On Monday, Sept. 19, when most of you were dutifully returning to work or driving home from the 2022 NASA Championships, 34 drivers in the Western Endurance Racing Championship took the green flag at 10:30 a.m. and settled in for the 6.5-hour Seaside Cup enduro at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
Rains that had played havoc with tire choice for NASA Championships competitors had blown through, so it was back to full-boogey slicks for the WERC racers.
The race itself was marked with local yellows, full-course cautions for cars lodged in gravel traps and other hazardous conditions. We counted seven or eight full-course cautions. That’s not an official number, but the sheer quantity of double-yellows factored into the results of the race.
Nearly all winning teams said the caution periods affected to their fuel strategies, mostly for the good in that it saved them from having to do a “splash-and-go,” but in one case the closed pits during the yellows had them wondering if they might run out of fuel before the yellows lifted, and they could re-enter the pits.
Despite all the yellows, there were no major incidents on track and the cars went back into the trailers largely in the same condition they were in when they arrived. It was a pretty good way to spend a Monday.
It’s not often you can nearly run out of fuel, have to extinguish and repair a car fire in the pits and still take the class and overall wins, but Team Intermedia Racing’s drivers and crews had to overcome all of that, all while negotiating a challenging track in the fastest car while dicing around 33 other cars of varying speeds and lap times.
Team Intermedia took the ESR and overall lead early and held it for the first two hours, but by hour three, Team PMG Awareness had climbed to the top spot over Team Intermedia by one lap. Full-course cautions were a double-edge sword, helping the team economize on fuel, but one particular yellow almost sidelined them.
“Just going off of what happened over the weekend and the preliminary practice days, we figured there was going to be a lot of yellow, flags,” said driver Alex Barron. “We were just trying to run as long as we could on a full fuel tank to make it to where we didn’t have to make one extra stop at the end.”
An incident later on kept them out of the pits. The team can run an hour and 10 minutes on a tank of fuel. With the double-yellows out and the pits closed, the car ran for an hour and 40 minutes on one tank of fuel
By the end of the fourth hour, Team Intermedia had retaken the ESR and overall lead, a position it held till the checkered flag.
Team PMG Awareness held the lead briefly, but finished the race with second place in ESR and second overall.
Team Fast Toys Club ESR climbed as high as fourth overall early in the race, and when the checkers flew, they had secured third in ESR.
Team Speed SF Racing had not been part of any WERC races this season, but the Northern California Racing team wasn’t messing around when they took the green flag at the Seaside Cup.
They brought a brand-new car for the event, one they had been preparing and testing for most of 2022. When they did hit the track, they were ready, and it was evident at each hour mark throughout the enduro.
By the end of the first hour, they had a two-lap lead over Team Tazzio Ottis Racing, which they maintained through the second hour. By hour four, Speed SF Racing had increased its lead over Tazio Ottis to five laps. With just a half hour left to go, Team Tazio Ottis had closed the gap to four laps, but unless something major happened to Speed SF, the race win was out of reach. Speed SF Driver’s Patrick Chio and Gary Yeung were happy to get the win at a track they consider their turf.
“We were looking forward to this race because this is our home track,” Chio said. “The yellows definitely helped us to save fuel because we only have a 16-gallon fuel tank. So all other classes have a big fuel tank, so, I mean, we kind of have some disadvantage. But we had, like, seven or eight yellow flags, so it helped us a lot, so we don’t have to pit as much. And then we were, like, about two or three laps ahead, or something like that, and we just kept our pace. Don’t stress out the car, you know, try to up-shift to save fuel to finish the race.”
Holding second place for the entire event, Team Tazio Ottis finished second.
Coming in third place was Team Fast Toys Club E0 in their Audi RS3 LMS TCR car.
Like a good belt of strong bourbon, Team Evoq Motorsport came out swinging. The team’s overarching strategy was to be aggressive early to establish a gap they could maintain over their nearest rivals, which was EDGE Motorworks before they dropped out, then Team Jirafa/Lang Racing Development.
Team Evoq Motorsport held the E1 lead for the entire race, and rose as high as fifth overall, ahead of all E0 teams and the only non-ES or -ESR car in the top five. Then when the yellows start coming out, and coming back out again and again, the team put some good old endurance racing strategy to work
“The whole challenge was to catch the overall leader in between you and second place, or you and whoever. So, quickly we put down from third back a lap, just from pace at the beginning and then the full courses, but then the game was with the second place, which was the EDGE car,” said driver DJ Quint. “And so then it was pushing hard. We had a super quick first stop, no driver change. We were trying just to minimize the time as much as we could and catch them a lap down. Then once we did that, we had that buffer.”
