Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Laguna Seca 2019

For the fourth year in a row I went with Nan, Don, and Shirley to Monterey to see the IMSA race at Laguna Seca, and Bill joined us again this year.

This year Nan and I drove the 50th Anniversary Corvette as we did in 2017.

Like prior years we drove up on Friday and back home on Monday. Each year we choose a slightly different route. This year we drove the I-5 past Bakersfield, cut across the San Joaquin Valley on Route 46, joined Highway 101 in Paso Robles, then drove up to Salinas, then cut across to the California coast on Route 68.  It was hot.

As is our custom, we did some wine-tasting along the way. This year Canon arranged for us to visit the Bernardus winery. To get there, with Nan driving, we turned left off the 68 on the Laureles Grade into Carmel Valley. You may remember that Bill and I drove that stretch of road on the visit to the Quail event a few weeks earlier. It was a thrill to drive this road again with its curves, elevation changes, scenery – the perfect road for a Corvette (or any performance car).

The setting for the Bernardus winery is beautiful – it is located just outside Monterey in a rural area adjacent to the vineyards and their Resort and Spa. The tasting room was filled with tourists starting their weekend in style enjoying the six different varieties of wine offered. A few were so good that we bought some bottles for gifts and for our own wine collection.

Next we headed off to rendezvous with Don and Shirley for Friday night dinner and to get ready for Saturday’s qualifying event.

Friday's scorching temperatures on Highway 101 were replaced on Saturday in Monterey a cooling weather front to make the day really pleasant.  We were among the first people to arrive at the Corvette Corral.

NYFTY-50 Waits patiently in the early morning, pre-race quiet!

We went through the routine of registering and immediately went to check out the new mid-engine Corvette – the “C8”.

Cary, Nan, the long-awaited C8, Shirley, and Don

We had seen the C8 in a million spy shots and official announcement photos, but never in person. GM brought a coupe in the new Zeus Bronze Metallic color, but had cordoned it off so we couldn’t touch it or sit in it (bummer). All the Corvette faithful were eager to take a look, and virtually everyone approved.

In coming years I think you are going to see a few of these in Carlsbad!!  Let's see . . . Don Kingery, Mike Eddy, Russ Stroica, Herod Howard, Nan Thomas, . . . who else might buy a C8??

In the afternoon Tadge Juechter and a few other Corvette executives came to the Corvette tent to talk about the C8 and answer questions. People were bemoaning the lack of a manual transmission, but the explanations for its deletion as an option made perfect sense (declining popularity, the economics of a complex unit manufactured in small numbers, and the design freedom afforded by removing the shifter and clutch assembly from the cockpit).  The "frunk" and trunk storage were other interesting topics of discussion.  I like the concept of the rear-facing camera and would have loved to have seen its capability.

The Corvette Corral also gave us an opportunity to talk with the Mobil Oil people about the best oil for our C7 Corvettes and the Michelin people about the best tires.I had already replaced the tires on NIFTY50, and was contemplating new tires for the Z06 to replace the racing tires (the Pilot Sport Cup 2's are great for the track, not so great for the street).

Soon Doug Fehan and the Drivers made their appearance to the delight of the crowd.

Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, Shirley, Nan, Oliver Gavin, and Tommy Milner.

One of the two Corvettes fielded in IMSA racing had finished in 1st place for the entire season in the GTLM Class in 2016, 2017, and 2018 – a “Three Peat”, a feat not accomplished by any other manufacturer EVER! 

Sadly, 2019 hadn’t been the best year for Corvette Racing, but with two races to go the #3 Corvette was still in contention for a second or third-place finish for the season. We were hoping for a victory on Sunday (no Corvette has finished in first place in a GTLM race since August 28, 2017 at Virginia International Raceway more than two years ago!!!), so imagine our disappointment when the two cars qualified 6th and 7th on Saturday. We retreated to our hotel rooms to watch college football (which was equally depressing as USC lost to BYU in overtime). Some really good wine restored our spirits and prepared us for Sunday’s Race.

On Sunday morning the Corvette Corral was hopping with 100 drivers jockeying for position to drive their cars on the track. Nan and I had driven the track in each of the prior two years, and Don and Shirley had driven the track as well, so we decided that we didn’t need to do it again this year. Instead, we took a walking tour of the inner track, stopping to visit with our favorite drivers, Corvette legends, and shopping for must-have race-fan stuff.

Here is Shirley with Corvette Racing Legend Ron Fellows.

Before long Bill arrived and we joined him in the Acura Corral to check out the array of NSX super-cars. 

Then we visited the Acura lounge for liquid refreshments, hors d'oeuvres, track-side seating, and awesome company.  The start of the race is both thrilling and ear-drum-piercing -- having thirty cars screaming by the start-finish line all bunched together will get you heart pumping.  

Thank you, John Watts, for spoiling us again!!!

[Editor Note:  Acura Team Penske swept the IMSA Monterey Grand Prix, dominating the two-hour, 40-minute contest at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca as Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya scored their third victory of the season and a 1-2 result for Acura.The result unofficially clinches the Manufacturers’ Championship for Acura, while Cameron and Montoya neared the drivers’ title. 
In GTD, Katherine Legge and co-driver Christina Nielsen led the Acura NSX GT3 Evo effort, finishing sixth for Heinricher/Meyer Shank Racing; while teammates Mario Farnbacher and
Trent Hindman closed on the GTD Drivers’ Championship following an eighth-place finish.]

Here is how the GM reporters described the race strategy:
"Starting from sixth and seventh on the grid – and running seventh and eighth after a jumbled start from the field – Corvette Racing engineers elected early to go with a three-stop strategy to maximize tire performance at the expense of an extra stop to most of the other GTLM runners. The aggressive strategy also allowed Milner to set the fastest GTLM lap of the race.

Magnussen brought in the No. 3 Corvette in for its first stop 32 minutes into the race and handed off to Garcia, with Gavin swapping the No. 4 C7.R with Tommy Milner a lap later.
Garcia and Magnussen went the rest of the distance on two more stops each – both for tires and fuel. 

Each time they stopped, the two Corvettes ran first and second, with Garcia making his final stop with 42 minutes left and Milner with 40 minutes to go. When the No. 4 Corvette rejoined, Milner ran fifth and Garcia just ahead in fourth.

It didn’t take long for Garcia and Milner to chase down the third-place BMW of Connor De Phillippi. Garcia, constantly hounding the No. 25 entry for a number of laps, got around and onto the podium with 12 minutes left in the race. Milner followed his teammate through into fourth but traffic eventually halted their pursuit of the second-place car."

At the conclusion of the race we went to the podium to watch the celebration, cheap champagne spewing all over the winning drivers and the enthusiastic crowd.  In many ways, this race characterized the entire 2019 season -- two teams that were not really competitive (due to BOP disadvantages), but who refused to give up and tried so very hard to bring home victories for their adoring fans.

 Bill went back home to San Jose, and Don, Shirley, Nan and I retreated to Monterey for dinner.  In the morning the four of us headed home, Don and Shirley by airliner and me and Nan in the 2003 Corvette.

We arrived back in Carlsbad in the early afternoon.  At the end of the trip we had driven NIFTY50 894 Miles, averaging 68.5 MPH and getting 28.3 MPG. I guess the 2003 Corvette is our “economy car”!

How did the season end?  Watch this site for a recap of the 2019 season, and an assessment of the C7R Corvette's racing legacy!

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