Alex Job Racing (AJR) will be looking for their third win in as many races in the GTC class with this weekend’s running of the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) Monterey presented by Tequila Patron to be run at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on Saturday, May 22.
Rudy Junco will be making his first ALMS start.
AJR’s Juan Gonzalez and Butch Leitzinger are leading the GTC points by way of two consecutive wins at Sebring and Long Beach.
The series will run a six-hour event at Laguna Seca. The 2.2-mile, 11-turn circuit known for its famous Corkscrew Turn will see the field start the race at 2:30 p.m. in the afternoon and finish in the dark at 8:30 p.m. PT.
Gonzalez and Leitzinger, in their No. 81 Mission Foods/Alex Job Racing/Porsche GT3 911 Cup car have proven their speed and consistency in both endurance and sprint race formats. A commanding win at the season-opening Sebring 12-hour race was followed by a sprint win at Long Beach in the shortest race of the season at just 100-minutes.
“Laguna Seca is a difficult track because of the sand and the gravel,” Juan Gonzalez said. “In a long race like this you can’t afford to go off of the track because you will most likely lose valuable time. A lot of the cars will run over the apex and throw sand onto the corners making it very slippery. I raced Laguna before in the 90s in the Monterrey Historics in several different cars like the Javelin Trans-Am (Penske No. 6), Can-Am Shadow (George Follmer), F1 Shadow (George Follmer), and an 962 Porsche ex Dyson (James Weaver/ Butch Leitzinger). We have a plan to do double stints and hope for the race to bring us good luck. You have to set up Turn 11 in a perfect way in order to carry a good line and good speed down the straight-away. The other critical part of the circuit is the breaking before the Corkscrew, you don’t want to overcook the entrance, otherwise you will end up in trouble.”
“Laguna is particularly challenging due to the circuit’s lack of mechanical grip, and the low temperatures that we sometimes get there,” Leitzinger said. “It can be very hard to get tire temperatures up on the pace lap, which can make the first few laps of green flag racing very exciting. On top of that, the circuit is surrounded by sand, and anytime that someone drops a wheel off they bring that back onto the track, so you really never know what to expect at the next corner. My first race at Laguna Seca was when I was about 12 years old. There was a BMX track on the hill, so my brother and I threw our bikes in my Dad’s trailer, and when he was racing on the proper circuit, we were pedaling furiously. I think that I won that race, but my memory could be wrong. Laguna is also on my favorites list because I won my two World Sports Car titles at Laguna, in 1997 and 1998. In an endurance race, you always have to keep the long goal in mind. It is always tempting to go for a gap that you are 70% sure will still be there when you get there, but over six hours, the 30% catches up to you. The Corkscrew gets all of the attention, but because everyone has to come to a virtual stop to go through it, it is very hard to gain a big advantage there. The most important turn is probably the turn leading onto the Bobby Rahal straight. It is pretty high speed, very challenging, and leads into a long, uphill straight, so any gains that you make in the turn are multiplied.”
Bill Sweedler and Romeo Kapudija will be looking for their first win in the No. 23 Battery Tender/Tequila Patron/Alex Job Racing/Porsche 911 GT3 Cup entry. The duo was one lap short of standing on the top step of the podium at Long Beach. They are second in the GTC standings and will welcome back Jan-Dirk Lueders for the six-hour run at Laguna Seca.
“We will approach Laguna differently from Long Beach because the race is six-hours long and not 100 minutes,” Kapudija said. “We will be less aggressive, but will keep a fast pace and will look to survive the first five-hours of the race. A race this long at Laguna will definitely create a lot of debris on the track and I am sure there will be lots of sand off line. The transition from sunlight to total darkness will also play a major factor and we will have to adapt to the changing conditions throughout the race. I have raced at Laguna for many years and love the track. For car set-up we will have to focus on turns Four, Five and Six as it will be crucial to carry as much speed going uphill as possible. These corners are also somewhat high speed and we will have to focus on exit speed. Also conditions will change as the temperature of the track drops at night and the handling of the car will be affected. Bill, Jan and myself will have to keep a quick pace throughout the race and we cannot afford any mistakes. We will have to be mentally and physically prepared for this race and will treat it as a 12-hour keeping a fast, but cautious pace throughout the race. The AJR crew guys have performed flawlessly and have given us a great car in the last two races. I am confident we will do well.”
