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Pit+Paddock Eyes Top 4 in IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge Championship with Laguna Seca Takeaways
BY Mike Maravilla //
May 13, 2024
@openinanewtab
Photography: George Bucur
@theghostofmozart
  • Round 3 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca 120 is IMSA’s Michelin Pilot Challenge (IMPC) two-hour enduro challenge across the course’s 11-corner, 2.238-mile full layout.
  • The #93 Pit+Paddock FL5 Civic Type R TCR, under Montreal Motorsport Group’s (MMG) stewardship, qualified P6 for Saturday’s contest, with the #6 sister car starting P1.
  • The #93 Pit+Paddock FL5 Civic Type R TCR finished the race in P6, with glimmers of podium pace in store.

The Laguna Seca race weekend kicked off in the best way possible—the #6 sister car, in the hands of Ortiz, snagged P1 in qualifying for Saturday’s contest. The #93 Pit+Paddock FL5 Civic Type R TCR was close, tallying P6 in the capable hands of Dai Yoshihara. Although he’d driven here before in time attack equipment, this weekend would be the first time he’d go wheel-to-wheel against IMSA competitors.

The qualifying results were validating for Montreal Motorsport Group’s preparation. As we mentioned before, its first private test day in Canada was fruitful in helping the team understand more about the FL5 in race trim and how it can extract the most out of setup for the Laguna Seca weekend.

AS IT HAPPENED

The start of the race was clean for all the TCR combatants, but GS was a different story. It was clear that the repaved surface required a bit more calibration for experienced drivers here; the Monterey racetrack brought out its first full course yellow within the first ten minutes, while also showcasing a handful of nail-biting spins in the process. Plenty of drivers lamented the relearning process. Several in the paddock reminisced that Laguna Seca used to be a “maintenance track”, a calculated drive to preserve tires, brakes, and the car itself. Now, it was more about driver endurance and their steadfast commitment to the track’s treacherous corners. Yoshihara’s inexperience was strangely valuable here; he didn’t have any pretenses about how he should drive the track in wheel-to-wheel combat, so he drove as he saw fit. The Japanese driver climbed to P4 when the green flag waved again, putting immense pressure on the #98 Hyundai in P3 while keeping the #17 Audi (the IMPC leader), at bay. As we crested the hour mark, it was a Honda, Hyundai, Hyundai, Honda running order. Yoshihara dove into the pits simultaneously with the #98 machine, negotiating a driver change alongside tires and fuel. Wittmer resumed race duty in P6. The sister car pitted from P1 with 58 minutes left.

The second half of the race brought with it more attrition. There were off-track excursions all over the GS and TCR. Our sister car succumbed to a tire puncture while the #93 Pit+Paddock FL5 Civic Type R TCR was rubbed, which caused a persistent power steering issue. Despite this, Wittmer soldiered on, and with 30 minutes to go, his lap times were nearly a second faster than the #98 car in P1. The last lap battle in TCR kept us all on the edge of our seats; there were only 1.5 seconds between P2 and P5. Without that power steering issue, we would’ve been right in the middle of that fight.

FROM THE DRIVERS

Wittmer and Yoshihara left Laguna Seca with their heads held high, knowing that the team put in a ton of effort to get the car where it needed to be for the race weekend. “Our team’s effort and execution all weekend outweigh the result. We had the car, we have the team, but we just didn’t have luck on our side. Incredible job by my co-driver, Dai Yoshihara, in his opening stint, making up ground and challenging the top 3 lap after lap!”

Yoshihara’s sentiments were similar and largely, it’s been incredible to see him gel into the IMSA series and Montreal Motorsport Group so quickly. “I was really happy with the car during my stint. Huge thanks to our team and all of the sponsors for supporting this year’s racing. It’s just a matter of time before we convert our effort into even better results.”

FROM THE TEAM

Friday’s practice sessions showed both cars’ speed. The #93 Pit+Paddock FL5 Civic Type R TCR netted P2 and P3 for each session, respectively. As I mentioned, the race was a favorable extension of the practice pace. “Bryan Ortiz in the sister car got us our first IMSA pole position, which was fantastic,” remarked Sabrina D’Amico, MMG’s co-owner and Logistics Manager. “During the race, he [Yoshihara] moved up two spots (to P4) and maintained pace with the top three leaders. The team was ecstatic about his stint; high fives and hugs were given when he pitted as he handed the car off to Wittmer.” A P6 finish harboring a power steering issue was still immensely impressive, especially considering Wittmer’s race pace.

All that said, we are still very much in the IMPC fight after another points haul at Laguna Seca. Our heads are back down to prepare for the next round at Mid-Ohio in 25 days.

Thank you to ARPENEOSTurn 14 DistributionMishimotoWhiteline, and DBA for supporting Pit+Paddock’s inaugural IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge campaign with Montreal Motorsport Group.


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