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Florida teams dominate at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca

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Last weekend, the teams of the TUDOR United SportsCar Series took to the historic road course of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the Grand Prix of Monterey. The racing was tough, but two Florida based teams, Freedom Autosport and Extreme Speed Motorsports, came home with victory in their respective classes.

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On Saturday, May 3, Freedom Autosport’s Randy Pobst and Andrew Carbonell gave the team its fourth consecutive victory at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The win is the second in a row for Pobst and Carbonell, who drive the No. 26 Mazda MX-5 in the ST class of IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge.

Pobst handled qualifying, posting the third-quickest time of the day.

“The team decided to leave the car just as it was from qualifying,” he said. “The temperature had dropped about 20 degrees, and the effect was just what our crew chief Mark Canup had hoped for. The MX-5’s handling and balance were excellent in the race.”

Pobst stayed within the top four during his stint. Once Carbonell got behind the wheel, he was determined to give Freedom Autosport its fourth consecutive victory at Mazda’s home track. Carbonell, who had won at Mazda Raceway twice already, made two daring outside passes in turn five to move from third to first.

“Our MX-5 was strong through turns three and four,” Carbonell said. “The second-place car went so far down the inside that I was able to hold him there and get my car onto the line. After that it was just a matter of repeating it on the leading car. I’ve got to thank everybody for the clean racing; everyone was very respectful.” Carbonell said that there was pressure to win again, adding, “I like that. We know we have to do well here.”

“I knew Freedom Autosport had a tremendous record at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca," Pobst noted. "On one hand, that gave me confidence that they’d have the setup for the MX-5. On the other hand, it put pressure on me to get the job done. It was a pleasure and a relief to put in a clean race. The biggest part of the victory goes to the team – Freedom Autosport put together a car that had both speed and reliability. It was terrific to have team owner Derek Whitis on the stand for the first time this year, too.”

The win came in front of the many active-duty military and veterans who came out for Military Appreciation Day. Freedom Autosport gave out commemorative team shirts to them and hosted a cookout as part of the day’s special events.

“To be a team that supports the military, being able to bring home the top trophy was really an honor. What we do is nothing compared to what they do,” noted Carbonell.

Mark Pombo – a veteran who served in Iraq – had an outstanding qualifying session in the No. 25 Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5, claiming the fourth spot on the grid. Unfortunately, he and brother Mat Pombo had to settle for 23rd after pit stop timing put the pair a lap down.

U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Liam Dwyer made his team and series debut in front of the military members who were cheering him on all around the circuit. As a veteran who was wounded twice in combat and now has a prosthetic left leg, Dwyer’s racing offers inspiration to his fellow veterans. After positive results in practice and qualifying, the race ended early for Dwyer and Tom Long, whose No. 27 Mazda MX-5 retired after Dwyer had a miscue in turn two that resulted in contact with another car.

“I have to thank Mazda and Freedom Autosport for giving me this opportunity,” Dwyer said. “We had a lot of veterans and active-duty military come check out the car, and they were in awe that there was an amputee racing! The car was great all weekend, and overall, the team did extremely well. Congratulations to Randy and Andrew: their drive was phenomenal. Freedom Autosport appreciates the military, has veterans in their cars, and won on Military Appreciation Day: it doesn’t get any better than that!”

See Freedom Autosport win again at Mazda Raceway during the broadcast on Fox Sports 1 at 10:00a.m. ET on May 11.

Extreme Speed Motorsports showed its speed on Saturday afternoon at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with pole position for Sunday’s TUDOR United SportsCar Championship race. Johannes van Overbeek in the No. 2 Tequila Patrón Honda Performance Development ARX-03b was the fastest qualifier in a battle between the two ESM prototypes.

The Oakland, Calif., driver won his first overall pole position with a time of 1:18.561 (102.555 mph), which established a Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca qualifying record for the Prototype category. In addition, it was ESM’s first overall TUDOR United SportsCar Championship pole position. Back in 2012, van Overbeek earned a GT class pole at Virginia International Raceway.

