Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: PREVIEW – BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach

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With its two longest events – the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring – now behind it, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship now heads to the shortest event on its calendar, the BUBBA Burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach.

Part of a packed weekend at Long Beach – they join Pirelli World Challenge and the Verizon IndyCar Series on the legendary streets of Long Beach – the IMSA event stands at 1 hour and 40 minutes, by far the shortest race of the year.

But, it can often be the most chaotic. For example, last year’s race featured a string of early cautions that saw the Prototype class cars trail the GT Le Mans class on a restart, and the Prototype drivers displayed some daring moves to carve their way through the GT traffic.

In the end, Jordan Taylor made a late-race pass on Ryan Dalziel to take the win for Wayne Taylor Racing in the No. 10 Cadillac DPi-V.R, while the GTLM field saw a wild finish as Tommy Milner snuck through a jammed track at the hairpin on the final lap to take the win in the No. 4 Corvette Racing C7.R, while teammate Antonio Garcia, who led entering the final lap in the sister No. 3 Corvette, was blocked in the traffic jam and fell to fifth.

The GT Daytona field was comparatively tame and saw Cooper MacNeil and Gunnar Jeanette take win in the No. 33 Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3.

GTD is not on the entry list for this year’s event, leaving Prototype and GTLM as the lone classes representing IMSA at Long Beach. However, that does not mean there will be a lack of action as the series takes a turn away from endurance racing and toward sprint racing.

Key storylines to watch in both classes are below.

Prototype

  • Currently, the No. 31 Whelen Engineer Racing Cadillac from Action Express leads the championship with full-time drivers Eric Curran and Felipe Nasr. This entry, along with the sister No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac, was one of several to have contact last year – with Curran and Dane Cameron as the drivers at the time – so they will be motivated to get a better result to maintain their championship lead over CORE Autosport, whose No. 54 Oreca 07 Gibson sits second with drivers Jon Bennett and Colin Braun. The No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac, with Filipe Albuquerque and Joao Barbosa, sits third in the championship.
  • Wayne Taylor Racing has won three Long Beach races in a row with Ricky and Jordan Taylor. However, if that streak is to continue, it will obviously be with only one Taylor brother, with Ricky at Acura Team Penske now. The Wayne Taylor squad finished second at Sebring and will look for a fourth Long Beach win in a row, with team newcomer Renger Van Der Zande sharing the No. 10 Cadillac with Jordan.
  • Acura Team Penske will look to right the ship of sorts after a pair of rough outings at both Daytona and Sebring. Both the Nos. 6 and 7 ARX-05s have been fast, but both had contact at Daytona that dropped them from contention, and both DNF’ed at Sebring due to mechanical problems. Despite being a new effort with a new platform in the ARX-05, this is an organization with high expectations, so they’ll be looking challenge for a win this weekend. Dane Cameron and Juan Montoya will be in the No. 6, with Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves in the No. 7.
  • Tequila Patron ESM nearly won this race last year with Ryan Dalziel and Scott Sharp in their No. 2 Nissan Onroak DPi, and the No. 22 entry is coming off a Sebring victory with Pipo Derani, Johannes van Overbeek, and Nicolas Lapierre. Derani and van Overbeek stay with the No. 22, while Dalziel and Sharp stay in the No. 2 machine, and both will hope to take a second straight win for ESM.
  • Mazda Team Joest made improvements at Sebring with their RT24-P, with the No. 55 entry battling for the win in the late stages. This race saw them get a podium last year, and they’ll look for more of the same in 2018. Jonathan Bomarito and Harry Tincknell share the No. 55, while Oliver Jarvis and Tristan Nunex share the No. 77.
  • The two JDC-Miller Motorsports Orecas (Simon Trummer and Robert Alon in the No. 85 and Stephen Simpson Misha Goikhberg in the No. 99) and the AFS/PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson (with Sebastian Saavedra and Gustavo Yacaman) round out the Prototype field.
  • Sadly, the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Racing Cadillac is absent this weekend. The team was forced to write off their chassis after Tristan Vautier’s frightening Sebring crash, and they are taking Long Beach off to prepare for what they hope to be their return race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in May.

GTLM

  • The last three Long Beach races have seen three different manufacturers win. BMW Team RLL won in 2015 with Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner. Porsche GT Team took those honors in 2016 with Patrick Pilet and Nick Tandy. And last year, Corvette Racing won with Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner. Ford Chip Ganassi Racing is yet to win at “The Beach,” but could easily do so this year.
  • Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook lead the GTLM standings in the No. 67 Ford GT entering Long Beach, ahead of the No. 911 Porsche of Tandy and Pilet. The No. 912 Porsche sits third with Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor.
  • Corvette Racing has been somewhat quiet in 2018, and their No. 3 and 4 entries sit tied for sixth in the GTLM standings. But, their fate could easily take a turn for the good, so they should not be overlooked.
  • BMW Team RLL had an uptick in form at Sebring, with their the No. 25 M8 GTLM taking the pole and the No. 24 entry finishing second. They’ll look for more of the same at Long Beach.
  • Risi Competizione will not compete at Long Beach, electing to run only a partial schedule in 2018.

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IndyCar: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Recap

Photo: IndyCar
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After two days, with both featuring a lot of rain, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is finally in the books for the Verizon IndyCar Series.

With Mother Nature intervening with rain and fury over both days, it’s understandable if there’s a sense of relief that the weekend at Barber Motorsports Park is behind us.

