SpeedSource & Freedom Autosport shine at Mazda Raceway in Round 8 of the 2011 Grand-Am season

Grand-Am’s Rolex Sports Car and Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge series trekked to the recognized symbolic home of “Zoom-Zoom” in North America, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., over July 8 to 9 for the eighth round of the 12-race season. In an astonishing display of Mazda dominance, RX-8 and MX-5 racked up two-thirds of the podium spots for one of the automaker’s annual homecomings.

Returning to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca after the series skipped it last year, teams looked forward to racing at the historic track under the warm California sun. In the Rolex Series, the weekend proved to be a strong showing for both SpeedSource cars, where the No. 69 FXDD Mazda RX-8 captured a second-place finish and the No. 70 Castrol Edge Mazda RX-8 closed out the podium with a third place.

Defending GT co-champion Emil Assentato drove the No. RX-8 to sixth on the grid for his strongest qualifying result of the season so far. Starting the race next to his team car, Assentato was able to settle into an early race rhythm. When time came for co-driver Jeff Segal to take control, the car was very much in contention with the leading GT cars.

Segal continued to push, bringing the car up to second by the final caution period. The reduced pace behind the safety car allowed Segal to conserve much-needed fuel and maintain his track position. The weekend’s second-place finish is the team’s third podium finish of the 2011 season.

Sylvain Tremblay started the No. 70 RX-8 from fifth on the grid and quickly pushed it up to the front of the GT field; early race lap times would indicate a very quick pace. At the half-hour mark a caution bunched the field with Tremblay sitting comfortably in fourth position before pitting.

A blisteringly fast pit stop by the crew, which included four tires, fuel and a driver change, sent the car past the entire GT field into the lead. From then on Monterey native Jonathan Bomarito took control and started to open a steady gap on the rest of the GT class.

Knowing that fuel range would be the limiting factor of the race, strategists on the No. 70 began formulating a plan. It would seem that their efforts would come to fruition when Bomarito was able to beat a late-race caution to pit for a splash of fuel. However upon rejoining the field, now in third position, trouble with the clean-up crews would cause GRAND-AM to extend the length of the caution from a standard 10-minute affair to a nearly 18-minute timeout. The delay would prove costly for the No. 70 as it allowed the rest of the GT field to conserve enough fuel to make the race end. Nonetheless, the No. 70 Castrol Edge Mazda RX-8 put on a strong showing all race and captured the team’s second podium of the season.

The collaboration of all Mazda teams for the Monterey Festival of Speed at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca further amplifies Mazda’s charge to the front of the manufacturers’ standings. Mazda sits second overall in points, trailing the leader by only five.

In the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge contest, Freedom Autosport took first and second in the Street Tuner class. The duo of Andrew Carbonell and Rhett O’Doski crossed the finish line first in the No. 26 Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5, marking their best finish this season and O’Doski’s first series win. Derek Whitis and Tom Long took second in the No. 25 Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5, fighting back from an early setback.

“On the last restart, I went to pass the leaders into turn five. We were three wide through the turn and I went from third to first in that lap,” says Carbonell, who drove the final stint in the No. 26 Mazda. “I had to win the race: we were in a Mazda MX-5 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. There was no room for error!”

“On a personal level, it feels good to finally get my first win,” says O’Doski. “But this is really a victory for the whole team. Our one-two finish and the consistency we’ve shown this year says a lot about the dedication of everyone at Freedom Autosport.”

In the No. 25 Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5, Whitis felt like the car was loose during his stint. When he pitted, the reason was clear: differential oil was leaking onto the rear tires. The crew got the leak fixed without losing too much ground, and Long was able to make his way back up to second before the checkered flag.

“During that last hour I was trying to be smart and pick cars off one by one,” says Tom Long. “I knew our Mazda was fast, and we just had to work our way back up to the front. I had a great three-way battle in the final laps to give Freedom Autosport a one-two finish.”

“Winning and taking second at Mazda Raceway with two Freedom MX-5s is as good as it gets,” says Whitis. “The Freedom crew gave us perfect cars to take the top two spots on the podium. And to top it off we had USMC Lt. Col. Tim Anderson with us for the win.”

In fact, Freedom Autosport had a lot of fans showing their support both for the team and for the military. Over 100 fans were sporting Freedom Autosport t-shirts as they cheered their team to victory.

Mazda leads the Continental Series’ Engine Manufacturer standings by six points, while Freedom Autosport sits fourth in the Team table.

Both series next travel to the Jersey shore for Round 9 of the Grand-Am season at New Jersey Motorsports Park.