Following an action-packed street fight in Long Beach, the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship remains in California for the fourth round of the season, heading north to the picturesque Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix.
The 2.238-mile circuit, nestled in the Salinas Valley, will play host to the first-ever double-header event, with separate Prototype/GT Le Mans and Prototype Challenge/GT Daytona races to be held at 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. ET Sunday, LIVE on FOX Sports 1.
While the pair of two-hour races will offer more running time than the 100-minute sprint in SoCal, all eyes will be on the much-talked about Balance of Performance in the Prototype class, and whether there will be a new face in victory lane.
Following a Daytona Prototype sweep in the opening three races, IMSA has reigned in the DPs with a slight reduction in power, equating up to 20 horsepower, in order for the ALMS-based P2 machines to have a fighting chance for the overall win.
How the change will affect the DP/P2 battle won’t be known until the start of practice on Saturday, but the latest round of BoP adjustments hasn’t changed the focus of championship leaders Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi, who have yet to finish off the podium this year.
The Action Express Racing Corvette DP duo hold a five-point lead over Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas, who are coming off back-to-back wins for their Ford EcoBoost-powered Riley DP.
In addition to the Wayne Taylor Racing and Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP entries, no fewer than two P2 cars should be in contention as well.
Extreme Speed Motorsports’ Ryan Dalziel and Scott Sharp headed into Long Beach as one of the favorites, but their HPD ARX-03b struggled against the more powerful DPs down the long city streets. That’s likely to change this weekend, thanks to the fast, but flowing characteristics of Mazda Raceway.
Look for the No. 1 ESM entry, as well as the Le Mans-based OAK Racing squad with its Morgan-Nissan of Alex Brundle and Gustavo Yacaman to shine, along with the possibility of ESM’s second HPD for Johannes van Overbeek and Ed Brown.
Of note, the DeltaWing returns to action after skipping Long Beach, following continued development to the closed-top prototype.
GTLM cars will again share the track with Prototypes, with Corvette Racing looking to continue its California dream following a maiden victory for its new Corvette C7.R at Long Beach.
While Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia translated a class pole into a dominant flag-to-flag run, it’s still BMW Team RLL’s Bill Auberlen and Andy Priaulx who are atop the championship standings, only two points ahead of Richard Lietz and Nick Tandy, who took Porsche North America to victory in the Rolex 24.
The CORE autosport-run factory Porsche squad will again be a force to be reckoned with, following an uncharacteristic outing in Long Beach that was plagued by mechanical woes in practice.
Both BMW and SRT Viper will be searching for their first TUDOR Championship class victories, while the privateer efforts from Team Falken Tire and Risi Competizione shouldn’t be ruled out either, particularly with Pierre Kaffer returning to the wheel of the red Ferrari F458 Italia with former F1 ace Giancarlo Fisichella.
PC and GTD cars return after not taking part in the Long Beach race and, due to the tight confines of Mazda Raceway, will have a standalone race of their own.
CORE autosport’s Colin Braun and Jon Bennett have been the dominant force so far this season, with the team’s No. 54 Oreca FLM09 going for its third consecutive PC class victory on Sunday.
The three-time and defending class champions will face competition from nine other entires, with no fewer than a third of the field debuting new chassis following an accident-filled affair at Sebring last month.
Starworks Motorsport returns to a two-car operation, with GP2 ace Sam Bird and Dutchman Renger van der Zande likely to be among the leading contenders, while Luis Diaz makes his return to the wheel of an 8Star Motorsports entry, teaming with 2013 Prototype Lites champion Sean Rayhall.
Both RSR Racing entries should also be among the contenders, particularly the No. 09 entry of Bruno Junqueira and Duncan Ende, which finished second in class at Sebring after an intense late-race battle with the CORE entry.
The GTD class, meanwhile, again sees strength in numbers, with 24 entries, led by AIM Autosport’s Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler, who notched a win and a second place finish so far this season in the No. 555 Ferrari 458 Italia GT3.
Flying Lizard Motorsports (Audi R8 LMS), Magnus Racing (Porsche 911 GT America), Paul Miller Racing (Audi), Scuderia Corsa (Ferrari), Turner Motorsport (BMW Z4 GT3) and the Alex Job Racing Porsche squad, which lost out at Sebring due to an incorrect officiating call by IMSA at Sebring, will all likely be contenders for class honors as well.
Catch both races LIVE on FOX Sports 1, with the PC/GTD race at 1 p.m. ET and the P/GTLM race at 5:30 p.m. ET Sunday.