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A full weekend of racing is planned for Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca

Chris Beaufait laps Sebring International Raceway during the season-opening race.
Chris Beaufait laps Sebring International Raceway during the season-opening race.
Mark Weber, used with permission

As a group, racecar drivers have some very interesting backgrounds. Having a keen interest in motorsports matched with the drive, determination and skill needed to compete at the highest level of competition is an uncommon mixture of personality traits. Each of the drivers set to compete in the Continental Tire Monterrey Grand Prix weekend combine these traits into their own blend, with one thing is common; the need for speed.

The backstory behind each driver gives him or her the tools which they use every day to make themselves a better racer. Some come from a family of racers and grow up at the racetrack, while others find auto racing later in life. Regardless, each driver has developed the traits it takes to become a success behind the wheel of a racecar.

As one of the few women in the SCCA Pro Racing Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich, Beth Chryst, of Herndon, Virginia, is the child of auto racing fans. Before seeing the light of day for herself, Chryst was at the racetrack, in her mother’s belly, as she attended races at the local asphalt short track.

Chryst’s father had participated in a few autocross events, but other than that her family had no experience competing in motorsports. In 2001, at the age of 13, she had an experience that would change her life goals.

“A family member of my dad’s co-worker was racing at Summit Point one weekend with the Woodbridge Kart Club, and we went up to watch,” Chryst said. “At the end of the day, they had an event called the ‘Fun Finale’ where you could head out on the track in someone’s kart for 20 minutes. From there, I was hooked. We bought a kart and never looked back.”

Chryst raced karts on both the regional and national level through the World Karting Association, missing only a handful of races in 10 years. While she enjoyed karting, Chryst wanted to take the next step in her racing career.

“In karting I made some really great friends,” Chryst said. “One of my best friends, Dean Copeland, had moved up to run Spec Miata. When I wasn't racing we would go to Summit Point and watch him race. After being in that class for a couple of seasons he moved up to the Mazda MX-5 Cup.

“We went to a few of the races, to watch him, and really liked what we saw. While a spec series can be a tricky, it was something that really piqued our attention. Most of the tracks that were on the schedule were tracks I had raced at my entire racing career. In addition, the cars are evenly matched and this makes for some great racing at every event we attend.”

Robby Foley, of Randolph, New Jersey, is another young, up-and-coming driver who started running in the series in 2013. Foley grew up in an SCCA family, attending Solo and racing events from a very young age.

“I found interest in motorsports through my dad,” Foley said. “He is a 30-year SCCA member, so growing up I was always going to Solo events and races. At an early age, I developed my passion for racing by watching Formula One, American LeMans Series and Pirelli World Challenge races with him. He helped me get my start in karts, and from there he has supported me in turning my passion for racing into reality.”

For some drivers, the behind-the-wheel part of being a racecar driver is the most important, and only, part they like. Foley, like many racers of his generation, realizes that the part of being a racecar driver that happens outside of the car is equally important, and is very fun. The ability to be a spokesperson and role model is an important part of the job.

He is an ambassador to young drivers, reminding them of the dangers of distracted driving.

“I always had the typical kid dream of becoming a racecar driver,” Foley said. “I want to be one of those guys on TV that people looked up to, like the drivers I looked up to.”

Aside from relishing in the off-track duties of a racer, Foley also enjoys the competitive side. That is of the many reasons he has returned for his second season in Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Pro Challenge, which runs with the Mazda MX-5Cup.

“The competitiveness and cost effectiveness was really the deciding factor in running with the Mazda MX-5 Cup and MAZDASPEED Pro Challenge,” Foley said. “There really isn't a series out there that is more competitive, making it the perfect place to develop as a driver. Combined with the fact that Mazda MX-5 Cup is the most cost-effective way to go professional racing, it was really a no-brainer.”

Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo North America, now in its second season, will compete with two rounds at the iconic circuit in Northern California for the first time with a record grid of 15 cars that continues to grow at every event. The 11-turn, 2.238-mile layout includes the "Corkscrew," one of the most famous corners in worldwide racing.

Two 50-minute races are scheduled for competitors in the incredible Lamborghini Gallardo LP 570-4 Super Trofeo cars, which are powered by a 570-horsepower V10 engine and feature permanent four-wheel drive.

Race One is scheduled for 10:50 a.m. (local time) Saturday, May 3, with Race Two scheduled for 12:40 p.m. Sunday, May 4. Practice and qualifying will take place Friday, May 2.

All drivers will continue the race for the North American championship and a berth in the Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo World Final on Nov. 22-23 at the Sepang International Circuit near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. That event features the best drivers from all three worldwide Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo championships - Europe, Asia and North America.

