It is funny how much the action on the streets of Long Beach, California in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship plays out sometimes like NASCAR stock car racing on a super tight short track like Richmond or Bristol. Well at least on Saturday evening in the Bubba Burger Sports Car Grand Prix of Long Beach, things kind of played out that way in one occasion, if not more.
The major drama in the battle for Prototype and overall victory honors occurred Saturday on the first turn of the race as Wayne Taylor Racing’s Ricky Taylor out-muscled Action Express Racing’s Christian Fittipaldi into turn one by take the lead, taking SpeedSource Mazda’s Tom Long into second place. With the much improved Lola-Mazda coupe holding on, Taylor built an early cushion on the rest of the pack, until Long gave way twenty minutes into the race thanks to an aggressive overtake by Fittipaldi at the infamous turn 11 hairpin. In addition to the No. 5 Corvette’s move up, the sister No. 31 Corvette DP of Eric Curran also managed to get through to take third.
From that point on, the No. 10 Konica-Minolta Chevrolet Corvette DP held the top spot to the finish, with Jordan Taylor taking over from older brother Ricky at the one and only pit stop needed to make the 100-minute distance. The win is the second straight for WTR on the streets of Long Beach and the third straight victory here for a Daytona Prototype style of car.
“Well, it wasn’t much different. I just think (Barbosa and Cameron) behind us were racing each other a little bit, so it kind of gave us some freedom to push.” said Jordan after the finish, “I think if it wasn’t for Ricky’s start, getting us into the lead, right up to the end, we wouldn’t have had a chance because track position was key (today).”
Despite a spirited charge late from inter-squad rival Dane Cameron, Joao Barbosa managed to keep the No. 5 Action Express Corvette entry in the runner-up position, with Cameron settling for third. Despite falling back early, SpeedSource Mazda Motorsports had by far their best outing in just their third race utilizing petrol powered engines. The Long and Joel Miller driven entry finished fourth on Saturday, with the sister car of Tristan Nunez and Jonathan Bomarito completing the top five.
In Prototype Challenge, JDC-Miller Motorsports went wire-to-wire to claim their second win of the 2016 season. Misha Goikhberg fought off the pack in the first stint and handed a healthy lead off to teammate Stephen Simpson, who piloted the yellow No. 85 machine to the checkered flag. Starworks Motorsport’s Alex Popow and Renger van der Zande chased the JDC squad throughout the 100-minute race, but would accept runner-up honors at the finish, while Performance Tech Motorsports was credited with a third place finish despite Kyle Marcelli suffering a major crash on the final lap. Marcelli exited the car under his own power and did not suffer any injuries in the shunt. While JDC found the winner circle, CORE autosport suffered through their second DNF of the season in just three races. Team boss Jonathan Bennett was put into the barriers by BMW Team Rahal’s Bill Auburlen, damaging the rear suspension, while a permanent failure with Colin Braun driving sealed their fate.
The controversy of the race Saturday occurred in the GT Le Mans category, where Porsche North America’s Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet took advantage of contact suffered in front of them late to claim their first win of the season. Pilet, who won the driver’s title in the GTLM division a season ago, handed off to Tandy near the halfway point. However, Pilet and the sister Porsche driven by Earl Bamber were ordered to serve drive through penalties by IMSA following the initial pit stops for exceeding the speed limit on the pit lane. The errors, plus a penalty served by BMW Team Rahal’s Bill Auburlen for the previously mentioned contact with the CORE PC entry, vaulted Corvette Racing’s pair of C7.Rs into the top two positions.
The No. 4 entry of Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner, using an early pit sequence had jumped into the lead with the sister No.3 machine of Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia running second. However, the Porsches now in Frederic Makowiecki and Tandy’s hands were starting to post the fastest laps of the race and made up ground following their penalties. Of equal concern was the fact that Corvette Racing was also worried whether or not Milner had enough fuel to finish the event. The fuel question was dealt with when the track went yellow following the problem that ended Colin Braun’s race in PC. Milner started to build a lead following the restart, while teammate Garcia fought hard to keep the faster Porsches behind him. At the fountain corner with ten minutes to go, Garcia’s Corvette broke loose and spun into the barriers. The No. 3 machine suffered suspension damage in the crash and was retired when it reached the pit lane.
With Garcia out, Makowiecki and Tandy quickly reeled in Milner, who despite being good to go on gasoline was now suffering with badly worn tires. With under four minutes to go at the turn 11 hairpin, Makowiecki made an aggressive attempt to pass Milner for the lead and instead clipped and spun the No. 4 machine around. Tandy was able to sneak his way through and claim the victory. Although denied their third straight victory, Milner and Gavin managed to finish second on Saturday, good enough to maintain the IMSA points lead heading to the next event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Taking advantage of the late race dramas, Risi Competizione’s Ferrari 488 of Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander picked up the pieces to finish third. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ford GT tandem of Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook finished fourth despite having to deal with a faulty driver’s side door in the early stages of the race. And after suffering their avoidable contact penalty, Dirk Werner managed to fight back to secure the final spot in the top five for himself and teammate Auburlen, who won the TOTAL Pole Award for GTLM on Friday.
Stay tuned to OnPitRoad.com for continued coverage of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.