BARBOSA AND ALBUQUERQUE BALANCE FUEL AND FAST; GAVIN & MILNER SURVIVE GTLM STREET FIGHT
Calling Long Beach a “sprint race” sells it short – the 100 minute blast is definitely a sprint, but pitstops and strategy make all the difference around the coastal Californian track.
Starting from fifth, Barbosa immediately went into fuel saving mode as the lead Penske Acuras, #55 Mazda and sister #31 Whelen AXR Cadillac fought it out at the front. The two-time series champion kept the #5 Mustang Sampling AXR Cadillac ahead of the competition and on target, hitting the fuel numbers the team had calculated would give them the shortest final splash.
Action further down the field saw the race’s first yellow thrown with less than two minutes gone, as Kyle Masson in the #38 Performance Tech Oreca got together with the #52 AFS/PR1 Ligier of Gustavo Yacaman and the #99 JDC-Miller GAINSCO-liveried ‘Red Dragon’. As the circuit pinches into the fountain, Masson turned Yacaman; the Colombian’s Ligier was able to spin-turn and continue once the field had cleared him, but Masson’s car was too badly damaged.
In GTLM, the start was equally fraught. Polesitter Joey Hand slowed in the #66 Ford to avoid the Prototype mess in front of him, and was rear-ended by Patrick Pilet in the #911 Porsche. This let Pilet’s teammate Laurens Vanthoor through in the #912, but Hand was able to continue – with the #911’s front undertray dangling from the back of his Ford GT. Hand weaved under yellow to try and dislodge the debris, and managed to drop it early enough to avoid the ‘meatball’ mechanical flag.
With just over an hour remaining, Robert Alon dead-sticked the #85 JDC-Miller ‘Banana Boat’ to a halt with gearbox issues, bringing out a caution. With the early yellows helping fuel saving strategy and a minimum drive time of just 5 minutes, most teams chose to pit for full service stops. Felipe Nasr had managed to get the #31 Whelen AXR Cadillac ahead of poleman Montoya’s Penske Acura just before the caution came out, and the pair stayed out as the rest of the field boxed. BMW had boxed Alex Sims just before the caution too, and the Brit took the wave-around to end up on the same lap as the GTLM leaders but with a fuel stop under his belt.
As the field streamed back out on track after fuel, tyres and driver changes right down the order, there was less than an hour left to run. GTLM was becoming a war, as Sims’ track position through his early stop was challenged by the rest of the field with fresher rubber. Bamber snuck the #912 Porsche inside Sims’ BMW exiting the hairpin; the two ran side by side right down the front straight and through the Fountain before Bamber wrestled the #912 over the bumps and down the inside into Turn 4. Tommy Milner had a close up view in third, but the battle in front was too wide to let him add the #4 Corvette to the party.
With 45 minutes remaining, Olly Jarvis brought the #77 Mazda in for enough fuel to make it to the end of the race, covering the competitions’ stops if another caution flew. Nasr then pitted, handing over to Eric Curran; Montoya followed suit two laps later and Dane Cameron took over. This gave Filipe Albuquerque the lead in the #5 Mustang Samplign AXR Cadillac – the team’s quick pitlane performance and Barbosa’s early fuel saving putting the Portuguese-crewed car in a strong position to finish the race.
Behind the Prototypes still making their fuel splash stops, the GTLM squabble got nasty. Bamber had run away with the lead, and Sims found himself hung out to dry going onto the back straight, putting him on the edge of a four-abreast run down the back straight and off line into the final complex – the #25 hitting Turn 9’s outside wall and ending its competitive run. This put Dirk Muller in the less than pristine #66 Ford in second ahead of Milner in the #4 Corvette.
As Albuquerque was scratching out his lead, Ricky Taylor desperately tried to hang onto second and fuel save in the #7 Acura as Ryan Dalziel filled his mirrors – the unmistakeable ESM green Onroak Nissan now able to push flat out to the end and only half a second behind Taylor.
It’s Long Beach, expect cautions. A short yellow to recover bodywork from the #911 Porsche set up a restart with 20 minutes remaining and close races still to be decided in both classes. Ryan Dalziel got a fantastic jump on Ricky Taylor to pinch second across the line just before Jordan Taylor battled a monster lockup all the way through the braking zone for Turn 1, saving what would’ve been a huge accident with opposite lock and just enough room on exit.
Further back, Bamber had stamped his authority all over GTLM since passing Sims and looked set to bring the #912 Porsche he shared with Laurens Vanthoor home to win. With just over 20 minutes remaining, the Porsche’s front right suspension gave up, Bamber slowing as smoke poured from the Michelin in the wheel well. Teammate Nick Tandy was within a hair’s width of unlapping himself by passing new GTLM leader Tommy Milner, but the Corvette man fended him off. With Nick Tandy chasing Milner like a man possessed to try and get a lap back, the two Fords looked happy in second and third, covering the titanic Corvette/BMW duel behind them.
Brotherly love saw Jordan Taylor pressuring brother Ricky, the family #10 WTR Cadillac and #7 Acura Team Penske passing and repassing each other down the main straight until Ricky left his braking a little too late at Turn 1 and ran deep, giving Jordan a free pass for third. From there, the Prototype order was settled to the flag; Albuquerque/Barbosa led a resurgent Dalziel/Sharp and Taylor/van der Zande for the podium. The #77 Mazda took a fine fourth – the team’s best result to date – ahead of the Penske Acura pair.
In GTLM, an assured drive gave Milner/Gavin the win – the 50th with Corvette Racing for Olly Gavin, and the fifth around Long Beach. Ryan Briscoe took second in the #67 Ford ahead of the polesitting #66 car, rounding out the podium minus bits of rear diffuser. A very strong initial showing for Porsche wasn’t reflected in the results, but Nick Tandy hustling a broken #911 around to get a lap back will be a defining Long Beach shot for years to come.
For full results listed by IMSA, click here. For the video replay with IMSA Radio commentary, click here. The next round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is from 4-6 May at Mid-Ohio. As always, we’ll have it covered.