One lap is ample cushion, but in a 6.5-hour enduro, it guarantees nothing, so the team had to maintain it, which was made even more challenging by — you guessed it — more full-course cautions and the five pit stops they had to make. It’s also worth noting that all three top-finishing cars in E1 were E36 BMWs.
After taking over second place from EDGE Motorworks sometime between hours three and four, Team Jirafa/Lang Racing Development held on for the second place at the finish.
Team Palomar Racing WERC2 steadily clawed its way forward all race long, from 18th overall at hour one, to 17th to 12th, then ninth in hour four, where it would hover to take the third-place finish in E1.
The word “Palomar” has been typed into this keyboard so many times over the course of the Championships weekend and in its aftermath, it’s surprising it hasn’t become part of the computer’s auto-complete function.
With driver Matt Million at the wheel, Team Palomar Racing won the triple crown at the 2022 NASA Championships, taking pole position for the qualifying race, winning the qualifying race and then winning the ST5 Championship.
By now you can probably guess who won the E2 class.
Drivers Sonny Watanasirisuk and Lucas Weisenberg took the early stints. At the end of the first hour, they trailed 2022 E46 triple crown winner and Spec E46 champion Casey Mashore, but by the end of hour two, they had taken the E2 lead, a position they held till the end when Matt Million finished off the team’s efforts.
“The car was butter the whole race, tires held up. I don’t even think we changed a tire,” said midstint driver Weisenberg. “Our strategy was the same as usual with this team. Just do your job, be consistent, keep it clean and get it home. And that’s what we did.”
Team SRC Sampson Racing Communication battled back and forth with Team HQ Autosport, but climbed to second by the end of hour six, where they would finish.
Team HQ Autosport Racing was running nearly identical lap times as Sampson and was on the same lap for much of the middle of the race, and took the checkers in third place.
Because the Seaside Cup was 6.5 hours long, driver Sean Aron joined regular drivers Stepanian and car owner Andrew Clark for a near-perfect performance.
For the first four hours, Team Black Swan Search was right there within one lap of the team, just waiting for the Thundercock drivers to make a mistake. Even with two tire changes during three planned stops, by the end of hour five, Black Swan was two laps back, but Team Kennelly Racing was pushing Black Swan, and by hour six, the second- and third-place cars were back within one lap, which is how the race ended, with Thundercock Racing on the top step.
“Sean had an excellent stint and he was doing so well. His times were so consistent. We asked him if he could double stint and he said “Sure, I’ll do it,” and his time stayed within — when there was no traffic — he stayed within a second to three quarters of a second of his times consistently, and his fuel mileage was unbelievable. So the strategy actually worked,” said driver Steve Stepanian. “He kept the pace, kept the tires going really well I’m surprised that we didn’t have to do more, but I’m telling you this car is really easy to drive. It almost drives itself.”
When Team Kennelly Racing took over second place in E3 during the fifth hour, the team pushed hard to finish there, and they did.
After holding second for most of the race, Team Black Swan Search was not able to get back around Team Kennelly Racing to take second place, and finished third.
After taking the NASA Prototype Championship, Team Ageless Bio Racing ran unopposed in ENP and took the win. The car did retire from the race before checkers.
Team Premat/HM Road Racing had a strategy going into the race that focused on the fundamentals: Accrue no penalties, keep the car on track, run your own race and don’t take unnecessary risks. Other than battling tire pressures that were getting a bit high, the team ran well all race long.
At the end of the first hour, the team trailed the Team Werx45 Audi, but every hour after that, Team Premat/HM Road Racing had the ES lead and third overall, which is exactly where they finished in class and overall.
“Yeah, I was busy out there. I only drove for the last hour, 20 minutes or so. Cole started, drove for the first three hours. Henry was in there in the middle, so I’m sure it was just as busy for them,” said cleanup driver Brandon Chappel. “Some of the slow cars did a really good job. Other times, some of the middle-class cars were a little confused on what side to be on. But, you know, that’s part of this multi class racing, so it’s to be expected. Especially if you’re in a faster car, you just have to have patience.”
After leading ES at the end of the first hour, Team WERX 45 Audi finished second in its jet black Audi R8.
Team Chill Motorsports by Strom drove its GT4 MR Cayman to a third-place finish in ES.