2013 series champion Kevin Conway leads the Driver Classification with 27 points after the first two rounds of the North America championship March 13-14 at Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Fla. Conway, driving the No. 29 entry for Change Racing and representing Lamborghini Carolinas, finished second to Al Carter by .495 of a second in the first round at Sebring and won the second round by 2.495 seconds over John Farano.

Farano is second in the championship with 22 points in the No. 63 entry fielded by Jota Corse and representing Lamborghini Dallas. He recorded two podium finishes at Sebring, with a third place in Race One complementing his runner-up result in Race Two.

Carter is third in the championship with 15 points in the No. 80 Mitchum Motorsports entry representing Lamborghini Palm Beach. Sebring pole winner Andrew Palmer is fourth at 14 points in the No. 14 GMG Racing car for Lamborghini Beverly Hills. 2013 World Final champion Palmer won the pole at Sebring and produced two top-five finishes.

Damon Ockey is fifth overall and the leading driver in the Amateur class with 13 points in the No. 88 GMG Racing entry for Lamborghini Vancouver. 2013 Amateur champion Tom O'Gara will look to put his season back on track at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca after finishing eighth and 10th, respectively, in the first two rounds at Sebring in the No. 69 GMG Racing entry representing Lamborghini Beverly Hills.

The Lamborghini Gallardo LP 570-4 Super Trofeo car is the ultimate single-make race car and the only four-wheel drive GT racer in the world. The 570-horsepower, V10 Gallardo LP 570-4 features impressive technology such as paddle shift E-gear transmission, Öhlins race shocks, Brembo brakes, a carbon fiber aerodynamic package that includes a rear wing with 10 adjustable positions, MTA data acquisition, air jacks, center wheel locks and more.

There's one simple, but big, question entering the second event of the 2014 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama May 2-4 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca; can anyone catch Angel Benitez Jr.?

Benitez opened the season by sweeping both rounds March 13-14 at Sebring International Raceway from the pole in convincing fashion in the No. 05 Formula Motorsport/Avid Motorsport Platinum Cup entry. Benitez, from Valencia, Venezuela, won Race 1 by 3.103 seconds over Colin Thompson and Race 2 by 3.735 seconds over Thompson.

The same story unfolded after the first event last season, when Benitez also swept Sebring. But Madison Snow rallied to win both races at the challenging Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., en route to the series championship after a summer-long battle that included Benitez.

Snow has graduated to the GT Daytona class of the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. So Thompson and fellow young standout Sloan Urry could be the top challengers to Benitez based on the opening round in March at Sebring and their past results at Laguna.

Thompson, from Doylestown, Pa., turned in a steady, consistent performance in the No. 14 Kelly Moss Motorsports entry at Sebring to show his credentials as a Platinum Cup (2014 cars) title contender. He finished third last season in the first race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for his family-owned team and this season is the top Platinum Cup driver for series powerhouse Kelly Moss.

Urry, from Park City, Utah, is third in the championship standings behind Benitez and Thompson with 26 points in the No. 20 JDX Racing entry owned by former Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca IMSA class winner Jeremy Dale. Urry rallied from a sixth-place finish in the first race at Sebring to finish third in the second race. He also has good history at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, placing second to Snow in Race 2 last year at the legendary track.

Ashley Freiberg captured attention last season at Laguna Seca by finishing second and fifth. Freiberg has climbed to the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, but another talented female driver, series rookie Christina Nielsen, also is a serious challenger for the podium.

Nielsen, from Aarhus, Denmark, finished a solid fifth in both races at Sebring in her first-ever races at the tough, bumpy track. She'll face a similar steep learning curve on the 11-turn, 2.238-mile circuit at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in the No. 25 NGT Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car. She never has raced on the circuit, which features the famous "Corkscrew" turn.

Kasey Kuhlman leads a talented group of Masters (age 45 and older) competitors this weekend. Kuhlman, from Cincinnati, finished fourth in the second race at Sebring in the No. 15 entry fielded by reigning team champion Wright Motorsports. The team knows how to win at Laguna, as Snow drove a Wright Motorsports-prepared entry to the top of the podium in both races last year.

Charlie Putman could provide a tough challenge to Kuhlman and challenge for Platinum Masters podium positions. Putman, from Mills, Wyo., finished in the top 10 in both races at Sebring in the No. 40 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car in his return to racing after a brief hiatus. Putman and Jay Patel drive cars fielded by Dempsey Racing, owned by actor and TUDOR United SportsCar Championship driver Patrick Dempsey.

Fred Poordad and Jeff Mosing will continue their battle for the top of the Gold Cup (2010-2013 cars) and Gold Cup Masters standings. Poordad, from San Antonio, Texas, leads both standings in his No. 02 Competition Motorsports entry.

