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.
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