Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: Taylor three-peat quest headlines Long Beach sprint

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After 36 hours of racing in Florida, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship doesn’t even race for two hours this weekend in California.

The seismic shift from the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, respectively, comes to a harsh and quick halt with the 100-minute BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix from the streets of Long Beach proving a test of a far different kind for the series.

Whereas you can overcome poor qualifying in an endurance race, the 100-minute dash at Long Beach offers no margin for error and almost no time to recover. In one of the more intriguing quirks of the season, the two-hour Friday morning practice session from 7:40 to 9:40 a.m. PT and local time is longer by 20 minutes than the race itself, and offers the most amount of time to dial in setup for the race. Put simply, if you don’t roll off quick, it’s hard to make up the gaps.

The additional change to the race is from its usual post-IndyCar qualifying slot to the Saturday headliner, now from 1:05 to 2:45 p.m. PT and local time, and live on FOX network. This may change the race as it will occur in the hottest conditions of the day rather than as the temperatures fade and the glare hits harder in the late afternoon.

The 2016 Long Beach podium. Photo courtesy of IMSA

The story lines here focus primarily on the Taylor brothers, in their first race without a third and/or fourth driver – Max Angelelli and Jeff Gordon at Daytona, Alex Lynn at Sebring – going for a three-peat of two kinds this weekend.

If the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R wins on Saturday, the Taylors will have won three races in a row to kick off the 2017 season, and also three races in a row at Long Beach.

“Long Beach we were second, and then we got two wins,” Jordan Taylor said after winning Sebring with brother Ricky and Lynn. “Then (we go to) COTA and Detroit, which we won last year.

“We go in with a lot more momentum in the past. Long Beach is a cutthroat event with one pit stop. This year it might be two because the fuel capacity is so small. It’s so much on the race team to get it done. I think Ricky was saying that we barely passed anyone on track. Most of our passes were done in the pits.”

Ah, but it was Ricky’s dynamic move on Christian Fittipaldi at Turn 1 last year – which put the black No. 10 Corvette DP ahead of Fittipaldi’s No. 5 Mustang Sampling Corvette for Action Express Racing – that ultimately was the winning move.

While the No. 5 Action Express Cadillac has come second both races so far, they’re keen to break through at Long Beach, a track where the team is yet to win. Similarly, defending series champions No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing’s pair of Dane Cameron and Eric Curran have yet to crack the top step of the podium this year, which seems surprising. The pair recovered to third at Sebring after Curran and one of the Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPis collided early in the race, and lost a couple laps.

For the others in class, a 100-minute race could be a respite from the reliability and mechanical issues that hit all bar the No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson car at Sebring. The pair of Mazda RT24-Ps and Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPis need finishes, and if one or both can cut into the otherwise dominant pace of the Cadillacs so far it’d be a good day. But with torque a big key coming off slow corners here, the heavier but more powerful Cadillacs may once again hold the advantage. The No. 90 VISIT FLORIDA Racing Riley Mk. 30 Gibson team, like JDC-Miller, has stood on the podium this year but lacked the pace of the Cadillacs.

Ford, Porsche, Ferrari last year at Long Beach. Photo courtesy of IMSA

With PC absent this race, the GT classes will again get to share the spotlight.

An interesting battle lies ahead in GT Le Mans. Corvette (2014), BMW (2015) and Porsche (2016) have won here the last three years, Porsche’s last year easily the most controversial after Frederic Makowiecki used Tommy Milner’s No. 4 Corvette as his braking device going into the hairpin. That opened the door for Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet to snatch the win in the sister No. 911 Porsche.

Ford has had the pace edge through two races thus far with its GT and won Daytona, and probably should have won Sebring but for the heroics of Antonio Garcia and the No. 3 Corvette team. Risi’s also a solid bet with its Ferrari, the well-rounded car having been on the podium the last three endurance races but, strangely, not having scored a sprint race podium since coming third here last year. A result of any kind would be welcomed for BMW Team RLL; Redondo Beach native Bill Auberlen seems to find another gear on this circuit, having scored pole here each of the last two years in both the Z4 and M6 GTE variants.

GT Daytona meanwhile is the wild card in its Long Beach debut. A form guide could come from PWC’s recent races here, except that the recent winning cars are no longer active or never were in GTD competition (McLaren, Cadillac, and the Ferrari 458 Italia GT3). Detroit could also be used as a form guide but the same problem occurs; the Dodge Viper GT3-R won that race last year and has since been retired.

Scuderia Corsa will no doubt be keen to win in the team’s backyard, Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan having been close at Daytona before a rare engine issue and then second at Sebring. Riley Motorsports comes in off the win at Sebring with its Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen.

Factor in the phalanx of Porsches, the other two Mercedes, trio of Lamborghini Huracán GT3s, single Stevenson Audi and pair of factory Acura and Lexus entries apiece, and it should be a barnburner of a weekend for the most subscribed class in the field.

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.