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TUSCC: Continental Tire Monterrey Grand Prix Preview

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With all four classes of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship back on the same track this weekend for the Continental Tire Monterrey Grand Prix at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, there are several story lines that could be continued in their current direction of momentum, or the possible right turn may come up here as well where a new player comes to the forefront. Each of the 37 entrants expected in the Laguna Seca paddock will have more to worry about than simply the infamous Corkscrew section of the 2.2 mile course. With competition being super close in all four divisions in each of the first three rounds of 2015, anything less than the same in round four on Sunday would be unexpected.

In the headliner Prototype class for instance, three different teams have hit the top step of the podium so far this season. Chip Ganassi Racing controlled the proceedings in the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona, Action Express Racing outclassed their rivals at the 12 Hours of Sebring, and two weeks ago Wayne Taylor Racing went nearly wire to wire to earn the victory in the Tequila Patron Sports Car Showcase on the tight Long Beach, California street circuit. While the attention might be on which team will breakthrough for win number two this season, there is still a chance where a fourth winner in four races could emerge. That team could very well be the Ligier-Honda coupe entered by Michael Shank Racing, who have bounced back from a devastating crash suffered at Sebring in March. MSR struggled at Long Beach, as the team was essentially running a brand new car following the Sebring shunt, but with a race now under their belt, the Oswaldo Negri, Jr. and John Pew driven entry should return to its strong pace shown at Daytona, where they claimed the pole position. Keep in mind last year, an LMP2-eligible car claimed the victory at Laguna Seca as Johannes Van Overbeek’s late surge in the two hour, 45 minute race netted the winner’s trophy for Extreme Speed Motorsports. With a Daytona Prototype-heavy full time fleet in 2015, MSR is the only realistic shot at a second straight win for the LMP2 runners, as DeltaWing Racing has struggled with reliability from their DWC13 coupe in each of the first three rounds and Mazda’s pair of diesel coupes still lack the pace to consistently stay with the front runners.

If victory is not in the cards for Shank, the other hope for a first-time winner is the Chevrolet Corvette DP belonging to Visitflorida.com Racing, which placed third behind WTR and Ganassi at Long Beach. The Troy Flis-led squad is looking for its first win since claiming overall honors last year at Watkins Glen.

After skipping Long Beach, the Prototype Challenge division returns this weekend, with Bobby Oergel’s PR1-Mathiasen Motorsports squad looking to earn its third straight victory to open the 2015 TUSCC campaign. Tom Kimber-Smith has been the class of the field so far in PC, outclassing last year’s dominant pilot Colin Braun of CORE autosport, who have finished runner-up behind PR1 in each of the first two rounds this season. The difference in the outcome on Sunday however, could come from how co-drivers Mike Guasch of PR1 and Jon Bennett from CORE support their team leaders.

Behind the two rabbits, the remainder of the PC field has been inconsistent. Brent O’Neill’s Performance Tech Motorsports squad finished third at Sebring, while JDC-Miller Motorsports claimed third at Daytona and fourth at Sebring. However, both finishes were well behind the leaders as mechanical woes plagued both teams. Also surprisingly off target in the first two races of 2015 has been RSR Racing and Starworks Motorsport, who each found the winner’s circle in PC last season.

In the grand touring divisions, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s BMW finally claimed its first TUSCC win two weeks ago at Long Beach, yet the team could find claming a second win GT Le Mans class triumph at Laguna Seca much tougher, based on the more wide open nature of the 2.2 mile circuit as opposed to the concrete wall lined layout at Long Beach. Risi Competizione’s Ferrari 458, which finished just behind the BMW in round three, could be better off this weekend as the extra horsepower could give them a leg up on their current rival. Corvette Racing, based on their victories at Daytona and Sebring, should also factor into the equation this weekend, their last effort prior to packing their bags for their trip across the Atlantic Ocean to begin preparations for June’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Another team in the GTLM fight that is looking for a good run Sunday is Porsche North America, who have suffered through accidents, mechanical gremlins, and plain bad luck in each of the first three races, which have yet to net them any finishes on the podium. Despite having a majority of its top factory drivers unavailable this weekend, due to conflicts involving the FIA World Endurance Championship event in Belgium, a return to their 2014 form on Sunday is certainly not out of the question.

While Porsche has failed to feature so far in GTLM, their GT Daytona program has had its share of success with Alex Job’s Team Seattle claiming victory in the most recent race at Sebring. Both od AJR’s Porsche GT Americas should be in the mix for a repeat win at Laguna Seca, with their biggest challenge coming from Kevin Buckler’s TRG-Aston Martin Racing team. TRG is coming off a solid performance last weekend in the Pirelli World Challenge doubleheader at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama, running essentially the same V-12 powered Aston Martin Vantage they will call upon this Sunday.

Riley Engineering’s pair of Dodge Viper GT3-Rs should also play a role in the outcome at Laguna Seca, after crushing the competition at Daytona and backing it up with a fourth place result at Sebring. Scuderia Corsa’s Ferrari 458 could also be a greater force after hitting the podium at Sebring.

Keep in mind that a curve ball was thrown at all the GTD teams last week, when a myriad of Balance of Performance changes were made, all of which will apply at Laguna Seca. One of the teams that could benefit greatly from them is Turner Motorsport, who after claiming the series title in 2014 have been well off the pace of the leaders so far in two attempts this season.

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About Matt Embury

Matt Embury is the Senior SportsCar Writer at Rubbings Racing and can be followed on Twitter (@MattEmbury) for the latest sports car news and opinions. A native of Mishawaka, Indiana, he has been following sports car racing for nearly 20 years.

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