The weekend of October 22 -24th, 2010, I was at the inaugural Global Tuner Grand Prix (GTGP) held at Mazda Raceway, Laguna Seca in California.
The K-Pax Racing team decided just a couple of weeks ago to support and compete in the GTGP. Our regular World Challenge season finished some weeks earlier in Salt Lake, Utah at Miller Motorsports Park. The team figured this event would be a lot of fun, and who doesn’t want to be in beautiful California in the fall?
Well, let me tell you about California in the fall on this particular weekend. Mother Nature needed a good dose of Comtrex or Claritin-D. It was a real tester on the weather front and no mistake. You’ll hear more about that as I go.
We had a nice morning on Friday but rain in the afternoon almost shut things down as nobody wanted to waste time trying to set up for a wet track. Hey, we’re in California, it’s bound to be nice tomorrow right?
The K-Pax team had brought 3 of our Volvo S60 race cars to the event and I was going to drive all 3 of them over the course of the weekend.
The schedule called for two 50 minute GT Challenge races, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. I would use my last year’s K-Pax race car for the GT Challenge events.
For those of you who may not know, I switched to my last year’s race car for the final two World Challenge races this year. The K-Pax team switched me into the old car because they determined my new race car for 2010 had some kind of problem that they could not fix, even after 10 races of trying.
I used my team mate Randy Pobst’s car for the Time Trials which was the big event of the GTGP weekend. The Time Trial competition was on Sunday afternoon.
The K-Pax team had also brought along a third car. This car was my 2010 race car that had been relegated to media car status and was now set up with two seats. We use it to give media and VIP rides around the race tracks we go to.
The reason my K-Pax team mate Randy Pobst was not at the event was that he had another racing commitment in Illinois. The GTGP was such a late addition that Randy could not back out of his other deal, more fun for me!
So, we had two races which were very similar to World Challenge race formats and then we had the main GTGP Event that was a Time Trial format.
The Time Trial has 3 main classes:Unlimited, Tunerand Street. Within these classes we had classes for 4 wheel drive, front wheel drive and rear wheel drive. Our Volvo was in the
Unlimited four wheel drive class.
The idea of Time Trials is not new. There are many groups, organizations and clubs within the US who specialize in this form of motorsports competition.
There are some very big events around the world that also run Time Trial format and have become really big annual professional competitions. There is the Tuner GP at Hockenheim in Germany and the Super Lap Battle event at Suzuka in Japan.
The GTGP at Laguna Seca this weekend was the first pro/amateur event for the USA. The organizers are hoping that this inaugural event is the first of many.
The idea of the GTGP Time Trial event is to appeal to all automotive competition junkies. From Professional Tuners and Racers to people who just want to run their street cars around the race track flat out.
The format for the Time Trials would be practice Friday and Saturday and then qualify Sunday morning for the afternoon finale.
For the Time Trial finale, each car has a 5 lap window to get the best time possible one lap time around Laguna Seca.
The 5 lap window involves a warm up lap and 3 flying laps to get your very best time, then a cool down before reentering the pits.
Running only 3 timed laps puts tremendous pressure on the driver to get it all correct and perfect in what would effectively be a 5 minute qualifying session for a road racer like me. There is no chance for mistake, no chance to park for 10 minutes to cool the tires and try again if you mess up. It’s all out, on the edge, total focus, really good stuff!
Saturday activities started with some more practice sessions and then on to the lunch time media rides.
The media rides are always a blast and we gave quite a few on Saturday; prior to the rain thank goodness.
Laguna is a fabulous place to do media rides as the track has major topography changes, a lot of blind entries to turns and of course the magical cork screw section, where you feel like you drop off a cliff. Yes, it really is fun: if you like dropping off cliffs that is, which I do, doesn’t everybody?
As my crew guys load in the poor unsuspecting VIP or media person I wait until they are strapped in and effectively trapped before saying hi. I then proceed to mention: “I’m not sure if I can take turn 6 flat out, but we’re going to give it a go right now”; just to make them feel more comfortable. If you can’t have fun in life, what’s the point: seriously folks?
After media rides I changed cars again and got ready for the Saturday GT race. As we did the parade laps it was a little damp, but not so bad that you couldn’t use slick racing tires. James Sofronas in his World Challenge GMG Porsche 911 GT3 was starting from pole and I had qualified second.
Most of the field for the GT races were Porsches for this inaugural GTGP event. Hat’s off to GMG for bringing customers and friends and a bunch of great looking Porsche 911 RSR’s. I know from talking to the organizer’s that next year there will be a lot more Viper’s, Ferraris and other exotic race cars to add into the mix, which will be awesome.
Meanwhile, back in the race, things were turning ugly. After about 6 laps or so, the rain was falling a lot harder and after my second heart attack due to full steering lock slides down the track, it was time for the wet tires. This was supposed to be a low pressure, fun race weekend right?
After the normal chaos and confusion of cars coming for wet tires on different laps we were in 3rd place. It turned out that sly World Challenge competitor Rob Morgan in the TruSpeed Porsche 911 GT3, had come in on the very first lap and changed to rain tires. He had taken us all sleeping. Great job to Rob and the TruSpeed team for the win. James Sofronas and I rounded out the top 3.
Sunday arrived with another dose of heavy clouds and the ground still wet from the night before, but we did have a dry track for qualifying which was great. James Sofronas got me again for pole in his GMG Porsche and I started second.
As race time came around we got another major dose of rain, drenching the track and spectators once again, lovely!
My team and I debated about whether to start on rain tires or slicks, right up until we left the grid. We decided to use the slicks as it looked like the rain was going to hold off for an hour, we hoped.
