IMSA Long Beach Thursday Notebook
Thursday, April 12, 2018

LONG BEACH, Calif. – Acura Team Penske drivers Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya were inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame Thursday. The joint project of the City of Long Beach and the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach honored the two IMSA drivers who each won the Grand Prix of Long Beach during their INDYCAR career.

Castroneves won in an IndyCar at Long Beach in 2001 and also captured the 1997 Indy Lights race at the circuit. The Brazilian native is in his first season with Acura Team Penske’s No. 7 Acura ARX-05 Prototype entry in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with co-driver Ricky Taylor.

“It is an honor to see your name on the list, for me, it’s just incredible,” said Castroneves. “It blows my mind away and I always remember this place. You can ask any driver in the series, if you’ve got to pick one street course you want to win, everybody’s going to say Long Beach because your name, your picture is going to be right there forever.”

Montoya won the 1999 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach en route to capturing the 1999 CART FedEx Series championship and finished third at Long Beach in 2015. A native of Colombia, Montoya is co-driving with Dane Cameron in the Acura Team Penske No. 6 Prototype in the WeatherTech Championship.

“This is unbelievable, a huge deal,” said Montoya. “I came here a few years ago to see (Team Owner) Roger (Penske) get inducted and it was huge. There are huge names here. You don’t realize when you race and win you win the races, you never do it to be here. But to be recognized for everything that you’ve done, it’s amazing.”

“It is entirely appropriate that we recognize these two racing legends here at Long Beach this year,” said Jim Michaelian, president and CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach. “These guys are great drivers, but they’re also great ambassadors for the sport and that really is important for all of us who are engaged in this activity. They are two worthwhile gentleman who have done a lot for this sport and equally important for what we’ve been able to succeed in here in Long Beach.”

Each driver received a Walk of Fame medallion, which includes renditions of the racers' Long Beach-winning cars, as well as their major achievements in motorsports.

Bomarito Optimistic About Mazda Team Joest’s Chances at Long Beach

Last year’s BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach was one of the highlights for Jonathan Bomarito and the Mazda DPi program, as he and co-driver Tristan Nunez brought the No. 55 Mazda RT24-P home in third place, representing the new car’s first podium result.

The team also was competitive on the Detroit Belle Isle street circuit last June, but the team paused its participation in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship program after the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park round in July, as other strong results were far and few between. Instead, Mazda opted to focus its attention on 2018 and its new program under the Mazda Team Joest banner.

At last month’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts, both of the team’s DPis, the No. 55 shared by Bomarito, Harry Tincknell and Spencer Pigot and the No. 77 of Tristan Nunez, Oliver Jarvis and Rene Rast ran among the leaders for much of the event. In fact, Jarvis posted the fastest lap of the race.

All of those factors have Bomarito optimistic about the team’s chances heading into this Saturday’s BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach, which will be televised live on FOX network at 4 p.m. ET and also available via IMSA Radio on IMSA.com, RadioLeMans.com and SiriusXM Radio.

“Everybody in Mazda Team Joest is very excited,” Bomarito said. “It’s a really good atmosphere so far. It’s probably the best situation the team has been in up to this point. We’ve had a few breaks now, the big break from Daytona to Sebring and now Sebring to Long Beach, really, for them to get caught up. We had a great showing at Sebring – the result wasn’t as good as it could have been – but overall, the showing and the performance of the car was really, really good.

“It really helped just with the optimism and excitement within the team. All those things are really important for a race team and the guys that work so hard, so we’re really looking forward to Long Beach. We were on the podium here last year and we know we’ve made huge, huge gains since this time last year, so we’re very optimistic and looking forward to the weekend.”

He knows Saturday’s 100-minute battle on the tight confines of the 1.968-mile Long Beach street circuit will be tough, though. Performance in qualifying, the pits and managing traffic all will be magnified in the sprint race.

