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IMSA: Unfortunate caution hampers Sheena Monk's progress at Laguna Seca

While Sheena Monk could move forward in her stint, an unfortunate caution trapped her Gradient Racing Acura one lap down and a strategy gamble to get back in the game eventually didn't pay off resulting in a P12 finish at Laguna Seca. Monk nevertheless keeps second place in the Bob Akin Award standings.

Sheena Monk, JG Wentworth Gradient Racing Acura NSX GT3 EVO22, IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Laguna Seca, 2024
Photo credits: Michael L. Levitt

Sheena Monk and Stevan McAleer endured a challenging fourth round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at Laguna Seca, as the Gradient Racing duo was trapped a lap down by an ill-timed caution in the early stages, and a subsequent gamble on strategy didn't pay off to bring the JG Wentworth-sponsored Acura NSX GT3 Evo22 back in contention in the GTD class.

Monk was coming off her best finish to date in IMSA at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, where she recovered from 17th on the grid to claim an impressive fourth place that also resulted in the top Bronze Cup award. The team was looking to replicate the success at another iconic North American circuit – the WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

And indeed, speed on single-lap pace was again a strong point for the duo in practice, as they set a 1:21.928 in the opening practice which put Monk and McAleer fifth fastest. They improved their best time by over half a second in FP2, and again ran in the top ten in the GTD class, showing promising signs for the rest of the weekend.

Sheena got behind the wheel for qualifying – and was on course to complete a great run when an unfortunate mistake at the very end of her flying lap left her 13th on the grid.

"I'm really disappointed", she commented. "I was on my fast lap at the end of the session and nailed every turn and felt in perfect sync with the car, but then I made a mistake in the last corner. It's frustrating because I know we could have had a better finish."

Monk, who has often been the protagonist of great qualifying efforts, was nevertheless second among the Bronze Cup drivers, only behind Brendan Iribe.

On a sunny day in central California, the 2 hour and 40 minute Motul Course de Monterey got underway with Sheena Monk in the driving seat of the #66 Gradient Racing Acura from P13 in GTD; the bronze-rated driver – who has established herself as a very consistent and solid driver since her GT3-machinery debut last year – initially held position in a very clean first laps, then moved up to P12 when Misha Goikhberg was handed a drive through for contact. She settled in her pace and continued to run close behind the #34 Conquest Racing Ferrari driven by Manny Franco.

Danny Formal led in the #45 WTR Lamborghini, a second and a half ahead of the #557 Turner Motorsport's BMW of Gallagher who had opened a gap to the Winward Racing Mercedes. In a very quiet first stint, Monk logged good laps a few seconds behind Brendon Iribe's Inception McLaren – who was overtaken by Manny Franco on lap 24 – and enjoying a healthy margin to Goikhberg behind.

Sheena gained one more position when Manny Franco spun off in the gravel at turn 6; she now had the #43 Andretti Motorsports Porsche in her target, before she pitted on lap 32 for Gradient Racing's first pit stop and driver change. Stevan McAleer took over the #66 JG Wentworth Acura just before a full course yellow for debris was deployed.

Sheena Monk, JG Wentworth Gradient Racing Acura NSX GT3 EVO22, IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Laguna Seca, 2024
Photo credits: Richard Dole

While the GTD field was now supposed to be bunched up again, McAleer got trapped one lap down and, when the race got back underway, he found himself over one minute behind the class leader.

He overtook Gabby Chaves' Porsche and then tried to close in on the Vasser Sullivan Lexus as well as the Inception McLaren ahead, but couldn't quite get close enough.

Gradient Racing therefore decided to gamble on strategy and went off sequence, hoping for a late yellow to get back into the game. The caution, though, never came and, although McAleer was running on competitive times, the track position meant that he would need to climb back from P14.

In the final hour of racing, McAleer improved the car's best times as he chased the AWA Chevrolet. The Gradient car climbed up to P10 in class over the next 30 minutes, although a contact with the #12 Vassar Sullivan Lexus resulted in a drive through for McAleer with 16 minutes to go. Nevertheless, he could stay ahead of the AWA Chevrolet, thus holding second among the bronze entries.

On the penultimate lap, though, the #78 Forte Racing Lamborghini hit the Gradient Racing Acura, sending it through the gravel. McAleer could continue but lost the position to Bell's Chevrolet; at the same time, the #70 Inception McLaren of Schandorff was dropping down the order and Stevan could still take the chequered flag P12 in GTD and second among the bronze cup teams.

"A little bit disappointing today", McAleer commented. "We had good pace. I think on one-lap pace we were great. Long-run pace, I think we need a little bit of work in there, we lost the tire a little more I would have liked. I'm bummed for the team, we had pace, but we just tried to go on strategy and there weren't enough cautions today to keep us in the mix."

Despite the unfortunate result, Sheena Monk moved forward in her stint and once again proved to be one of the most consistent and reliable bronze-rated drivers; she currently sits second in the Bob Akin Award classification, tied with Brendan Iribe at 1130 points.

IMSA will host its fifth round of the season on June 1st, for a 1 hour and 40 minute race at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.



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