Originally built in 1957, WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca is certainly one of the most famous racetracks in the United States, with amazing views due to the fact that it was built into a set of natural rolling hills next to the oceanfront city of Monterey, California.
Laguna Seca means dry lagoon in Spanish, because apparently the 11-turn, 2.238-mile (3.602-km) long racetrack was built around a dry lake bed.
The most famous set of corners at Laguna Seca is undoubtedly the downhill Corkscrew at Turns 8 and 8A, with a 180ft (55m) elevation change.
While it’s super-fun to watch cars descend down the Corkscrew as a spectator from the hill on the other side of the turn, perhaps the most spectacular view is from the driver seat.
Just after this moment, when the tires on the left side of your car run over the painted curbs, you can see breathtaking views of the entire Monterey Peninsula, albeit for a split second. You don’t have time to marvel in the beautiful landscape, though – you need to concentrate on your turn in and transitioning your vehicle to the rapidly approaching steep downhill right-hand turn to maintain the proper racing line.
I always love shooting photos at this legendary track, so when I found out my long-time friend Art Michalik had accepted a position as Director of Marketing and Communications at circuit, I knew I had to carve the time and pay another visit to Laguna Seca for the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) Monterey Grand Prix.
Shooting photos at this level of sports car racing is really enjoyable for real motorsports enthusiasts. In fact, I’d love to travel to all the events in the IMSA series if I could find a manufacturer or team to work with for next season.
Just look at the Porsche factory team’s 911 RSR – I can still hear the distinctively high-pitched exhaust note as the car screamed down the front straight.
IMSA is considered by many to be North America’s premier sports car racing organization as it attracts so much participation from top-tier drivers, racing teams, automobile manufacturers, sponsors, and fans alike.
The association was founded in 1969 by John Bishop, a former executive director of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), with help from Bill France, the founder of NASCAR. And just like NASCAR, there are many American domestic car manufacturers racing in the series, but in my opinion the cars of the IMSA series look a lot better.
While IMSA races attract about three or four times the spectators than other sports car racing sanctioning bodies, it makes me wonder why more people don’t come out to watch these events – especially young people. After all, GT racing events have all the components of car culture that young car enthusiasts like – low and wide bodywork, aggressive aero, loud paint and graphic schemes; high horsepower engines and cutting-edge racing technology.
Take this Ford GT in the GT Le Mans class for example. Ever since its debut, car fans have been praising its gorgeous, aerodynamic design.
You don’t see newer-body Ford GTs every day – especially not one in full race trim – so watching these GTLM class cars screaming through the corners was definitely a treat.
One of my favorite things to do at an IMSA race is walk through the paddock and garage areas. Just before the cars lined up at the starting grid, I spotted Ford Chip Ganassi Racing driver Joey Hand getting ready to jump in his car.
Every day, each competing car has to pass through scrutineering to ensure there’s no cheating going on. I spotted the Pfaff Motorsports Porsche GT3 R on the scales, looking amazing in its tartan plaid red wrap. With the green accent color, it reminds me of a roll of Scotch tape.
On the racetrack, and with either Scott Hargrove or Zach Robichon behind the wheel, the car looks distinctive and completely stands out.
If you’ve ever seen an IMSA race in person, you’ll know that one of the most exciting things to watch during the race is the pit stops and driver changes. In this photo, the Pfaff team comes together like Voltron to refuel and change tires while performing a driver change. This stuff is so incredibly cool to watch.
While I was shooting pit lane, I captured some photos of the Porsche GT team doing a pit stop with their 911 RSR also. It’s amazing to see how fast these guys can jump over the pit wall and hustle around the car, swapping the wheels and tires. Even though they use lightweight wheels for racing, the tires can’t be very light. This is a job that requires some athletic prowess.
Most people don’t realize how physically intensive racing can be, and not just on the drivers. Every once in a while, an observant eye will notice crew members and drivers using foam rollers and percussive massage devices in the paddock to loosen up their muscles and tendons.
One aspect of IMSA racing that’s really interesting is the fact that there are two prototype classes – Daytona Prototype International (DPi) and Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) – and two GT classes – GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD) – racing on track at the same time.
This #55 prototype from Mazda Team Joest competes in the DPi (Daytona Prototype International) class, which includes the fastest and most technologically advanced sports cars in North America. When you’re watching IMSA live in person, it’s very obvious to see that these DPi class cars run much faster than the other cars on the track.
On Turn 11 leading into the front straight, I was able to capture this image of one of the Mazda DPi prototypes side by side with one of the C7.R Corvettes, which enjoyed a very successful run in the IMSA series and at Le Mans. This is probably the last year we’ll be seeing these cars in action, as I’m sure the Corvette Racing team will be debuting a new pair of C8 Corvettes soon.
It was cool to see these yellow twins in the garage right before the race started. These ‘Vettes certainly have a big fanbase; there were tons of Corvette owners parked together at the track, cheering on the team. If these cars don’t scream America, I don’t know what does.
If you have the proper accreditation, a fire suit and a helmet, pit lane is really good fun to shoot. It can also be a hectic and dangerous place, with cars speeding in and out of their pit boxes, like this GT Daytona McLaren 720S GT3 from Compass Racing.