Patrick-Otto Madsen also will be a strong contender for Gold Cup victory. He held a big lead in Race 1 at Sebring before going off track in his No. 99 ANSA Motorsports entry and won the Gold class by more than 23 seconds in Race 2.

This is the only round of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama season on the West Coast, and there will be a strong California contingent on the starting grid. Golden State drivers include Michael Lewis (Laguna Beach) and David Calvert-Jones (Los Angeles) in Platinum Cup, and Blair Chang (Santa Monica) and Michael McAlister (Beverly Hills) in Gold Cup.

Practice for the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca starts Friday, May 2, with qualifying at 9 a.m. (PT) Saturday, May 3. Two 45-minute races are scheduled for Sunday, May 4, with the first at 9 a.m. and the second at 5:15 p.m. For live updates on all the action, follow @IMSALive on Twitter.

The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship is made up of a variety of track types and race lengths. From the high-speed oval/road course of Daytona International Speedway's Rolex 24 to 12-hours of fender-to-fender racing on the flat, former airfield of Sebring International Raceway through to the most recent 100-minute street fight in Long Beach, California. The May 4 race on the Monterey Peninsula is the first time the GT Le Mans (GTLM) Porsche teams will compete on the kind of circuit their car was originally intended - the Porsche 911 RSR was developed to compete on the smooth, natural terrain road courses frequented by the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC). But, as the Porsche model is new to the North American race scene, the 2.238-mile, 11-turn track is the first time the drivers will have the challenge of preparing the car for a course which uses the hills and valleys of its surroundings as its layout.

"We had a great result and a very strong car and tire combination last year here at Laguna Seca," sdtated driver Bryan Sellers. "The new Porsche 911 RSR is a definite improvement so we are hoping for the best moving forward. We were able to learn a lot about our performance in Long Beach and have an idea where we need to make progress. I think we are all looking forward to erasing Long Beach and being able to move forward with the confidence that we will improve and be stronger each race weekend this year with the Team Falken Tire Porsche."

As the only team in the world developing the Falken tire for international endurance racing and the only Porsche 911 RSR running it, Team Falken Tire is always in a unique position at each track. At MRLS, the track's surface adds to the task. The pavement is smooth and consistent - unlike the last two rounds of the championship - but is slow to build heat in the tire. While this reduces wear, it also brings the challenge to the engineers and drivers to get the most out of the tire quickly. Sand is also regularly on the racing line adding to the slipperiness of the track.

"The surface is difficult because it is a low grip surface that is often sandy," Sellers added. "This makes it difficult for tire engineers and drivers because the track is always changing. The good thing is the surface remains the same for everyone so we all have to fight the same issues."

One similarity to the most recent California round of the Championship at Long Beach, this weekend's race will also be only for the 11 GTLM class cars and 12 Prototype (P) entries.

"Having the GTLM cars on track with the just the Prototype cars didn't really change our race too much in Long Beach," Sellers concluded. "I suspect that it will be the same in Laguna. It may be a little more difficult in traffic due to the nature of the track, but it will make for a good show."

The weekend will also feature competition in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge. In his rookie season, James Vance competed at Daytona and Sebring - almost polar opposite tracks - for the first time in his career, in a Porsche. He now will share the the No. 74 Honda Civic Si fielded by C360R with teammate Jon Miller in the Sport Tuner (ST) class for Compass360 Racing.

"Mazda Raceway was where I participated in my first pro event," Vance said. "So I hold this track close to my heart. I know this sounds weird, but I love anti-clockwise tracks. I love the flow of the track and the intricacies of the track, too. The subtle off-camber corners can catch you out, but those technical parts of the track are what makes it so great."

The 11-turn, 2.238-mile circuit will be the first track in Vance's racing career where he races a car that is not rear-wheel drive. But the benefits of the new team outweigh the challenge of learning the nuances of his front-wheel drive Honda Civic Si.

"I am extremely excited to be joining C360," Vance said. "They have such experience and so many great people within the team. It's going to be amazing to work with them. The biggest adjustment is going to be getting used to the front-wheel-drive system in my Honda Civic Si."

Vance will get on track for the first time in his new ride at 9:35 a.m. local time Friday, May 2 with the first of two practice sessions.

"To be honest, I haven't had much of a chance to prepare," Vance said. "Other than my fitness regimen and the odd simulator session, I have had little time to practice between my trips to Texas to visit potential sponsors. I'll get in a few more simulator sessions before I head out west. It should make for an interesting first few practice laps."

Reaction to pressure and nerves can make or break a person. David Ostella insists his nerves keep him on his toes and will help deliver success when the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship returns to action May 3-4 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif.