“Laguna Seca is one of the finest facilities in the U.S.,” Sweedler said. “I have raced there on several occasions and absolutely love the Corkscrew! We will be able to use every inch of the track – and then some – before you get to the kitty litter. To get to the winners circle we must be consistent. No mistakes and great pit stops. The Turn Two, Three and Four exchange is very important for set-up to maximize speed. In addition the exit of the Corkscrew and following Turn 11 need to be close to flat – so set up is critical.”
“Laguna Seca is not unlike other tracks in the U.S. as there is not much room for error,” Lueders said. “The lack of run-off areas is great for the fans (they can get closer to the track), but that makes it even riskier for the driver to try and drive the car at the limit. I have never raced at Laguna Seca. It is going to be great! Consistency and no mistakes is what our goal will be. I think as a driver line-up we will probably have enough speed. We just cannot afford any mistakes. Turns Six and Nine are key to set-up on the Porsche. Not the most exciting corners of the track, but definitely the ones where you can gain or lose the most time.”
Luis Diaz and Ricardo Gonzalez will be looking to bounce back from a tough weekend at Long Beach in their No. 80 Car Amigo/Alex Job Racing/Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car. Diaz knows his way around Laguna Seca having won the P2 class last year. The 80 guys will be joined by fellow Mexican Rudy Junco who will be making his first ALMS start.
“I’m really looking forward to this weekend, it’s been almost a month since we last drove the car and I just can’t wait to get behind the wheel again,” Diaz said. This has been a very different season for me with the GTC cars but we are all very confident that at Laguna we’ll be able to really show what we can do. Both Ricardo and I have gotten much more comfortable with the Porsche, Rudy has a lot of experience at Laguna and the AJR-Car Amigo team has a great car for us so we should easily be able to be fighting for the win this weekend. ”
“Even though we had a rough weekend at Long Beach last month it really gave us the confidence that we needed because we proved that despite all the problems we still have the pace to win races,” Ricardo Gonzalez said. “I’ve never driven at Laguna Seca so once again it will be a learning weekend, but Luis and Rudy have a lot of experience at this track, not to mention the AJR-Car Amigo team. So we are actually very optimistic that this could be our breakthrough weekend where we get our first win. Overall I’m very excited, Laguna Seca is a classic track and I can’t wait to get out there and see what it’s like to drive around it at speed.”
Junco last competed in a professional series in 2001, when he competed in the Dayton Indy Lights Series. Since then he has been busy earning his MBA from Stanford.
“I’m very happy to have the opportunity to race alongside such experienced drivers as Luis and Ricardo,” Junco said. “Both of them have done a great job so far this season and I hope that I can be a good addition to the team as we fight for the victory this weekend. The most important thing for me will be to quickly get up to speed and learn the car, I´ve been around this track many times so I just need to adjust to it with the Porsche. During the race I’m just going to make sure I can keep a good pace and have a mistake-free run. I think if we can all just keep this up we can finish at the front.”
Alex Job, team owner, has his team on a roll early in the season and is looking to keep the consistency going. The team has a strong history at the track, located just south of Monterey, with four wins.
“We are having a great start to the season – so far,” Job said. “At any time we’ve had our cars at the top of the time sheets in practice. Juan and Butch have shown great consistency and have proven to be a formidable team. Romeo and Bill have the speed, we just need to help them to put it all together for that first win. Luis and Ricardo are getting acclimated to the car and we are working hard to get them to the front. I think we will see a break-through event from them soon. We welcome back Jan-Dirk to the No. 23 and will have new comer Rudy Junco in the 80. Laguna Seca is a tough track. With the sand right off of the line, it is almost like running a street course. No room for error.”
Round three of the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron will be run at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on May 22. The race will be televised, tape delayed, on May 29 at 1:30 p.m. ET on CBS. The full race will be streamed live online at www.americanlemans.com starting at 5:30 p.m. ET in partnership with TodoCast.tv.
© RIF | ALMS