By Team Ford Performance Correspondent
Billy Johnson drove a tremendous final stint of the race, charging back through the GS field to bring the No. 15 Multimatic Motorsports Mustang BOSS 302R home in second position in the third round of the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Johnson pitted for fuel and fresh tires with about 40 minutes remaining in the 150-minute race and rejoined the field in eighth position before carving through the field and nearly taking the win.
“Initially, I wasn’t quite sure how everything was shaping up strategy-wise, but Multimatic called a perfect strategy for the last pit stop and getting tires when we did,” explained Johnson.
“We thought that if we could pit at the end of the race with 30 minutes to go and get new tires, that’s the ticket. If we don’t do that we are a sitting duck on equal tires because we burn off our tires. We had to do something.”
The strategy played out perfectly as the No. 15 pitted for new tires but the other GS cars opted to stay out and retain their track position. “We were able to mow through the field, get into second place and pressure the Camaro. Both the Nissan and the Camaro had more straightaway speed. They got off the corners better, not because of tires but from a horsepower standpoint.
Johnson finished just 0.552 seconds behind the Stevenson Motorsports Camaro and just 0.284 seconds ahead of the Doran Racing Nissan 370Z. Johnson described his late-race strategy.
“I couldn’t do anything at the end of the straightaway other than dive-bomb and I had to work them in the corners to pressure them into a mistake to pass them under braking. That’s how we got the Nissan and the Porsche. I didn’t have enough time to get it done on the Camaro. Maybe another lap or two, but we were definitely there.”
While the race ended well for Johnson, it didn’t start out as well for his co-driver Scott Maxwell, who started the race from the sixth position on the grid and fell to ninth after early race incidents.
“I went into the race prepared mentally just to stay out of trouble and ironically the first three laps were anything but clean,” explained Maxwell. “I got tapped and knocked off the track on the first lap. About the third lap, two cars took each other out right in front of my so I basically came to a stop. After that I though there’s a curse over me so I’ll just drive around and hand it over as soon as I can.”
Maxwell ended up driving about half the race before handing over the driving duties to Johnson. “We had really no chance so it was like a perfect storm with that last yellow. We had a brand new set of tires and Billy Johnson who is the best here at Laguna,” said Maxwell.
“With 30 minutes to go Billy had fresh tires and he went for it and just about pulled it off. It was a perfect strategy call by Multimatic and a great drive by Billy."
Austin Cindric started the No. 158 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Mustang Boss 302R from the outside of front row and smartly slotted into third position in the first corner.
“You have to be smart at the start, when the race is two and a half hours, you can’t win it on the first lap so I just had to mind my manners and keep my nose clean,” described Cindric.
“We finished seventh; the race didn’t really go our way when it came to hitting traffic. I think Jade had a pretty similar pace to Billy but Billy carved through the field and Jade got caught behind some of the other GS cars.
“All in all it was a really great effort and showed really great speed in our cars I ended up running the fastest Mustang lap of the race so I’m proud of that. We’ll move on to Watkins Glen and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season. It’s a good indication of what’s to come.”
Mike McGovern in the No. 2 Jim Click Racing Ford Mustang Boss 302R drove a great race, finishing fifth overall after co-driver Jim Click started the race from the 18th starting position.
“We didn’t have a great car the other day, but we just kept making it better and better,” described McGovern. “The issue we had was the exit coming off the corner. We just had to really wait for it and that just made me be more patient going in.”
“The Stevenson Camaro was in front of me and he was fairly strong and he made a little mistake and I was able to pass him to move up to fifth,” continued McGovern. “Then the car behind me was really hounding me for the longest time and it was just don’t make a mistake. He overdrove it a little bit going down into turn two and that gave me a gap so that I could relax a little bit. Once we ran into some slower traffic the gap just kept getting bigger and bigger which was exactly what I wanted to see.”
Chris Beaufait and Bob Michaelian finished 13th in the No. 78 Racers Edge Motorsport Ford Mustang Boss 302R after starting 20th. Michael Lira and Nick Galante finished 14th in the No. 57 Racers Edge Motorsport Ford Mustang Boss 302R after starting 15th.