During the brief 15-minute qualifying session, van Overbeek and Ryan Dalziel in the No. 1 Tequila Patrón HPD ARX-03b swapped the lead several times. Dalziel eventually qualified with the third-fastest time with a 1:18.788 (102.259 mph) lap around the 2.238-mile, 11-turn circuit.

“This is a great result for the team with the No. 2 car in P1 and we’re P3," Dalziel added. "This is good for Johannes because this is his home track, so it is always nice to get a pole at your home track."

Ed Brown will start Sunday’s race for the No. 2 team and van Overbeek will drive second. Scott Sharp will start in the No. 1 machine and Dalziel will drive second.

“It is good to get a pole position here at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca," stated van Overbeek. "The lap was good. It was hard to tell how the laps were going time-wise because the predicted lap timer didn’t work. I wasn’t sure where we were relative to everyone else – which lap was good or which wasn’t."

The day didn’t start as the team planned. Following a traffic-filled opening session, ESM was uncertain about the performance of the prototypes and were fourth and sixth in class. In the second session, both machines shot to the top of the charts. In a preview of what was to come in qualifying, the two black and green machines traded the top spot several times. When the second session was complete, van Overbeek was quickest and Dalziel was third.

“This is my first pole here," continued van Overbeek. "I’ve come close so many times in endurance sports car series and to get it here at my home track is very rewarding. Starting in the front is always an advantage, and here Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is no different. You can stay out of trouble running up front."

After starting from pole, Extreme Speed Motorsports won Sunday’s Grand Prix of Monterey at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and set a number of historical marks in the process. The No. 2 Tequila Patrón Honda Performance Development ARX-03b (HPD) of Ed Brown and pole-winner Johannes van Overbeek claimed the first overall victory for ESM in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.

It was the first win for the duo of Brown and van Overbeek, who brought home the win on Sunday afternoon in a caution-free event. He made the winning pass with 15 minutes to go.

Brown was the starting driver for the No. 2 machine. In a career-best run, Brown was competitive and kept a top-10 position throughout his 22-minute stint before turning the car over to van Overbeek. The team pitted under green and was shuffled back in the field.

“This is my first win and I don’t think it has sunk in yet," added a jubilant Brown. "To beat the best drivers in the world, I’ll take that."

At the start of his stint, van Overbeek was scored 12th and improved his position with each lap. In 13 laps, he was running fifth. Then 16 laps later, van Overbeek was the race leader.

Looking to out-strategize the competition, the team called van Overbeek to pit for fuel at Lap 50, shortly after the race’s mid-point. Following the pit stop, the No. 2 machine fell to third with 50 minutes remaining on the race clock. That’s when van Overbeek began his second charge to the front.

In a battle with a DP car, van Overbeek planned his move. By Lap 76, he was back in the lead with less than 15 minutes to go. Once in the lead, van Overbeek never looked back and went on to win the two-hour event.

“From the outside, it probably looked pretty easy, but inside is another story, added a confident van Overbeek. "I was more nervous when Ed was in the car. He did a great job and put us in a great spot, and then I got in. I tried to be clean and knock off good laps and I figured if I kept doing that and stay clean, we’d be toward the front when it was near the end. There were no yellows; my hat is off to all the drivers out there."

Scott Sharp started the day for the No. 1 Tequila Patrón HPD. At Lap 25, Sharp moved into third and was the race leader by Lap 28. He pitted for a scheduled driver change on Lap 30 and turned the car over to Ryan Dalziel.

“This was a fantastic day for the ESM Patrón team," added Sharp. "It was a fantastic weekend for us to qualify first and third, then for Ed and Johannes to win. This is tremendous. They did a great job and checked all the boxes. The crew did a great job preparing the car; pit stops and everything went to plan. Ed did the best driving stint he’s ever done in his career. Then Johannes made some great moves and brought the win home. Congratulations to them."

