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Grand Am GT Series - Segal Ready For Return To Laguna Seca

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MONTEREY, July 6, 2011: Reigning GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series GT Champions Jeff Segal, teammate Emil Assentato and the No. 69 FXDD/SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 GT team will bring their best championship points position of the season to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca this weekend for the Continental Tire Festival of Speed Powered by Mazda, July 7 – 9. Saturday’s timed 2-3/4 hour sprint race is scheduled to start at 2:30 p.m. local time and can be seen in next-day coverage on SPEED, Sunday, July 10, at 4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT.

Segal and Assentato co-drove to a fifth-place finish the last time the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series appeared at Mazda Raceway in 2009 and return this weekend ranked a season-high fifth in the 2011 GT Championship standings. Segal hopes to improve in both areas at the conclusion of Saturday’s race that kicks-off a five-race run to the end of the 2011 season.

“I'm really looking forward to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca,” Segal said. “The track is such a rush to drive, I can't help but look forward to running there again. It has an amazing mix of high speed corners with some really challenging elevation changes, and it really demands a lot of confidence from the driver.”

Segal’s familiarity with his Mazda RX-8 GT and hunch the car may perform well on the Mazda Raceway circuit have him optimistic for a good weekend.

“In order to go quickly there you have to really give a high commitment in entry speed, so I'm hoping that my familiarity with the Mazda RX-8 GT after all of these years can pay a bit of a dividend,” Segal said. “I think that this track will hopefully cater to our car a bit, with the Mazda’s agility and need for momentum. I'm really excited, very much looking forward to this weekend.”

The No. 69 FXDD/SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 GT team has 171 points at fifth in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series GT Team Championship standings. That’s just five behind fourth place and 20 points behind the current class leaders with the year’s final five races looming.

“I certainly think it’s time to get up and go if we hope to challenge for the championship, but to say that implies that we haven't been trying our best up to this point, and we certainly have,” Segal said. “It’s pretty unbelievable that given the horrendous weekend we had at Road America in the last race that we still improved our standing in the points race. I guess it speaks to the uncertainty when things are this close and proves that we shouldn't give up. Anything can still happen.”

Segal and Assentato finished 10th at Road America, just one race after a third-place showing at Watkins Glen International in early June. Segal also brought the No. 69 home to a second-place finish at Miami in March, but the top step of the podium is really where he wants to be for the first time this season.

“Our efforts remain on getting a win before the year is over,” Segal said. “This is also the best things we could do for our championship effort. Being 20 points out of first is a long, way, but not impossible.”

Much has changed in the GT class since Segal and Assentato finished fifth in 2009, but that result, and a victory by their SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 GT teammates in that race, is somewhat encouraging.

“I'm certainly hoping that we can improve upon this result from 2009, especially since our teammates in the 70 are the defending race winners,” Segal said. “No doubt a lot has changed in GT since 2009, but I'm really optimistic that we can turn things around this weekend.”

After an unofficial test day on Thursday, Friday’s schedule includes official practice and qualifying. Race-day Saturday starts with final practice at 8:55 a.m. before that afternoon’s race at 2:30 p.m.

Noteworthy: Segal made his first race start at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca just five years ago but first visited the legendary track when he was a boy. “My first race at Mazda Raceway was in 2006 with Automatic Racing in a BMW M3 GS car,” Segal said. “I finished on the podium with Joao Barbosa. I've always done pretty well there, and I find it pretty easy to get in a good rhythm each year when we arrive. Prior to my race debut, I had been there long before as a kid for the Monterey Historics, and my main memory of that was watching Hurley Haywood clean house in a little orange Porsche 914 against some much, much faster equipment. I wasn't really old enough to know what I was watching, but I remember him beating up on some of the Porsche 935 turbos and thinking that it was pretty cool to do that in such a little car! Hopefully we can repeat that in our "little" Mazda this weekend!”… Segal has been to Mazda Raceway several times since the last Rolex Series race. “Since we last raced there in 2009, I've been back to Monterey working for a few manufacturer-backed performance driving programs, and most recently in May to coach in the Ferrari Challenge. I didn't drive a whole lot that time, but the few laps that I did were all I needed to remind me what a great track Mazda Raceway is.”… Segal’s choice for the most exciting part of the track might be surprising to some for the section he doesn’t pick. “Everyone always talks about the Corkscrew, but I remember wondering what all the hype was about when I finally got to drive it,” Segal said. “The really exciting corner is just after the Corkscrew, Turn 9 or ‘Rainey Curve.’ This one has a superfast entry speed, big banking to hold the car, and a really sketchy exit that seems to fall away just when you need grip. It always seems like everyone has a different line through there, and I think that you can definitely coerce some extra speed from the lap in this corner if you're brave enough.”