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Does Experience Count at Long Beach? GTP Newcomers Hope Not

A Number of Drivers Will Be Racing a GTP on the Street Circuit for the First Time


By John Oreovicz


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It’s difficult enough to wrestle a big, powerful Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) car around Daytona International Speedway or Sebring International Raceway – the pair of expansive, wide-open tracks that hosted the first two rounds of the 2024 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.


This week, the action moves to a venue that couldn’t be more different: the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach and its iconic street course. Long Beach is the second shortest and as is the case with temporary circuits, extremely tight with concrete walls looming on both sides of the bumpy city streets.


Three of the 10 GTP entries at Long Beach have at least one driver who has not taken on a street course in one of the hybrid-powered prototypes: The No. 5 and No. 85 customer Porsche 963s fielded by Proton Competition and JDC-Miller MotorSports, respectively, and the No. 40 Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Acura ARX-06.


Last year at Long Beach, Nick Tandy and Mathieu Jaminet earned the first international sports car victory for the Type 963 for Porsche Penske Motorsport, which operates the factory team running the Nos. 6 and 7 cars. But at that point of the ’23 season, neither of the private Porsche teams had yet received their cars – their campaigns started at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca (JDC-Miller) and Road America (Proton).


While Porsche provides basic guidance for how to run the complex 963, Proton and JDC-Miller won’t be gaining access to Long Beach setup sheets from PPM. Richard Westbrook, who shares the No. 85 JDC-Miller car with Tijmen van der Helm, has the most Long Beach experience among the customer Porsches; he posted back-to-back second-place finishes at Long Beach in a Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT in 2017 and ’18 in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class, and added another podium in Daytona Prototype international (DPi), the prototype class that preceded GTP in 2022. In the No. 5 car, Gianmaria Bruni’s last Long Beach appearance came in a GT-class Ferrari in 2010 and Mike Rockenfeller’s in a Daytona Prototype-class Porsche Crawford in 2006, when Rockenfeller and then-co-driver Patrick Long finished second.


The No. 40 Acura and drivers Jordan Taylor and Louis Deletraz have a stronger foundation to work with. The WTRAndretti team’s No. 10 car shared by Ricky Taylor and Filipe Albuquerque took pole position last year for GTP’s first Long Beach appearance. They also nearly won the race, only to see Taylor crash while hotly pursuing the leading No. 6 Penske Porsche in the closing moments of the 100-minute sprint. The No. 40, a new entry for the team this year, can expect to enjoy the benefit of all the data WTRAndretti collected on the way to its Long Beach near miss in 2023.


Like Westbrook, Jordan Taylor has prior prototype experience on the narrow street course – and a strong track record in any car he drives there. Taylor co-drove to three consecutive Long Beach victories from 2015-17 – the first two in a Corvette Daytona Prototype (DP), the last in a Cadillac DPi. The last three years, Taylor competed in Grand Touring classes for Corvette Racing; he started from the class pole and recorded podium finishes in 2021 and ’22.


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Taylor and Deletraz are coming off a victory with co-driver Colton Herta in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Cadillac and are tied for the lead of the GTP class point standings with the No. 7 Porsche and drivers Felipe Nasr and Dane Cameron.


“I think going to Long Beach where there’s no time to get up to speed, it’s important to be comfortable and ready to go,” Jordan Taylor said. “The Daytona Prototypes were smaller cars that felt more nimble. This GTP car is big and a little bit heavier, has a lot of power, and there’s usually a lot of tire degradation. Around a place like Long Beach, it could make for a pretty exciting race.”


Taylor believes his transition back to prototypes after competing for four years (and winning two championships) in GT cars was made easier by the fact that Corvette Racing transitioned from the front-engine C7 to the mid-engine C8.R platform.


“The C7 had a very unique driving style,” he said. “It was very unconventional to get that car to work or to get a lap time out of it. It was pretty much different from every other car I’ve driven. When Corvette went to the C8.R and the mid-engine platform, it made it way more user-friendly for the driver. It was way more predictable. It felt like it was designed as a race car, basically. So, I think transitioning back to prototypes was much easier coming from the C8.R.”


Deletraz has more recent prototype experience than Taylor. He won consecutive LMP2 class championships in the European Le Mans Series and added an LMP2 crown in the FIA World Endurance Championship in 2023. But it’s been nearly eight years since he last drove any car on a street course – the 2016 FIA GP2 single-seater race at Monaco.


“For sure I’m not scared to go to Long Beach – I’m really excited,” Deletraz remarked. “But it’s a new challenge. Those prototypes are big with a lot of power, and with traffic there will be a lot of firsts. For sure, the traffic is quite different on street tracks. But I’m really excited. The Acura was strong last year, so hopefully we can continue on that momentum.”


Jordan Taylor’s recent GT experience at Long Beach could also be an advantage.


“I’d say it’s a lot easier to defend around there as a GT car than it is to be the aggressor,” he commented. “It’s pretty easy to make a mistake around there when you’re trying to attack and not lose time in traffic. But if you’re in a GT car with ABS, you can really attack the brakes and hold guys off – make it difficult for the guys in prototypes. So, I think coming back to prototypes, understanding what it was like to be in a GT car and where it was OK to make a move or be extra-aggressive, will be helpful. I think we’re pretty excited to get back there to see what we can do.”


Broadcast coverage of the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach is available on USA Network, Peacock and IMSA Radio starting at 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday.