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SST: Harlien and Brabham triumph in Long Beach

The SPEED Energy Stadium Super Trucks continued their annual trip to Long Beach, California as a support event to the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Grand Prix of Long Beach. As in past years, the series ran a doubleheader throughout the weekend. Both eleven laps long with two competition cautions, the Saturday race was held following IndyCar qualifying, while Sunday’s took place following the Grand Prix.

A field of 14 trucks was entered for the weekend, the largest SST grid for the Grand Prix of Long Beach. Davey Hamilton Jr., who suffered back and rib injuries and a concussion in a sprint car crash in November, ran his first motorsports event at the Long Beach round. Troy Diede also made his return to SST for the weekend, as did veterans Aaron Bambach and Erik Davis. Apdaly Lopez, who ran the season opener in Lake Elsinore, made his first start on a street course since the Detroit race in 2014.

Robby Gordon led Friday practice with a lap time of 1:45.673, followed by Matt Brabham (1:45.700), Jeff Hoffman (1:46.946), Gavin Harlien (1:46.968), Blade Hildebrand (1:47.761), Cole Potts (1:48.018), Paul Morris (1:48.090), Bambach (1:48.265), Lopez (1:49.171), Hamilton (1:49.184), Diede (1:50.010), Bill Hynes (1:50.968), Davis (1:53.306), and Luyendyk (1:59.083). With the field inversion, Luyendyk started on the pole alongside Davis, while Gordon and Brabham sat at the rear.

Race #1

Luyendyk led Saturday’s race early as the trucks ordered into single file on the first lap. Behind the leaders, the field began vying for position, with one particular battle on lap two resulting in a three-wide fight that dropped Brabham to last. By the start of the third lap, Luyendyk had built a large margin over second-placed Hynes. During the lap, Bambach was turned by Hoffman into the turn eight wall; the two suffered little damage and continued on. More wrecks continued on the frontstretch entering lap four when Morris was turned after exiting the hairpin in the final turn.

With Luyendyk at the front, Hamilton and Harlien dueled for third as lap four began. The two eventually passed Hynes and Harlien had cleared Hamilton for the spot when the first competition yellow came out. Bambach returned to pit road and retired from the race.

The UFD Racing pair of Luyendyk and Harlien paced the grid to the restart on lap five. In turn one, Hynes attempted to make a pass on Hamilton for third, but entered the corner too deep and plummeted to the back. Gordon later tried – and succeeded – in passing Hamilton for the spot. A lap later, Morris locked a brake as he maneuvered through turn one and clipped the tire barrier, with Hoffman hitting him as he drove by. No yellow flag was waved for the incident.

Gordon began to close in on the UFD Racing teammates as Brabham joined the fight in fourth. At the start of lap seven, Harlien passed Luyendyk for the lead as Lopez hit the second frontstretch ramp with just his right-side wheels, causing his truck to flip into the wall and roll once before landing on its driver’s side. Lopez exited his truck unharmed as the red flag was waved. Due to time constraints and a lengthy cleanup, the race was called, resulting in Harlien’s first career SST victory. Gordon finished second, followed by Luyendyk.

Fans, media, and even series personnel were critical of the decision to end the race early. When the trucks pulled off the track, fans booed.

“[Very] upsetting not getting the whole race in,” color commentator Sean Sermini said during the race broadcast, “With this being the last race of the day, with not another race happening, so nothing necessarily coming out that we’re gonna cut into here. […] Maybe tomorrow, we need to put Team Trouble completely in that type of thing (referring to Lopez’s rollover), because we would’ve been green flag racing right now without a doubt. […] We should have got the entire race in, so that’s very upsetting.”

NASCAR writer Jeff Gluck, who was in attendance, pointed out a silver lining in the situation as it was the byproduct of having many disciplines of racing at the weekend. “That’s acutally [sic] a good problem to have from a fan standpoint,” he wrote.

Race #2

Bambach started on the pole for the Sunday race alongside Lopez, while Harlien and Gordon occupied 13th and 14th, respectively.

A strong start by Bambach allowed him to create the early advantage over Gordon. At the start of lap two, Diede and Hildebrand made contact as they prepared to jump, causing Hildebrand to hit the wall and Diede to get only his right wheels on the ramp before hitting Hildebrand back into the barrier. By lap four, Hoffman was in second as he began applying pressure on Bambach. Hoffman and teammate Morris eventually passed Bambach for the lead during the lap.

When the competition caution came out on lap seven, Luyendyk suffered mechanical problems and was forced to exit the race. The top three for the restart consisted of Hoffman, Morris, and Bambach, though Bambach quickly surrendered his position to a charging Brabham. As Hoffman led, Hildebrand’s hood popped off upon landing, obscuring his vision until he was able to remove it on another jump. When the next lap commenced, Brabham passed Hoffman for the lead in turn one as the two built a wide distance to the rest of the grid.

Another competition yellow occurred after two laps to bunch the field back up for the final restart. Brabham, Hoffman, a hood-less Hildebrand, and Potts comprised the top four spots. Brabham continued to lead as Hoffman and Hildebrand fought for second, but both saw their podium hopes evaporate when the two made contact, attaching their trucks as they entered a turn too deep. With this turn of events, Potts and Harlien took over second and third, respectively. Neither driver could catch up to Brabham as he scored his tenth career victory and second at Long Beach. Potts and Harlien joined Brabham on the podium, followed by Gordon, Morris, Bambach, Hamilton, Davis, Lopez, Hynes, Hildebrand, Hoffman, Diede, and Luyendyk.

The next weekend on the 2018 SST schedule is a return to Australia’s Barbagallo Raceway in Perth as a support event to the Perth SuperSprint from May 4–6. Gordon and Sheldon Creed are the defending winners.

Featured image credit: Stadium Super Trucks

Podium image credit: @SSuperTrucks (Race #1)

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