Dalziel posted some of the quickest times of the race and reached the second position. On Lap 45, he was experience mechanical issues. By the time he reached Turn 7, Dalziel identified the problem was in the gearbox. He stopped and was unable to complete the race. Despite not finishing the event, the No. 1 team was scored in 11th place.

“It was great day for Tequila Patrón and ESM since this was the team’s first win of the year, first overall win and first win for Ed," commented Dalziel. "I’m already looking forward to rebounding at Detroit.”

Next on the schedule for Extreme Speed Motorsports is The Raceway at Belle Isle Park in Detroit, Mich., on May 30-31.

Next season, the team will race in the new HPD ARX-04b Honda coupes in an ambitious 2015 racing program that may include the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The ARX-04b is fully compliant with the latest ACO LMP2 regulations, and exceeds the safety standards of the new enclosed-cockpit configuration. The new design is eligible for competition in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, FIA World Endurance Championship, European Le Mans Series and Asian Le Mans Series.

“Extreme Speed Motorsports and Tequila Patrón are very excited to continue our relationship with Honda and HPD with the new 2015 ARX-04b coupe,” said Scott Sharp, Extreme Speed Motorsports owner/driver. “It is hard to believe that the current HPD base race car is now seven years old and still running strong; that is a testament to its excellent design. The next generation of the ARX chassis has been well thought out with a huge emphasis on performance, safety and aerodynamics."

Powered by the production-based Honda HR28TT twin turbocharged V6 engine, the new ARX-04b utilizes the latest in closed-cockpit prototype technology developed by HPD and Wirth Research. The pairing has already proved to be a winning combination, with success in INDYCAR, the American Le Mans Series and the FIA World Endurance Championship, including LMP2 and LMP1 Privateer class victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The proven 2.8-liter twin-turbo, direct injection, production-based Honda HR28TT V6 powerplant, developed from the “J35” family of V6 engines found in several Honda and Acura passenger vehicles, now includes a regulation compliant drive-by-wire throttle system and turbo fresh air valve system, eliminating turbo lag and providing improved reliability and performance.

“We are very pleased that Extreme Speed Motorsports has chosen our new HPD ARX-04b LMP2 Coupe for their 2015 racing program,” said Steve Eriksen, vice president and COO of HPD. “Our association with Scott, Ed and Tequila Patrón goes back to 2008 with our ARX-01 chassis. We’re looking forward to continuing our successful partnership and assisting ESM when it makes its first run at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where HPD has twice scored LMP2 class wins in the last four years.”

Founded in 2010, Extreme Speed Motorsports will enter its sixth season at the start of 2015. Led by Sharp, the team’s driver roster includes Ed Brown, Ryan Dalziel and Johannes van Overbeek. ESM is slated to compete in the 2015 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, and is considering making its first attempt at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“Tequila Patrón is looking forward to continuing our relationship with Honda and HPD,” said Ed Brown, President and Chief Executive Officer at The Patrón Spirits Company, and ESM driver. “We’ve won races and championships with HPD dating to 2008, and this is a great next step in that relationship. Tequila Patrón is the leader in top-quality spirits and Honda is a top performing manufacturer, so it’s a natural fit for both Tequila Patrón and HPD to move ahead with the new coupe. We’re looking forward to racing the new ARX-04b, branding it with the Tequila Patrón and Extreme Speed Motorsports banners.”

The ARX-04b features energy-efficient technology combining low drag with high fuel efficiency, “quick change” lightweight front and rear bodywork, 75-liter total fuel capacity, and the innovative Honda safety interlock refueling system, designed to reduce the potential for pit-lane fires resulting from cars leaving the pit box with the fuel hose still attached.

If you're a motorsports fan, and know of an event, team, or person you'd like to see profiled, please let me know. Check out more articles about auto racing at the Speedway Digest. Also, be sure to follow me on twitter, and read my articles about local getaways, HOAs, elections, and restaurants.

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