Still, as is usually the case, Barber produced plenty of thrills, and a few spills, across the weekend of racing.

A recap of big stories to emerge from the weekend is below.

Rain Drops Keep Falling on My Head…

Mother Nature was ever present on Sunday and Monday, dropping a lot of rain on Barber Motorsports Park. Photo: IndyCar

Rain races can be very fun and entertaining…if they’re able to run. Sadly, that just wasn’t the case on Sunday.

The undulating and picturesque Barber Motorsports Park is one of the most striking road courses in the country, and often produces some of the best racing anywhere. But, the nature of the track and its dramatic elevation changes can make it susceptible to standing water in heavy rains.

And that’s the exact scenario that played out on Sunday, with heavy and persistent rain hitting the track late in the morning, and hanging around the entire day.

While INDYCAR officials and Barber track crews worked tirelessly on Sunday to disperse the standing water, the rainfall was simply too heavy for them to make any impact.

While very unfortunate, postponing the finish of the race to Monday was the right decision, as several drivers explained.

“It’s tough because we have so many people that come out here to watch us,” said eventual race winner Josef Newgarden following the Sunday postponement. “We want to put on a good race. We want to put on a show. So calling the race, running around behind the pace car not running, it’s tough, it’s tough to do that. But I think it was the right thing in the end. When we started the race, the conditions were OK. You could run at that level of rain. Then, it intensified right before that first caution. I think when the caution came out, it got to a point where it was just too much.”

Graham Rahal echoed Newgarden’s sentiments, also emphasizing poor visibility as a big factor in making the conditions too treacherous.

“It was a tough beginning, but when we kind of got going it was OK and kind of fun to challenge for a while, but visibility was a major issue (on Sunday), no doubt. I’m glad that the series postponed it. I would have like to get it in (on Sunday), but that’s life,” he explained.

Rest assured, Firestone makes a strong rain tire, and IndyCar teams, drivers, and track crews are more than equipped to handle a rain shower from Mother Nature. But, Sunday’s weather was simply too extreme.

Newgarden Shines in the Rain and the Sun

Josef Newgarden in Victory Lane at Barber Motorsports Park. Photo: IndyCar

About the only thing as powerful as Mother Nature during the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden.

Last year’s IndyCar champion was quickest at the end of Friday’s practices, scored the pole on Saturday, and led all but nine laps across Sunday and Monday.

And his leads were always decisive. He quickly gapped the field when racing started on Sunday, holding down a gap of as much seven seconds over teammate Will Power in the early laps. And on Monday, he gapped the field by as much as 27 seconds during the second half of the race.

Only outside circumstances could have prevented Newgarden from getting to Victory Lane…and that nearly happened. A late rain shower in the final minutes created split strategies across the field, with Newgarden among those opting for rain tires, while Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay and Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais gambled by staying out on slicks.

Hunter-Reay, however, jumped into the pits soon after for rain tires, a move that helped him eventually finish second, while Coyne and Bourdais gambled that the track would not get wet enough to force them to pit.

Alas, with only a few minutes remaining and the rain getting heavier, conditions became too slick and Bourdais was forced to pit, handing the lead back to Newgarden and dropping Bourdais to fifth.

“More hectic than you would want at the end,” Newgarden quipped when asked about conditions at the end of the race. “It seemed like it was pretty straightforward all day. We weren’t having yellows. It was dry. Then that rain made it very nerve-racking.

Newgarden added that pitting for rain tires, and doing so early, was their best option, even though it opened the door for others to jump ahead.

“I think for us we did the only thing we could,” he said of their strategy. “We went to rains as soon as it intensified. We had to. I think it was the right thing to do, just because we’re in the lead, we have the most to lose by not putting on rains early.”

The victory, Newgarden’s second of 2018, moves him back into the championship lead with 158 points, 13 ahead of Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi.

Misc.

  • Ryan Hunter-Reay enjoyed a solid weekend following a troublesome day at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The Andretti Autosport driver ranked in the Top 10 through practice, qualified a strong fourth, and ran a very clean race to finish second, his best finish of 2018, and he now sits only three points out of third place in the championship – he is currently sixth, with 113 points.
  • While teammate Robert Wickens has made more headlines, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe is having one of the best early-season efforts of his IndyCar career. With finishes of fourth, sixth, ninth, and second to his name through four races, Hinch sits fifth in the standings on 118 points, and is keeping himself well within reach of the championship lead. A race win would do wonders for his championship standing, but the consistent start puts him in a good position heading into the month of May.
  • Conversely, four-time champion Scott Dixon has yet to finish on the podium in 2018 – his best finish is fourth at ISM Raceway. Still, at seventh in the standings with 107 points, Dixon is within striking distance despite the quiet start.
  • Elsewhere, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud have had comparatively disastrous starts to their seasons. Power has hit the wall in three of the first four races, while Pagenaud only has a best finish of ninth, coincidentally at Barber this weekend, through four races. Power sits tenth in the championship on 81 points, while Pagenaud languishes down in 15th on 66.
  • He made not have made many friends out there, but Zachary Claman De Melo gave viewers some thrills after the Monday restart, pushing his way through the field despite being two laps down. It also created one of the highlights of the race, with he and Spencer Pigot going for a slide through Turns 7 and 8 (video below). For his efforts, Claman De Melo recorded the fastest lap of the race on his way to finishing 19th.

The Verizon IndyCar Series now has two weeks before their next race, the INDYCAR Grand Prix on May 11-12. However, the series will be plenty busy, with testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway kicking off next week.

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