The Patron Showcase, third round of this year’s TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, provides an excellent opportunity for Extreme Speed Motorsports to repeat its P2 class win of 2013.
Difference would be, in 2014, it would be an overall triumph in the Prototype category.
The pair of Tequila Patron-sponsored Nos. 1 and 2 HPD ARX-03bs are the only two P2-spec cars in the 11-car P class field raced by the same team in 2013. The Morgan Nissan package has experience in the hands of Conquest Racing two years ago, but this marks OAK Racing’s first Long Beach appearance; meanwhile the SpeedSource Multimatic-built Mazda SKYACTIV-D diesels are making their inaugural Long Beach voyage.
For all of the P2-spec cars, this will mark their first Long Beach runs on the Continental tires.
ESM’s Scott Sharp and Guy Cosmo won last year and Sharp looks for the encore with Ryan Dalziel in the No. 1 entry. Dalziel stoked the social media fire with this tweet earlier on Tuesday.
How about a RT from everyone who wants to see a P2 win ahead of a DP at Long Beach. #redemption
“One of the reasons I wanted to race in the USA was the awesome street courses and none are better than Long Beach,” the flying Scot said in the team’s pre-race release. “Traffic will be a factor like all of our races but with only two classes and the new IMSA rules, I think this race will come down to the team that has the best pit stops and the fastest car.” “We were so close at Sebring and I think we all still feel we were robbed of the win, so we are going into Long Beach with a winning mindset.”
Sharp, a Long Beach veteran with starts in both open-wheel and sports cars, embraces the challenge of the 100-minute street fight.
“It is an aggressive 100-minute ‘take no prisoners’ sprint race,” he said. “You sometimes only get one chance to make a pass so you have to go for it when you can. When you combine the excitement of the race with the fantastic Long Beach crowd and Tequila Patrón’s sponsorship of the race, to say we are ready to hit the streets and go after that win – that’s an understatement.”
Ed Brown and Johannes van Overbeek bring the No. 2 to the race too, and seek to improve on their best result of the year, fifth achieved last time out at Sebring.
“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.
Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).
Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.
“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.
Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.
“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.
They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.
For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.
“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.
Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.
“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.
Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.
“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.
“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”
As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.
“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”