SALINAS, Calif. – Two-time 2016 race winner Michael Cooper of Syosset, N.Y., drove his No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R. GT3 to the quickest time of the GT division Friday at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in the opening practice session with a time of one minute, 23.986 seconds in the Pirelli World Challenge Championships presented by Nissan.
Cooper, 26, returns to the famed 2.238-mile, 11-turn Northern California road racing facility for the first time since he clinched last year’s GTS series championship at the home of the legendary ‘Corkscrew.” Michael has won races at Barber Motorsports Park and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course this year in his “rookie” season in the GT class.
Cooper currently sits in a tie for third in the GT points with an outside chance of taking the coveted GT championship on Sunday. Cooper, tied with Cadillac teammate Johnny O’Connell at 1451 points, is 104 markers out of the lead.
Cooper was the only driver to break the 1:24.00 barrier on Friday morning. The PWC GT qualifying mark was establish last year by Alessandro PierGuidi in a Ferrari 458 Italia at 1:23.734.
Second in the first practice was 2011 PWC GT champion Patrick Long of Manhattan Beach, Calif., with a clocking of 1:24.130 in the No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R as Long battles point leader Alvaro Parente for the GT point crown. Parente leads Long by nine points (1554-1545) entering Sunday’s 50-mile feature.
Rounding out the top three on Friday morning in the GT category was young Kyle Marcelli of Barrie, Ont., Canada in the CRP Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 with time of 1:24.561.
Utah double winner Bryan Heitkotter of nearby Fresno, Calif., piloted his No. 05 Always Evolving/Nissan GT Academy Nissan GT-R to the fourth position Friday at 1:24.775 followed by Parente, the McLaren factory driver from Porto, Portugal, with a 1:24.798 in the No. 9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S.
The second group in the top-ten practice times included four-time PWC GT series champion O’Connell, in the No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R., at 1:24.899; JD Davison of Denver, Colo., in the No. 33 Always Evolving/Replay/Nissan GT Academy Nissan GT-R at 1:24.900; Michael Lewis of Laguna Beach, Calif., in the No. 98 Calvert Dynamics/CurbAgajanian Porsche 911 GT3 R, at 1:24.941; 2016 GTA series champion Martin Fuentes of Mexico City, in the No. 7 Scuderia Corsa/Hublot Ferrari 458 Italia, at 1:24.980; and Gunnar Jeannette of Salt Lake City, Utah., in the No. 97 WeatherTech/Alex Job Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R, at 1:25.102.
The next GT practice Friday is scheduled for 2:05 pm PDT.