Race Weekend Central

Kenny Murillo, Christian Szymczak Win WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca 120

Murillo Racing’s Christian Szymczak‘s took the lead away during the final caution of the race Saturday (May 13). From there, he held on to claim victory for himself and Kenny Murillo in the IMSA MIchelin Pilot Challenge WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca 120. It is the duo’s first overall Pilot Challenge victory together.

“[The final laps were] nerve-wracking,” Szymczak told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch in victory lane. “We’ve been in this spot [before] and we were about to win, then somehow, a piano drops on our heads. Somehow, we kept it together and made it happen. I knew we were strong, but it’s a tough race.”

Van der Steur Racing’s Austin McCusker started from the pole in his Aston Martin and led early over Rennsport One’s Eric Filguerias. Meanwhile, TeamTGM’s Hugh Plumb, who was fourth in points entering the race, cut his left front tire on the second lap of the race and clouted an advertising placard.

The issue forced Plumb to make a long pit stop to remove the banner and change the tire. During said stop, Plumb copped a drive-through penalty for spinning the wheels while up on the air jack. As a result, the No. 46 Aston Martin ended up two laps down, completely out of the hunt.

Very quickly, the race became a three-man duel between McCusker, Filguerias and Murillo. Cameron Lawrence in fourth was five seconds back.

Once the leaders reached the back of the TCR field, it was not Filguerias, but Murillo who pounced. He was able to get past Filguerias, then used the slower Hyundai of Deily Motorsports’ Jordan Wisely as a pick to take the lead from McCusker.

A split pit strategy ultimately came into play. Murillo pitted from the lead 50 minutes into the race to switch over to Szymczak. The lead revolved around to CarBahn Motorsports with Peregrine Racing’s Jeff Westphal, who had gotten into his Porsche much earlier.

The pit strategies ultimately came together when the race’s one and only caution flew with 41 minutes to go. Ave Motorsports’ Thiago Camilo appeared to lose his brakes entering turn 11 while racing Murillo Racing’s Eric Foss for fourth.

Camilo drove headlong into the back of Foss, spinning the No. 56 Mercedes out and smashing in the front end of Camilo’s Supra. Both drivers were out on the spot.

The caution brought Westphal into the pits for fresh tires and fuel since he could not go for 77 minutes to the finish from when he stopped. The stop dropped him back to 13th.

As a result of Westphal’s stop, Szymczak inherited the lead with Stevan McAleer and Elliott Skeer giving chase. The race restarted with 28 minutes to go, a veritable sprint to the finish.

The man on the move here was Lone Star Racing’s Scott Andrews. Given his pace in practice on Friday, the idea of him progressing was not too much of a surprise.

See also
Scott Andrews Quickest in Laguna Seca Pilot Challenge Practice

When he took over for Anton Dias Perera, Andrews was 23rd overall. Quick pace (including the fastest lap of the whole race) allowed Andrews to put the Lone Star Mercedes in contention. The closing laps saw him get all the way to the top five.

Szymczak and Murillo held on to win by 1.876 seconds over Filguerias and McAleer. Winward Racing’s Daniel Morad and Bryce Ward finished third, while Andrews and Dias Perera finished fourth on the track. However, they were moved to the rear of the field after failing post-race inspection.

The penalty moved NOLAsport’s Skeer and Adam Adelson up to fourth despite significant contact with Morad with two minutes to go. BGB Motorsports’ Thomas Collingwood and Spencer Pumpelly were fifth.

Stephen Cameron Racing’s Greg Liefooghe and Sean Quinlan were sixth, followed by Westphal and Sean McAlister. McCumbee-McAleer Racing’s Jenson Altzman and Chad McCumbee were eighth in their Mustang, then Lawrence and Robert Megennis. Rebel Rock Racing’s Frank DePew and Robin Liddell were 10th.

In TCR, LA Honda World Racing’s Mat Pombo led the field to green, but his time at the front in the new FL5-generation Honda Civic Type-R TCR was short. Bryan Herta Autosport’s Harry Gottsacker was able to get past to take the class lead on lap 6.

Once out in the lead, Gottsacker ran off and hid. 25 minutes into the lead, he already had a seven-second over teammate Mason Filippi. However, Filippi proceeded to run Gottsacker down over the next 20 minutes.

A short battle began, intermixed with Grand Sport traffic. Eventually, Filippi was able to make the pass to take the class lead in the Andretti Hairpin.

TCR cars can easily go more than half of the two-hour distance on fuel, so most of the TCR teams pitted around the halfway point for tires, fuel and a driver change. After those stops, Filippi’s teammate Mark Wilkins held onto the lead and expanded the advantage to over two seconds. Ryan Eversley was third, but he was more than 32 seconds back.

The caution closed everything back up and allowed Eversley to make a race of it. Rockwell Autosport Development’s Denis Dupont was right there as well, but he cut a tire with less than 10 minutes reamining.

Wilkins was able to open up a decent advantage on the final restart over teammate Robert Wickens. From there, he held on for the win.

Filippi and Wilkins’ margin of victory was 1.257 seconds over Gottsacker and Wilkins. Eversley and Pombo were third, then JDC-Miller MotorSports’ Chris Miller and Mikey Taylor in their Audi. Van der Steur Racing’s Tyler Maxson and Bryan Ortiz were fifth.


New for 2023 is a split-schedule for Pilot Challenge teams. The next race for Grand Sport teams will be a 100-minute sprint race in Downtown Detroit on June 3 on the undercard of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix. TCR teams will not be back in action until Watkins Glen on June 24.

About the author

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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