Trying to get heat into cold slicks in the wet is not a lot of fun. On the start I was quickly passed by several Porsches on rain tires. I just told myself to run my own deal and wait for the track to dry up a little; which it started to do after about 5 or 6 laps.
Things became much more fun after 10 laps as I started to catch the cars that had started on rain tires as they struggled on the drying track. Rain tires are just too soft for a damp track and really need a lot of water to stay cool. As they heat up they start to lose grip, a lot!
James Sofronas took first and I came home second. Not too bad. I had some real fun during the race with John Trefethan in his Porsche 996 GT3 Cup car and Mark Anderson in his Porsche 928GTR, I think at one point all three of us came into the very tight turn 11 hairpin and had a side by side drag race up the front straight.
The race was a really good test for us with the new Pirelli slick tires that the World Challenge series will use next year.
Most of the Porsches were on Michelins for the weekend, because if you can use them, they are the tire of choice. I know James Sofronas and Rob Morgan had tried to get some Pirelli’s for their Porsches to do some testing for next year also, but Pirelli did not have the size they needed.
We, on the other hand, had tried to get the Michelins for the Volvo once we knew what we were up against, but unfortunately the Michelins would not fit under the Volvo body work, so we ran the Pirellis.
Now we come to the big event of the weekend, the GTGP Time Trial. Almost 2 hours was allocated to run all the classes.
As had happened all weekend, weather became an issue. As we waited to run, the rain started to dribble again. Maybe I should give the Governator a call about his California weather program, oh wait, elections are here, well whoever wins can work on it for next year maybe.
I had qualified fastest in the Unlimited class and had the dubious honor of going first, as the light drizzle kept falling.
I approached turn 2 with serious intent, determined to warm the tires up as fast as I could. As I turned into turn 2 I almost slid off the track as the track was damper than I realized. Crashing in the first turn would have been very embarrassing!
I got it all gathered up and cranked off into qualifying land. The track was not wet, but a little damp in a couple of turns and a light misty drizzle was falling. I had decided to run as if the track was dry and managed to get within one second of my qualifying time with only a couple of lurid slides.
It was all over very quickly for me and then I had to wait to see if my time would hold up, it’s a very exciting competition format.
My time did hold up and we won the Unlimited 4 wheel drive class of the inaugural GTGP in our K-Pax Racing Volvo S60. My time ended up being the fastest time for the event in all classes which we were very pleased about.
I just nudged Christian Miller into 2nd place in his frighteningly fast 034 Motorsport Audi A4 and Patrick Ward in his GT Garage Subaru STI rounded out the top three.
The starter tried to space cars out far enough that we were not supposed to catch another car during our runs. Unfortunately, I did manage to catch a couple of cars that were being a little more careful in the slippery conditions than the nutty Volvo guy: that would be me.
One incident of note was the HorsePowerFreaks BMW M3 of Eddy Nakato. I was catching Eddy coming into the last corner and knew I had to get him on the front straight because I was starting my hot lap runs and didn’t want either of us to be held up.
I held back into turn 11 as I knew I had more speed through that corner due to my race tires and I had a great run up to the back of Eddy’s car. As he came out the last turn and hit the power on his BMW it just lit up the tires and effectively stopped accelerating.
I had a massive run on him and had to yank the wheel really hard left to stop from hitting the back of his car. I swear that HorsePowerFreaks BMW has to have 1,000 horsepower. I’m glad I didn’t hit you Eddy, the car still looks awesome.
For more information and a complete list of results go toGlobaltunerGP.com.
K-Pax Racing is obviously a professional race team and we were one of several pro road race teams to compete. IMSA hot shoe Johnny Cocker and long time endurance pro Cort Wagner were also there.
There were many great teams from other areas of racing and automotive high performance. Professional Tuner’s who specialize in high horsepower, modifications and accessories.
Also amateur tuners and amateur track day/time trial enthusiasts who specialize in fastest one lap events all over the country.
I met a bunch of new people, from racers to fans, all having fun, playing in the rain and in the occasional dry bits.
One point I do want to highlight: I can honestly say, the on track respect and discipline of the drivers at this event was some of the best I have ever seen.
The K-Pax Volvo was a lot faster than most of the cars there, so mirror use by the slower guys was so important during practice, qualifying sessions and the GT races. I have never seen better use of mirrors by so many drivers; it was pleasure to drive in this event.
Now I did hear something quite interesting from one driver after thanking him for his courtesy and mirror use on the track.
He asked me if I had ever seen the Volvo, coming up behind me, at a 50 mph closing speed? I answered no I hadn’t.
He continued, “well, I saw it for the first time yesterday and I thought you were coming through my back window and then suddenly you were in front of me, scared the living garbage out of me, that car is amazing. Since then I’ve told my crew to tell me if you’re within 30 seconds of me, so I can prepare myself, I’m not sure which is more fun, driving the track or being passed by that Volvo, I think it sucked the paint off my car, trust me, I’m using my mirrors.” Classic stuff, we were both laughing.
The other thing I was really happy to see was a great turn out of fans. I have been to many races this year with less fans and it sure looks to me like the GTGP event turned out some great fans.
I was really amazed to see this many fans with the weather conditions we had. There were people in stands and ton’s of people at the cork screw even during monsoon conditions, great to see.
I think the GTGP will only get bigger and better with more action and more cars for the fans to see next year.
What a great event, many thanks to Ashley Van Dyke and Fabryce Kutyba for organizing the whole thing. Also thank you guys for helping K-Pax Racing get there and for looking after our team at the track. I hope we do it again next year.