For the last few years in the WERC series, E2 has been one of the most hotly contested classes in the enduros. This year is no different, with six cars vying for a podium.
Season points standings show Team Palomar Racing in first, with Team HQ Autosport in second and Team Technik Competition in third, all of which were on hand at Auto Club Speedway. Team Palomar showed up with three quick shoes: former Teen Mazda Challenge driver Matt Million, Nik Romano and Sonny Watanasirisuk.
At the one- and two-hour marks, Team Palomar demonstrated why it’s in the season points lead. Team Palomar maintained its lead through the three-hour mark, and when the checkers flew, HQ Autosport was on the same lap, but still in second. Team Technik Competition was just a lap back in third.
“Nik was able to start the race and go an hour and 35 minutes. He pushed fuel pretty long. Sonny got in for the second stint, ran to a pace, ran clean, did exactly what he had to do and I got in the car and, again, ran to a pace, made sure we hit fuel numbers,” said cleanup driver Million. “We were a little bit worried about fuel at the end, and decided we had enough space on the track to come in, did a splash and went full-bore to the end. We’re really happy. It was a really good race and I can’t say enough about Palomar Racing and what this team is becoming.”
The E3 class has been sparsely attended this year, with teams favoring E3S, but at Auto Club Speedway, there were two in attendance: Team Drive Skills and Team Aardvarc Racing.
The two teams were close at the one- and two-hour marks, but by the time three hours had passed, Team Drive Skills had established a six-lap lead on Team Aardvarc Racing. By the time the checkers flew, Team Drive Skills had stretched that gap to seven laps.
“It was our first event with NASA. We wanted to come out and feel it out, and it was a fantastic experience, everything organized,” said team owner and driver Enrique Mar. “The car ran great, the team was great, we had the strategy for pits and I think that’s what won it.”