MONTEREY, Calif. – As he chases success this weekend in the Hyundai Monterey Sports Car Championship, Ryan Hardwick feels right at home on the circuit he compares to a “dirt flat track.”
WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca is noted for its lack of grip, the result of a surface that hasn’t been repaved in years and bears the brunt of California sunshine and constantly blowing sands over its 11-turn, 2.238-mile layout.
An off-road motorcycle racer before shifting gears to sports cars, Hardwick’s background has him well prepared and more excited for Sunday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race.
Hardwick, in his first full season of WeatherTech Championship competition, and IMSA veteran Patrick Long have quietly moved the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche GT3 R into GT Daytona championship contention by finishing fifth or better – without any wins – in all but one of the first eight races this season.
They sit four points out of the lead in the driver standings, while the No. 16 is just two markers from first place in entrant points.
Finding that elusive grip on the slick and tight WeatherTech Raceway will be paramount this weekend, whether in qualifying or the race.
That is why Hardwick believes his two-wheel background could play in his favor.
“You are constantly changing your driving style lap to lap, searching for that grip,” the 40-year-old Georgian said. “Everyone’s looking for it and it’s just going to be the driver who can be the most disciplined and really feeling the track.
“I’ve had a lot of success at Laguna, (where) you virtually never have grip,” he added. “You don’t have grip in the rear, you don’t have grip in the front. To go fast, you have to be able to ‘lose’ the rear and ‘lose’ the front at the same time.
“That’s why all the motorcyclists, even the road racers, train on dirt flat tracks because there’s no grip. And Laguna Seca is like a dirt flat track. You are constantly searching for the grip and the limit. I’ve always had fun with floating the car, and it feels more like a motorcycle around there. It’s definitely unlike any other track, that’s for sure.”
Though he’s a year younger than his Bronze-rated co-driver, Long is the long-toothed veteran of the Wright Motorsports team.
The Platinum-rated Californian has competed in IMSA events since 2003, won 27 races and is a two-time class champion (ALMS GT2 in 2009, ALMS GT in 2010).
Long, whose five wins at WeatherTech Raceway – all in Porsches – are the most of any driver entered this weekend, believes the track surface could benefit the No. 16 Porsche as it vies to overtake the AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexuses and the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura for GTD honors.
“It’s a track that’s pretty good for Porsches,” Long said, “because it’s generally high tire deg, low grip, technical and lower-speed corners and fewer straights. I hope we’re up there battling with the Shank and AIM guys. We know that this track bodes well for us and we do have to pounce, but I’d be dishonest with you if I said I was thinking too hard about points. We have to continue doing what we’ve been doing, which has been working for us, and that’s just executing.
“It’s always going to go down to the last lap. There’s too many strong entrants and pairings out there to at this point be points racing.”