“This is a hard race,” said Bomarito. “I mean, at street courses, anything can happen. Qualifying is super, super critical. Our car seems to be pretty good in mechanical grip and over bumps, that sort of thing. Last year, our two podiums came from street courses, so fingers crossed.

“It’s harder this year. We have new teams, new cars, everything is harder. The level has been raised, but we’ve raised our level as well. Hopefully, we’re right there.”

Stars Come Out in Shadow of Hollywood

Cain Velasquez, a two-time UFC Heavyweight Champion, will be the honorary starter for Saturday’s BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach.

Velasquez has a career UFC record of 14-2 and won his first title by defeating Brock Lesner. His second win came after defeating Junior dos Santos and losing the title to him in a previous bout.

Velasquez has a large presence on social media and can be found on Twitter at @cainmma and Instagram at officalcainvelasquez.

World Champion Skimboarder Austin Keen will also be attending this week’s WeatherTech Championship race at Long Beach.

He was crowned the 2013 World Champion of Skimboarding, and in 2016, won the Victoria World Championship in Laguna Beach, California. He has appeared on numerous television shows including MSNBC’s ‘Make Me A Millionaire Inventor,’ Comedy Central’s ‘Tosh.0’ and ‘Desperate Housewives of OC.’

Additionally, as previously announced last week, Tom Ellis will be the Grand Marshal for Saturday’s sprint race. Ellis, who currently stars as the title character, “Lucifer Morningstar,” in the hit television show Lucifer on FOX, will give the command for the 22-car field to start their engines ahead of the green flag, which is scheduled for 4:05 p.m. ET / 1:05 p.m. PT on FOX.  

GTLM Points Leader Briscoe Gets Charge From Racing at Long Beach

The No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT team of Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook come into the BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach atop the GTLM standings after the season’s first two races.

With just a 100-minute race this week, it is a much different race than the first two which were 24 and 12 hours, respectively. And while he won’t be in the car for that much time Saturday, Briscoe is looking forward to his time behind the wheel.

“I love coming here,” he said. “It’s an awesome street course with a great atmosphere. It’s a short course where anything can happen. We need to keep it clean and stay out of a first-lap accident, race hard the rest of the way and see what happens. We have the championship lead at the moment and we are going to try and protect that and see how many points we can get.”

Briscoe, who along with Westbrook and Scott Dixon won this year’s Rolex 24, thinks there is a specific aspect all teams will working on as they prepare for the race.

“This is a sprint that comes down to strategy and track position,” he said. “There is a lot of pressure on the driver change. You would rather do this race with one driver, but here in IMSA we split the time of the drivers. That adds a massive challenge to this race. The driver change can take more time than what fuel and tires can take in a pit stop. That puts a lot of pressure on the drivers to get the change done quickly and safely.”

Van Der Zande Expects Fireworks

It’s safe to say Renger van der Zande is looking forward to this weekend’s BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach. One year after sitting out the race following a weekend-ending incident in opening practice driving for the Spirit of Daytona Racing team, van der Zande now finds him at Long Beach with the three-time defending race-winning No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R. team and co-driver Jordan Taylor. 

Not only is van der Zande looking to avenge last year’s DNS, he’s also looking forward to another opportunity to score his first win for Wayne Taylor Racing following a season-best finish of second one race ago in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Advance Auto Parts.

“It’s going to be fireworks for sure, especially on a street track where anything can happen,” said van der Zande, on going from the WeatherTech Championship’s two longest races to its shortest. “Daytona and Sebring are great events, but this is where the season really starts. It’s a dogfight on the track. It’s always spectacular here, drivers are touching the wall. Small mistakes are big mistakes.”

Eyes On The Prize

Saturday’s BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach can be seen on FOX, as the network will have flag-to-flag coverage of the WeatherTech Championship race.

This year’s 100-minute race features the Prototype (P) and GT Le Mans (GTLM) classes racing on the iconic 1.968-mile, 11-turn street course in downtown Long Beach.

As always, there is live IMSA Radio coverage available on IMSA.com, RadioLeMans.com and SiriusXM Radio.

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