On Wednesday, April 30, the Streets of San Jose may never be the same after drivers from the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship get their race cars into full gear as they do a few laps around Plaza de Cesar Chavez in the Mini Grand Prix of San Jose. The TUDOR Championship competitors are in San Jose to share the high-revving powerful new race cars with fans in advance of the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix powered by Mazda.
In celebration of the first race of the year at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, May 2-4, the circuit wanted to share its motorsports passion with new audiences to kick-off the season. San Jose Earthquakes defender Jordan Stewart will serve as Grand Marshal for the event, accompanied by TUDOR United SportsCar Championship drivers Jonathon Bomarito of SRT Motorsports in the SRT Viper GTS-R, Charlie Shears of the Performance Tech Prototype Challenge, Sylvain Tremblay in the SpeedSource Mazda Prototype, Nic Jonsson in the Krohn Racing Ferrari 458 GT Le Mans, Al Carter and James Davison in the TRG-AMR Astin Martin V12 Vantage, Bill Auberlen in the BMW Team Rahal BMW Z4 GTE, Richard Westbrook and Michael Valiente in the Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP, and John Pew and Oswaldo Negri, Jr. in the Michael Shank Racing Riley DP Conti 2-seater.
The Mini Grand Prix of San Jose begins with race cars on display at 11 a.m., demonstration laps around Plaza de Cesar Chavez begin at noon and a fan autograph session with the TUDOR Championship drivers and Jordan Stewart begins at 12:30 p.m. There will also be prize giveaways including race gear and event tickets.
This is the first event in the run-up to the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix powered by Mazda, which features the Monterey debut of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, America’s all-new premier sports car racing Series. The Series was created by the merger of the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car and American Le Mans organizations, both of which had a long history of competing at Mazda Raceway. The TUDOR Championship features two styles of cars, Prototype and GT (Grand Touring). Each style of car has two classes, Pro and Pro-Am, meaning there are four classes of racing on track together, each with their own battle for the lead.
The Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix powered by Mazda will also include an appearance by the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Series, whose stock based sportscars will zoom around the racetrack's high speed corners in advance of the more powerful prototypes. One of the favorites in their class has to be Freedom Autosport, who has earned four double-podium finishes in four visits to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. When Freedom Autosport returns to the track next weekend, they hope that history will repeat itself once again.
After finishing second and third in 2009, when the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Series first visited Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Freedom Autosport returned in 2011 to finish first and second. Now, three years later, they are the undisputed kings of the ST class at the 2.238-mile track.
For 2014, Freedom Autosport wants to add one more detail: putting a military veteran on the podium. The race marks the team and series debut for U.S. Marine Staff Sergeant Liam Dwyer, who will be driving the No. 27 Mazda MX-5 with Tom Long.
John Doonan, Motorsports Director for Mazda North American Operations, noted, “I can’t imagine a racer who better exemplifies the Mazda spirit of Never Stop Challenging than Liam Dwyer. Mazda is thrilled to have Liam make his professional racing debut with Mazda, at our home track, on a day that is honoring the men and women of the U.S. military, with a Mazda team that has a long history of supporting U.S. Marine Corps families – it’s a perfect match. This will be a great day for everyone involved.”
Dwyer, who races with a prosthetic left leg, the result of an IED explosion during his deployment to Afghanistan, recently turned his first laps at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca during a test. Until then, he had only driven the track on a racing simulator.
“Simulators cannot do that track justice! The elevation changes in the track are something you truly have to experience firsthand to understand,” Dwyer said. “Mazda Raceway is a Mazda MX-5 track.”
Mark Pombo, who drives the No. 25 Freedom Autosport MX-5 with his brother Mat Pombo, is also a military veteran. Pombo was in the Army Reserve and served in Iraq as one of the first waves of troops deployed there.
Randy Pobst and Andrew Carbonell complete the Freedom Autosport lineup in the No. 26 Mazda MX-5. Carbonell won at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in 2013 and 2011 with co-driver Rhett O’Doski.
Another Mazda team in the garage area, CJ Wilson Racing, recently announced that it’s official test and reserve driver, Elliott Skeer, will make his IMSA Continental Sports Car Challenge Series debut at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The 19 year old from Carlsbad, California will replace the injured Marc Miller alongside Tyler McQuarrie in the #3 CJ Wilson Mazda MX-5.
“After Sebring, we took a long, hard look at the #3 CJ Wilson Mazda and decided to repair rather than replace the chassis,” explained Team Manager, Andris Laivins. “Marc took a very hard hit, but thankfully the car is still structurally sound and straight. 100% of the credit goes to Derek, Zac, and Kathryn at the shop who have put hundreds of hours into making the #3 new again.”
Miller will be fully recovered in time for the Lime Rock Park event at the end of May, so this is a brief opportunity for Skeer to display the skills that he has honed over the last two seasons racing for CJWR in the Mazda MX-5 Cup. Skeer and McQuarrie recently shook down the #3 car after its complete rebuild following Miller’s heavy crash at Sebring International Raceway last month.
“The car does feel like the MX-5 Cup car that I have raced, just with a lot more in every category," stated Skeer, who was suitably impressed by his first experience of the ST Class MX-5. "More power, better brakes, and a lot more corner grip! The first time I hit the brakes I went "Wow! This thing can stop!" but as soon as I turned the wheel I realized I didn't need the brakes! It will be a fun car to race and it is an awesome way to get my first experience of the Continental Tire Series. It has shown to be a quick car, so hopefully I can get to it's limits and battle for a good finish!”
Skeer’s first chance to sample Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in the ST class MX-5 will be at the test day on Thursday, May 1st. The third round of the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge will take place on Saturday May 3 at 12:45 p.m. PST. The 2.5-hour race will be broadcast live at IMSA.com, and shown on Fox Sports 1 at 10:00 a.m. ET on May 11.
In honor of National Military Appreciation Month (May), Freedom Autosport has teamed up with Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to offer free general admission to all active military in uniform and veterans with military ID. As a longtime supporter of the military and the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, Freedom Autosport is proud to help say “thank you” to those who serve. Freedom Autosport and Mazda Motorsports will also host military at the Military Hospitality Area, and Freedom will be giving away commemorative tee shirts.
For more information on the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix powered by Mazda call 800-327-7322, or visit the speedway's website. Advance purchase general admission starts at $35, with a three day general admission pass only $75. Children 12 and under are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Free parking is also available.
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