You could fill a book with the history of stock car racing at road courses like Watkins Glen, Sonoma, and Riverside, but you’d need far fewer pages to document the history of stock cars at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Other than some historic car events, demonstration runs, and eight Winston West Series races held sporadically between 1973 and 2001, the Monterey, CA circuit has been primarily the domain of open-wheelers and sports cars.
History notwithstanding, the ITSR Power Series aimed to add their own page to the track’s stock car legacy on Sunday as they visited the virtual Laguna Seca track for the first time in their Gen6 stock cars.
Two of the pre-race favorites – and the top two finishers from the season’s other road course race at Watkins Glen – qualified on the front row of the starting grid. Corey Davis took the pole with a lap of 1:24.778 seconds, while points leader Mike Kelley started second. Matt Delk, Dean Moll, and Adam Hallock completed the top five starting positions in a field of 17 sim racers.
When the green flag waved, the field streamed safely through the opening corners to kick off 50 laps of online racing. While Davis and Kelley began pulling away from the rest of the field, the gap between the two leaders stayed close, especially when Davis cut the course exiting the Corkscrew on Lap 9 and brought Kelley within a second.
As the race neared the one-quarter pole, tire wear became a factor throughout the field. Davis slowly pulled away from Kelley and third-place changed hands on Lap 12 when Moll ran wide entering Turn 2, allowing Delk, Johnston, and David Boden to get by.
Behind them, an exciting battle for seventh place played out between Scott Simley, James Coulibaly, and Allen McEwen. Simley also ran through the dirt and lost two positions, but their three cars remained in a close fight as the race neared the only round of scheduled pit stops.
Struggling on worn tires, Moll was the first to pit on Lap 21. Lapping nearly four seconds quicker on fresh tires, Moll moved from sixth to fourth after the cycle of stops was complete. However, he faced the daunting task of running 29 laps on the same set of tires to end the race.
Up front, with Davis leading by almost nine seconds, Kelley also made an early pit stop on Lap 23 to take advantage of fresh tires. Davis pitted two laps later to split the race in half, and he emerged from the pits just two seconds ahead of Kelley.
Even with slightly fresher tires, Davis was unable to shake Kelley early in the next run as the two leaders worked through traffic. Behind them, Delk comfortably held onto third place after leading one lap during the sequence of pit stops, and Moll faced a challenge from Johnston for fourth.
Moll’s older tires cost him that position on Lap 40, when a trip through the dirt exiting Turn 2 let Johnston take the position. As the race entered the final 10 laps, Kelley also struggled with tire wear, falling from just five seconds behind Davis to more than 25 seconds back in the closing laps.
After a tricky race at a demanding circuit, Davis came away with the victory – his third of the season in the Power Series. Kelley and Delk rounded out the podium as well as the lead-lap finishers, while Johnston was fourth and Moll finished fifth. Also finishing in the top ten were Hallock, Simley, Coulibaly, Rick Thompson, and Brad Collins.
Thanks to an impressive western road trip that included wins at Texas, Las Vegas, and Fontana, Kelley continues to lead the series standings by 18 points over Davis and 22 over Johnston with two of four dropped races factored in.
Next week’s doubleheader at Iowa Speedway is the final chance to use those dropped races before the three-race championship shootout begins, so the short track sim racing action may be even more intense as day turns to night and the drivers look for positions and points.