IMSA: Corvettes have first chance to double up at Long Beach

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The Corvette brand has its first chance to sweep the two categories of racing in the third round of the 2014 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, as the Prototype and GT Le Mans classes take to the streets of Long Beach for the 100-minute Patron Showcase this weekend.

A Corvette Daytona Prototype took the season opener, the Rolex 24 at Daytona, with Action Express Racing’s trio of Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Sebastien Bourdais behind the wheel of the team’s No. 5 entry.

The trio currently lead the P class points standings with 67 points, 9 clear of the next full-season lineup of Jordan and Ricky Taylor, as well as Max Angelelli.

Those two Corvette DP teams drop their third drivers for the first time this season; for Ricky and Jordan in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing entry, it’s the first time just the two brothers have shared a car since 2009 in Homestead. The team will have a new sponsorship announcement later this week.

Spirit of Daytona and Marsh Racing round out the four Corvette DPs in the projected 11-car P class field, as DPs return to the track for the first time since 2006. The American Le Mans Series ran at Long Beach from 2007 through 2013.

“There are many unique challenges to racing around Long Beach,” Jim Lutz, Chevrolet’s Program Manager for Corvette DPs, said in a pre-race release. “As DPs have not raced there in some time, there are many unknowns – things like suspension and aero setup, and gearing ratios will be best estimates based on our simulations at Chevrolet. The length of the race and minimum drive times bring a new element of strategy into play as well. More than ever, the teams that are best prepared ahead of Friday’s first practice will have distinct advantages. We’re confident our Corvette DP teams will be chief among those.”

The factory Corvette GT program, meanwhile, is no stranger to Long Beach success. Between the C6.R GT1 and GT2 programs in ALMS, the team has four prior class wins on the legendary street circuit, most recently with Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner in 2012.

As the new C7.R takes to the track this weekend, the pair of GTLM entries seek to end a string of bad luck that plagued them in the two endurance races. The No. 4 Corvette led a majority of Sebring before a fuel pressure issue took the car out of contention; the sister No. 3 suffered an opening lap collision and a punctured tire.

“A street circuit can make a little difference to a driver but at the same time you have to say to that you can only drive around in the car you’re given,” Gavin explained in a manufacturer pre-race release. “Sometimes little tweaks and little things in just the right spots can make the difference in having a car on the front row and winning or losing the race. Pace is very, very important there because it’s a short race. You need to qualify well and on top of everything.”

The No. 4 sees these two again at the wheel, with the No. 3 bolstering the solid duo of Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen, 2013 ALMS driver’s champions in GT.

A two-hour practice kicks things off Friday with qualifying later that afternoon, and the 100-minute race Sunday just after 3 p.m. PDT/local time.

Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

Petit Le Mans championship
IMSA
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Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in the final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a victory over Pipo Derani in the the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1.

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

With the rebranding of DPi to GTP for the new LMDh cars, Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”