I was on the opposite side of the track when I saw the Lexus team in the pits, but luckily I was able to see catch this RC F GT3 doing a quick burnout to warm up the new tires before heading back out on track.
It’s always cool to see how closely the drivers follow each other into corners. This type of fast-paced lead-follow is what makes GT racing so fun to watch.
It was impossible to not notice the blur of highlighter-orange from the twin Daytona Prototype cars of Acura Team Penske as they diced their way through the field.
The #7 car had former CART and IndyCar driver Helio Castroneves sharing the driver seat with pole sitter Ricky Taylor, and the #6 car was driven by Dane Cameron and teammate Juan Pablo Montoya.
The twin Acura DPi cars were setting the pace all weekend, and eventually won the top two spots on the podium, with the best time being set by Cameron and Montoya, even though Taylor had pole position at the race start.
It was cool to see Juan Pablo Montoya winning at Laguna Seca; he has had a pretty amazing career so far. Montoya is one of very few drivers that have driven in Formula One, NASCAR, and IndyCars before joining IMSA. This guy won the CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams) FedEx Championship on his very first try, and has also won at some legendary events like the Monaco Grand Prix, 24 Hours of Daytona, British Grand Prix, Italian Grand Prix, and Long Beach Grand Prix, just to name a few.
Back in the paddock area, I spotted Dane Cameron on a scooter, watching two members of Acura Team Penske speaking to each other in very very close quarters. Does it almost look like these two guys are about to get into a fight? I guess it’s very possible that they just enjoy speaking to each other with their lips only centimeters apart.
Just before the start of the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race, the grid was packed with cars and teams getting themselves ready for battle. Of course, before the start of the race there’s a pause in proceedings for the singing of the American national anthem.
While walking through the grid, I bumped into my longtime friend Tyler McQuarrie with his teammate Jeff Westphal, as they were preparing to go racing in the Carbahn Motorsports x Peregrine Racing Audi R8 GT4.
Many of you will remember Tyler from his tire-shredding days in the Formula Drift Series driving either the JIC/Hankook Tire Porsche 911 GT2 or the Mobil 1 GoPro Camaro, while time attack fans might recognize Jeff Westphal setting Global Time Attack lap records as the driver of the GST Motorsport Subaru Impreza.
These guys are definitely a force to be reckoned with in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge. Tyler was all smiles because he qualified in first, pulling the fastest lap on the circuit for the GS (Grand Sport) class, with a 1:30.876 at 88.65mph (142.66km/h) on his fourth lap out.
The pair finished the race in their Audi R8 with a second place podium spot.
IMSA’s Michelin Pilot Challenge also includes TCR class cars. Perhaps the most eye-catching of the touring cars would be the Hyundai Veloster N TCR, driven by Mark Wilkins and Michael Lewis.
Wrapped in Hyundai’s signature blue and orange N colors, this car from Bryan Herta Autosport qualified in first for the TCR class, but ended up coming second in the race.
This black TCR Veloster N is driven by the team’s Young Guns, Mason Filippi and Harry Gottsacker. It looks like Mason was in the driver seat at race start; you can tell because he has a red visor on his helmet to match his ginger-colored hair.
Just in case you’re living under a rock or don’t pay attention to any of the logos on the cars or on the racetrack, WeatherTech Automotive Accessories decided to go heavy on their sponsorship of IMSA, buying out the naming rights to the series to title it as the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. This goes hand-in-hand with their naming rights for Laguna Seca, which is now called WeatherTech Raceway.
At the helm of the white Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 with WeatherTech logos all over it are drivers Cooper MacNeil and Toni Vilander.
Running in the GT Daytona class, MacNeil and Vilander both built impressive racing resumes individually before they decided to team up to race together at Le Mans and IMSA.
MacNeil and Vilander ran at a fast pace during the entire race, finishing in second place in the GTD class.
Back in the WeatherTech paddock, I bumped into Devon MacNeil, who I originally met at Luftgekühlt 6 after noticing the cool army-green color on her Leica camera. It’s cool to make new friends who are into cars and photography.
For race fans anywhere near the starting grid on race day, it’s pretty much impossible not to notice the WeatherTech girls, who make sure all the flagpoles are standing up at the start of the race.
The IMSA Monterey Grand Prix certainly had a battle of Italian supercars, with the WeatherTech Ferrari dicing it up with this bright blue Lamborghini Huracán GT3.
Driven by Bryan Sellers and Corey Lewis of Paul Miller Racing, it might have been a bit of foreshadowing that they had a huge ‘1st Phorm’ decal on the side of the car, as these two finished the race in first place, doing 110 laps at an average pace of 94mph (151km/h).
Race on Sunday, sell on Monday. Scuderia Corsa also had a new Lamborghini SUV on display in the paddock area to show off some of the Italian carmaker’s other offerings.
In between the vehicle transporters, one can usually find members of various motorsport teams resting or conducting race strategy meetings.
Attending the WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca 120 race and the IMSA Monterey Grand Prix was a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to attend and shoot more race events. Does anyone have any recommendations on race events you’d like to see covered?