For Mustang fans, the 2011 Continental Tire Sports Car Festival race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca held July 8-9 was a disaster. The best any Mustang could muster was fifteenth, with Jim Click and Mike McGovern driving their Mustang Boss 302R home behind nine BMW M3s and five Camaros. Matt Bell and John Edwards finished their #9 Stevenson Motorsports Camaro on the podium’s top step for the second race in a row after their win at Road America.
Grand-Am’s last visit to the scenic, 2.24-mile race track was in 2009, where Rehagen Racing’s Dean Martin and Ken Wilden dominated the race on their way to winning the 2009 championship with their Mustang FR500C. That result, combined with the famed track’s layout gracing the top-of-the-line Ford Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca edition, had Mustang fans hoping to see another Mustang take the checker.
By the looks of practice and qualifying times, there were reasons for optimism. Scott Maxwell and Joe Foster drove their #15 Multimatic Motorsports Mustang Boss 302R quickest in the first practice session, and Jack Roush Jr/Billy Johnson in the #61 Roush Performance Mustang Boss 302R were P2 in the second practice. But, as the saying goes, “you can’t win practice.” Qualifying was when everyone showed their cards. Matt Bell was fastest in his Camaro. Joe Foster was fourth quickest, a scant 0.326 seconds behind pole. Jack Roush Jr qualified fifth, but blew the engine at the end of the session. Per the Grand-Am rules, an engine change meant they were to start the race at the back of the field.
In Saturday morning’s warm-up session before the race, the #15 Mulitimatic Motorsports Boss 302R was quickest again. The cool track meant the top six times all better than Bell’s pole-position-lap the afternoon before.
The race started at 10:45 AM, and Matt Bell’s Camaro led the way to the first turn. Joe Foster tucked his #15 Mustang in third behind Joey Atterbury’s #62 Mitchum Motorsports Camaro, waiting to pounce. However the straight-line speed of the Camaros was unmatched, with Matt Bell adding a half-second to his lead on every lap. He didn’t relinquish the front spot until he pitted to hand over his Camaro to co-driver John Edwards during a full-course caution.
Forty-five minutes into the race, things started falling apart for the Mustangs. Shortly after taking the reins from Jack Roush Jr, Billy Johnson limped the #61 Mustang into pit lane with a cut left-rear tire. Contact with another car broke the panhard bar, and the fender sliced the tire. Johnson lost several laps while the Roush Performance crew repaired the car, sabotaging the team’s charge to the top of the season point standings.
Fourteen laps after the field returned to green, John Graham hit the outside wall going onto the front straight in the #16 Mustang Boss 302R. On lap 49, the #9 Stevenson Motorsports Camaro regained the lead with John Edwards behind the wheel, where it would stay for the rest of the race. Shelby Blackstock (#49 Roush Performance Boss 302R) got stuck in the turn one gravel on lap 58, and had to be retrieved—bringing out another full-course caution. When the field returned to green, Scott Maxwell (#15 Boss 302R) and Mike Miller (#68 FR500C) tangled in turn four, taking each other out of the race, and ending Maxwell’s charge into the top ten.
The last thirteen laps were green, with John Edwards cruising to he and co-driver Matt Bell’s second consecutive win in Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge competition. The only Mustangs to finish on the lead lap were the aforementioned #2 Click/McGovern Boss Mustang 302R and Brad Adams and Ben Crosland in the #95 Race with RP Mustang FR500C.
The dismal finish allowed BMW to take the Manufacturer points lead, fourteen points ahead of Ford. BMW factory driver Bill Auberlen didn’t race at Laguna Seca, leaving Turner Motorsport’s Paul Dalla Lana at the top of the point standings after Dalla Lana’s 11th-place finish.
Next up is B+ Foundation Heroes 200 at New Jersey Motorsports Park July 22-23rd. With only two races remaining in the 2011 Grand-Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge season, the pressure is mounting on the Mustang teams to have any chance at the championship.
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