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.

Pippa Mann returns to Dale Coyne Racing for seventh Indianapolis 500 bid

Photo courtesy Dale Coyne Racing
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Pippa Mann announced Tuesday that she plans to drive in her seventh Indianapolis 500 on May 27.

The native of Ipswich, England will once again return to race for Dale Coyne Racing, with new sponsorship by Donate Life Indiana.

She had previously been sponsored the last four years in the 500 by the Susan G. Komen organization. She’ll continue to carry logos of that organization on the front wing of her car in the 500, Mann said.

Mann, 34, has raced six times in the 500, with a best finish being 17th in last year’s race.

Mann will fill out the four-car Dale Coyne Racing field for the Greatest Spectacle In Racing. She’ll be teammates with Sebastien Bourdais (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda in a partnership with Vasser-Sullivan), Pietro Fittipaldi (No. 19 The Paysafe Car Honda) and Conor Daly (No. 17 U.S. Air Force Honda in a partnership with Thom Burns Racing).

Mann will make her first practice laps for this year’s 500 on Tuesday, May 15. Qualifying is May 19-20.

Mann’s No. 63 Honda will have a significantly different look than in the last few years. Instead of pink, her car will feature a silvery blue and light green paint scheme wrapped around a Donate Life Indiana logo.

“I am honored to have been asked to drive the Donate Life car this May and to partner with Donate Life Indiana as an ambassador to raise awareness on our mission to help reach even more Hoosiers through our education efforts,” Mann said in a media release. “This is obviously a campaign with a pretty deep personal meaning for me, and I am humbled to have the opportunity to join the racers carrying this cause forward.

“I also want to thank Dale and Gail Coyne for once again giving me this opportunity to pilot one of their entries this May. This will be my sixth year with Dale Coyne Racing and I’m truly grateful that they allow me to do this every year.”

Mann will also serve as a spokesperson for the organization and to raise awareness for youth education initiatives in Indiana, most notably organ, tissue and eye donor registration.

In addition to her driving duties in the 102nd running of the 500, Mann will also visit schools across the Hoosier State to speak about the importance of organ donation and transplantation.

“Our education team is committed to partnering with Pippa and students and teachers across the state to bring the message of organ donation and transplantation to as many students as possible,” said Steve Johnson, board chairman for Donate Life Indiana.

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