Much Has Changed since the Last Race on the Fabled Street Course
By David Phillips
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla – Has it really been two and a half years since IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship competitors took to the fabled streets of Long Beach, California?
Yep, given the cancellation of the 2020 event and the fact that this year’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach was postponed from its traditional spring date to the first weekend of autumn. Needless to say, much has changed in the driver, team and manufacturer lineups, let alone the machinery, in that time.
However, the essential nature of the event – IMSA’s version of a cage match on the bumpy, tight and unforgiving streets – remains the same; and it’s a rare race that does not see many a finisher take the checkered flag sporting evidence of contact with the concrete walls lining the 1.968-mile, 11-turn track … or another competitor.
Given that some 30 months have elapsed since the last WeatherTech Championship race at Long Beach, there’s not much to be gleaned from past history, although it’s worth noting Cadillac won back-to-back races in 2018 and ’19. But the other two classes on this weekend’s card – GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD) – may as well be starting from scratch. This will be the first time GTD has been on the Long Beach program since 2017, while the GTLM entry list bears scant resemblance to that of ’19.
Perhaps the best yardstick for prognostication is the other street race on this year’s calendar, the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic on Detroit’s Belle Isle circuit. There, the No. 01 V Performance Academy Cadillac DPi-V.R bested the similar No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing machine for overall honors by just half a second, with Wayne Taylor Racing’s No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-05 completing the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) podium. And given its record of success at Long Beach, Cadillac would appear to be the favorite this weekend.
Ahh, but which Cadillac? Certainly, Felipe Nasr and Pipo Derani will be out to do one better in the No. 31 than at Detroit. Facing a 98-point deficit to the WTR Acura with just two DPi races remaining on the schedule surely provides the two Brazilians with extra “incentive” to get home first.
Conversely, much as they would like to score the team’s first Long Beach win since ’17, WTR’s Ricky Taylor and Filipe Albuquerque will likely drive with an eye on best positioning themselves to capture the DPi driver/team/manufacturer titles at Motul Petit Le Mans in November. Of course, the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac did not win at Detroit by accident and would love to play the spoiler.
Hearkening back to the Motown results is a tricky proposition when it comes to GTLM. Sure, the No. 4 Corvette C8.R led its sister No. 3 ‘Vette home, but this was a non-points race and there was no competition for Corvette Racing. Although the GTLM field has been slender in this, the class swansong, the No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Porsche 911 RSR-19 is no stranger to victory lane, thanks to wins in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts and Road America’s IMSA Sports Car Weekend. And Porsche is the defending GTLM champion at Long Beach (dating back to ’19).
However, Mathieu Jaminet and Cooper MacNeil will have their work cut out at Long Beach, where Corvette has a numbers advantage and, in the likely event of a full-course caution or two, can split its strategy secure in the knowledge one or the other C8.Rs will be in the proverbial catbird seat.
GTD? With 17 cars and nine manufacturers on this weekend’s entry list, it’s anybody’s guess who will contend for the win. Track position is crucial at any street race, so it’s worth noting this year’s Belle Isle grid featured the No. 39 CarBahn with Peregrine racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 on pole from the No. 12 Vasser Sullivan Racing Lexus RC F GT3, the No. 23 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3 and the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3.
But when it counted most, Roman De Angelis and Ross Gunn brought the No. 23 Aston Martin home ahead of the No. 19 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracán GT3 and the No. 66 Gradient Racing Acura NSX GT3. De Angelis, Gunn & Co. will need to repeat their Detroit success this weekend to enhance their chances of narrowing the 52 points separating them from Bill Auberlen, Robby Foley and the Turner Motorsport BMW in the championship race.
Likewise, Zacharie Robichon and Laurens Vanthoor will try to erase or at least carve into the 27-point gap between their No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R and the leading BMW. Where better to start than in the split qualifying session where the designated pro driver in each GTD pairing vies for championship points and starting positions are determined by the fastest lap of their co-drivers?
Be sure to catch all the action from the Acura Long Beach Grand Prix, with qualifying at 7:45 p.m. ET Friday on IMSA.com/TVLive and the 100-minute race airing live at 5 p.m. Saturday on NBCSN.