Ostella is aiming for redemption on the Monterey Peninsula after his sliding into the wall and out of his last race, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida on March 15.

The first step is concentrating more on his work in the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports car and less on his competitors. That's not easy, considering the Prototype Challenge category boasts veteran stars such as Alex Tagliani and Bruno Junqueira.

"The competition I face in this series has more experience than the previous fields I've raced in," Ostella said. "It is a little intimidating, but it keeps me on my toes to perform well. My goal is to give it 100 percent."

This is Ostella's first trip to the 11-turn, 2.238-mile circuit since 2011. But he still remembers the unique challenges and characteristics of the track, which includes the famous "Corkscrew" turn.

"The PC car is closer to an open-wheel car in comparison to the other sports cars I've driven before now," Ostella said. "So I can take a little from previous experience there. I can usually recall a track pretty well. I'll use the simulator to help myself learn the track, but the first few laps out will definitely be used to jog my memory."

Ostella will have only two practice sessions before qualifying Saturday, May 3. He will spend those sessions learning to pick up speed quickly to prepare for a successful qualifying session.

Stuart based Extreme Speed Motorsports is eagerly awaiting this weekend’s TUDOR United SportsCar Championship event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The last time ESM raced on a permanent road course, both Tequila Patrón-sponsored Honda Performance Development ARX-03b prototypes led laps at Sebring. In the end, the No. 1 machine finished second.

Channeling that race performance, ESM looks to improve its finish by one position and leave California with a win at the two-hour Grand Prix of Monterey, the fourth race in the 2014 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.

All four ESM drivers have different reasons for Mazda Raceway being one of their favorite tracks. Oakland, Calif., native Johannes van Overbeek calls Laguna his home track. In October 2009, Scott Sharp and then co-driver David Brabham clinched the ALMS P1 championship win. In a two-fold announcement that same weekend, Sharp revealed the formation of Extreme Speed Motorsports for the 2010 season and its first driver – Ed Brown. The circuit is also the site of Ryan Dalziel’s first sports car win.

Following that second-place finish at Sebring, Sharp and Dalziel – co-drivers of the No. 1 Tequila Patrón entry – hope to leverage their past successes this weekend. Sharp has one pole position and two podium finishes and Dalziel won in a Daytona Prototype in 2008.

“I picked up my first victory in sports cars at Laguna Seca in 2008 driving in GRAND-AM, so I’m hoping she can be good to me once again," added Dalziel. "Much like Long Beach with these shorter races, you need to qualify up front and have a couple of really good pit stops. It will be two hours of qualifying laps I'm sure. We proved at Sebring we can be quick on road courses and I believe Laguna will suit our HPD chassis and Honda engine perfectly.”

Brown and van Overbeek, co drivers of the No. 2 Tequila Patrón prototype, were unable to complete last year’s four-hour race. The duo retired at the midpoint due to electrical issues. Finishing the race and standing on the podium are the goals for the No. 2 team this weekend.

“Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca should to suit the P2 cars very well; the high-speed corners and heavy braking will be the best chance we've had thus far," van Overbeek added. "It will be a challenging weekend to get a setup because we're practicing with 50 plus cars in two hours, so we expect a few yellows. Then we are racing with nearly half that number on Sunday afternoon. If Ed does his regular good job and we have a bit of luck and the No. 2 ESM/Patrón HPD car will be fighting at the end for a podium. As usual, I'm looking forward to racing my home track – Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.”

The picturesque 11-turn, 2.238-mile circuit should favor the high-downforce Honda HPDs, in the medium- to high-speed sweeping corners. In addition to the ever-changing weather conditions and due to the track’s location and elevation, the team will need to work under pressure with a shorter race length. What was a four- or six-hour endurance race for the American Le Mans Series is now a two-hour sprint. Similar to the Long Beach street circuit in April, Sunday’s race features two TUDOR classes – the prototypes and GT Le Mans cars.

Before hitting the race circuit on Saturday morning, van Overbeek will have logged 80 road miles. Equipped with special Tequila Patrón cycling gear and a bike with Continental tires, van Overbeek, ESM crew members, friends and family are participating in an annual bike ride from San Jose to Monterey on Tuesday. The 80-mile journey should take them approximately seven hours.

The Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix Powered by Mazda will feature split races, with two classes each, to thin the large field on the tight, challenging Laguna Seca layout. The PC and GT Daytona race begins at 10:15 a.m. (PT, 1:15 p.m. ET) Sunday, May 4 and will be broadcast live on FOX Sports 1. Live coverage will continue on FOX Sports 1 for the Prototype-GT Le Mans race, which starts at 2:45 p.m. (PT, 5:45 p.m. ET).

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