2016 Long Beach Grand Prix Race Report
Chevrolet DP rebounds after Sebring defeat and winsby Michael Fira, on
Long Beach has been hosting races since the mid ‘70s; the enthusiasm showcased over four decades ago seemingly not diminished by the passing of time as the fans of today seem to echo in spirit to those of the days when Formula 5000 was a thing. These fans came in quite big numbers to witness a rather appealing menu: the 100-minute IMSA Weathertech Sports Car race on Saturday followed, on Sunday, by the Pirelli World Challenge round and, to end the week-end on a high, the Indycar Grand Prix of Long Beach. We’ll only be talking about the first race mentioned for it was the third round of America’s hotly contested Sport Car endurance racing series, the only of its kind to blend road courses with street courses.
For the first time since the merger, Prototype Challenge cars were welcomed to join. These spec prototypes last set foot at Long Beach in 2013 under the American Le Mans Series. Accompanying the PCs were the popular GT-LMs and the Prototypes which were, as expected, far thinner in numbers compared to the previous round at Sebring.
Ford’s new GT cars proved to be the center of attention in the paddock as Team Ganassi faced the hardships of street-course racing for the first time. Two other GTs were to face a completely different terrain the following day as the British branch of the outfit took part in the opening round of the FIA World Endurance Championship.
While not being an endurance race as such, the Long Beach round is still completed by two drivers for each squad, the switch happening at mid-point. It’s essential for everyone to not stop at another time as a lap can be easily lost on this relatively short track that once held the U.S. GP West in the F1 calendar.
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As with any street course, qualifying has a great importance in how it all can unravel on race day, since there aren’t many passing opportunities on the 1.9-mile-long circuit. The first practice session ended with a surprise squad topping the charts as Mazda’s gas-powered, Multimatic-built prototype driven by Jonathan Bomarito posted a 1:15.917 lap to surpass Wayne Taylor Racing’s Corvette DP, which was the only other car to lap the track in under one minute and 16 seconds.
Brothers Ricky and Jordan went one better in the second and final practice, with the Konica Minolta-sponsered Dallara Corvette DP ending the session in 1st overall. This result, however, did not deter Action Express Racing, which rebounded after some not-so-great practice runs to snatch the pole from under Taylor’s nose, who was second faster. Christian Fittipaldi was the only one to go under 1:15 as Taylor’s final fast lap, which could have reversed the order, was hindered by a red flag that ended the sessions short.
Down the order in Prototype Challenge, the starting grid was finally decided by the order in the championship as the late red flag meant that only a few cars were able to set times. As such, the No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsport ORECA FLM-09 started from pole in that category since the actual points leader, No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsport was the car that caused the red flag. Sharing the front row with the yellow JDC-Miller prototype was the Starworks No. 9 racer of Alex Popow.
On the GT-LM class pole sat Bill Auberlen’s BMW M6 GTLM, the American veteran also taking pole at Long Beach in 2015, albeit in the very different Z4 GTLM. He’s also the one that started from 1st in class at Sebring. At the other end of the spectrum of happiness was the Ford crew who watched its No. 67 car catch fire in practice, effectively missing qualifying as the mechanics worked tirelessly to get it back in running order. Spared of any of Ford’s bad luck, the two works Porsches posted the second and third best times in qualifying with the two Corvettes following right behind. The two Ferrari 488s present, that of Risi Competizione and that of Corsa Motorsport seemed to lack pure pace but, given Risi’s heritage at Long Beach that comprises of five podiums and a win, they were still expected to do well.
After a sleepless night for Ricky Taylor, the American racing for his father’s outfit, lined on the grid next to double-champion Christian Fittipaldi’s identical car on Saturday afternoon. As the lights went green, Taylor made a better start and was still side-by-side with Fittipaldi as the two broke for Turn 1, out of which Taylor emerged ahead. The change was never to be reversed until the pit stops as Fittipaldi lost more places in the subsequent laps, with the Speedsource Mazda running as high as second in the early stages.
In GT-LM, it was all about Bill Auberlen and his M6 for the first quarter of an hour. His time in the lead was cut short by a penalty following an incident involving a PC car which meant that the two Porsches inherited first and second followed by the Corvettes. The Porsches might never have been headed if not for mid-race penalties for both the No. 1 911 and the 912 cars due to both drivers speeding on pit lane. This left the Corvettes out in front with the Risi Ferrari in third and the once-burning Ford No. 67 up to fourth.
Jordan Taylor stepped into the No. 10 Corvette and returned to the track still in first place overall, the 2013 Grand-Am champion running flawlessly all the way through his stint to defend from Joao Barbosa’s attacks. The Portuguese was unable to make the difference and Taylor stretched a gap of about three seconds by the time the 75th lap was completed by the leader and he was shown the checkered flag. The second Action Express Racing Corvette finished on third, Dane Cameron and ADAC GT Masters debutant Eric Curran adding a good amount of points at the end of what was a quiet day of work for the No. 31 crew.
Despite showing promise early on, the Lola-based Mazdas only finished fourth and fifth overall after 100 minutes of racing. The result is, nonetheless, the best in the program’s history that dates back to 2014. Michael Shank’s Ligier flew under the radar all race long and finished a lonely seventh on a track not at all fit for the car.
While not much drama unfolded at the sharp end of the field, the big story happened in GT-LM. Since their penalties early in the second stint, the two Porsches managed to claw back the lost time and, with 15 minutes to go, were right behind the two Corvettes of Milner (No. 4) and Garcia (No. 3). With Garcia spinning out after a few minutes, it was only Milner left followed by two roaring and, admittedly quicker, Porsches. At the end of the second-to-last lap, Fred Makowiecki tried what, he said, was an over-ambitious move on the No. 4 Corvette in the hairpin. It turned out to be more of a pit maneuver as the Porsche No. 912 punted the rear right corner of the Corvette which got turned around.
Makowiecki himself didn’t fare much better after the incident as he was left crawling to the pits with front left damage. Nick Tandy watched the incident from the front seat in the sister car and as No. 912 effectively took out #4, he was able to jump into the lead and claim a controversial class win.
Milner did get back underway and was able to finish second but the American was fuming after the race, claiming that he got “wrecked”, Porsche’s Makowiecki admitting his fault but dismissing that it was done on purpose.
Behind the Porsche and the Corvette finished Risi’s 488 GTE driven by Fisichella and Vilander, Ford’s No. 67 finishing fourth, despite having to start at the back of the pack.
In PC, JDC-Miller checked a lights-to-flag victory and ended CORE Autosport’s apparently infinite streak of wins at Long Beach that date back to the ALMS days. CORE’s day ended early after Jon Bennett was involved in a crash with a slower car which sent him into the wall. The Starworks car crossed the line second while Performance Tech Racing No. 38 finished third.
2016 Long Beach Grand Prix Results
|1||P||10||R.Taylor/J.Taylor||Chevrolet Corvette DP||75|
|2||P||5||Barbosa/Fittipaldi||Chevrolet Corvette DP||75|
|3||P||31||Cameron/Curran/||Chevrolet Corvette DP||75|
|6||P||90||Goossens/Hunter-Reay||Chevrolet Corvette DP||75|
|7||P||60||Pew/Negri Jr.||Honda HPD Ligier JS P2||75|
|9||PC||8||van der Zande/Popow||ORECA FLM09||74|
For the complete results click here.
The fourth round in the IMSA Weathertech Sports Car Championship will take place on May 1st at Mazda Speedway Laguna Seca where all four classes will be reunited.