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Three Takeaways: Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach

A Closer Look at the Fallout from the Street Course Battle


By David Phillips


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Even if the first 100 minutes of IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship street racing didn’t produce a nail-biting finish to Saturday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, there was no shortage of “on-street” competition where several of the Grand Touring Prototypes (GTP) traded paint like a Saturday night short track race and the top 10 finishers in Grand Touring Daytona (GTD) featured nine different marques. Nor was the competition confined to the streets as, per usual at Long Beach, strategic calls by those on the pit stands played pivotal roles in the outcome.


Here are a few noteworthy takeaways from the weekend.


Track Position


Whether through strong qualifying performances, stellar pit stops or clever tire strategy, track position was the key to success at Long Beach. After Sebastien Bourdais qualified the No. 01 Cadillac Racing Cadillac V-Series.R in third spot behind Pipo Derani’s No. 31 Whelen Cadillac Racing Caddy and Connor De Phillippi’s No. 25 BMW M Team RLL BMW M Hybrid V8, the Frenchman slotted into second on the start but could not find a way around Derani.


It was up to the Cadillac Racing team to “strategize” their way into the lead, opting not to change Michelin tires on the lone pit stop even as the Whelen team went for two new tires when Derani handed driving duties over to Jack Aitken. Renger van der Zande was then charged with maintaining the track position gained in the pits while treating his used Michelins gently. He did so by judiciously picking his spots – going easy on his tires at places on the track he knew Aitken stood little chance of overtaking him and leaning on the Michelin rubber hard in the obvious passing zones – to take the win.


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On the other hand, Parker Thompson got track position for the No. 89 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 on Friday, taking the GTD pole. Come Saturday and neither Thompson nor co-driver Ben Barnicoat were headed, coming home a second and a half clear of the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT3. Then again, the best Turner’s Patrick Gallagher could do in qualifying was P7, a shade less than half a second off Thompson’s pace. In race trim, the BMW’s best lap was still 0.3 seconds shy of the Lexus’ best. But the Turner pit crew proved there is more than one way to get good track position, as quick service during the race’s lone pit stop enabled Gallagher’s co-driver, Robby Foley, to leapfrog several other cars and grab a second place he would hold to the finish.


But we would be remiss in failing to note that Stevan McAleer, Sheena Monk and the Gradient Racing team used a combination of good pit work coupled with good old-fashioned forceful driving to charge from last on the grid (after an engine change prevented them from posting a qualifying time) to a fine fourth-place GTD finish in their No. 66 Acura NSX GT3.


Safety in Numbers



Vasser Sullivan’s decision to field the Lexus RC F GT3 that normally competes in GTD PRO in addition to its customary No. 12 Lexus paid big dividends in the GTD race at Long Beach. The No. 89 Lexus scored a convincing victory, leading every lap of the race but two, even as its stablemate No. 12 DNF’d. Who can say what fate would have had in store had the No. 12 been a singleton entry in the hands of its usual driver pairing (Thompson and Frankie Montecalvo)?


What can be said for certain is that Lexus, Vasser Sullivan and Thompson came away with maximum manufacturer and driver points at Long Beach thanks to doubling up for the weekend. Hmmm, might a similar plan be in the offing when the roles are reversed and the GTD PROs are the only GT class at the Chevrolet Detroit Sports Car Classic in June?


Standings Shakeups


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Having two entries was hardly a guarantee of success, witness the disappointing results for the Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti GTP effort. A crash for the No. 40 Acura ARX-06 resulted in a 10th-place finish. Meanwhile, the No. 10 WTRAndretti Acura finished eighth after it was assessed a drive-through penalty for nerfing the No. 85 JDC-Miller MotorSports Porsche 963 into a spin.


Thus, the No. 40 team that enjoyed the co-lead in GTP standings entering Long Beach left Southern California in fourth spot, 91 points back. The No. 10 is mired in ninth in the standings, 254 points from the top. All is not lost, of course. WTRAndretti needs only look to the No. 01 Cadillac, which began the season with a DNF at Daytona but has vaulted into second place in the standings thanks to a runner-up Sebring finish followed by the Long Beach win.


Long Beach saw the No. 89 Vasser Sullivan Lexus break the No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3’s victory streak, although Winward, driver Russell Ward and Philip Ellis and Mercedes retain the team, driver and manufacturer leads in GTD points. While Gallagher and Foley, Turner Motorsport and BMW move into P2 in the GTD standings, Thompson now stands alone in third spot in driver points, with Lexus also third in the manufacturer standings.