IMSA: Corvette balances redemption, heartbreak in Long Beach win

Photo: Corvette Racing
3 Comments

LONG BEACH, Calif. – Covering races off site often leads one to rely heavily on the results sheet – likely too much – without factoring in the circumstances behind how the car, driver or team got there.

So if one was to look at the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix and see that Corvette Racing qualified on the pole with its No. 3 Corvette C7.R and won the race with the No. 4 car, you’d think – oh, that was straightforward.

It was easily one of the least straightforward days in the team’s history after a bizarre ending to a goofy race, which packed so much drama in the LBC in just 100 minutes of action.

Jan Magnussen, who’s ratcheted up his performance lately, scored a decisive pole position on Friday in a great effort to put the No. 3 car he shared with the “King of Spain” – Antonio Garcia – on the top spot.

But the race almost went away from them right at the start. Toni Vilander tried an enthusiastic passing maneuver in his No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE, as the GTLM leader, to try to pass Ed Brown’s No. 22 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi on the opening lap of the race exiting Turn 5.

Yet it backfired, badly. Vilander spun Brown, then took himself, Magnussen and Joey Hand in the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT into the outside wall of the corner in an accordion effect accident.

Vilander’s Ferrari was done on the spot while Magnussen’s Corvette had left front quarter panel damage, and Hand lost the hood of his Ford.

Magnussen didn’t lose a lap though and pressed on with the damage. A second caution 22 minutes into the race provided an opportunity to go off-sequence, which about half the GTLM field did. The No. 3 crew pitted Magnussen to switch him out and put Garcia in. The Spaniard then drove the final 78 minutes on the same set of Michelin tires and tank of fuel, aided by five full-course caution periods.

As the race neared its finish, the No. 24 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM was leading in class and for that matter overall on the same strategy, but an apparent ECU issue took that car from the lead as it slowed exiting Turn 8. It provided a window for the two Corvettes and the second Ford to barge through into the new podium scenario.

Corvette Racing looked destined for a 1-2 finish, which would have been the team’s first since Lime Rock last year, when disaster struck entirely out of their hands.

A battle between two GTD cars, the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 and the No. 86 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3, was always going to make the hairpin tricky but when the No. 15 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 attempted to make it three-wide, a rather late lunge from GT class rookie Robert Alon, it turned the Long Beach hairpin into a parking lot on the 405 freeway.

This blocked the track and Garcia was stuck, trapped in behind the three cars on the outside of the corner apex. When one of the GT cars was able to get out, it opened up a lane for the No. 4 Corvette, driven by Tommy Milner and started by Oliver Gavin, to go through to the win over the No. 67 Ford. Garcia dropped to fifth.

IMSA reviewed the incident, and a series spokesperson confirmed the traffic jam was deemed an “incident in progress.” In layman’s terms, that meant if you were stuck in the incident, you were trapped, while if you were able to get out of the incident, you could get out. The field was not frozen as it was not a full-course caution but only a local caution in that corner, and the overall leader had already taken the checkered flag as the GT cars were on their final lap.

“I’ve seen a lot of races before, but none like that,” Danny Binks, the legendary crew chief on the No. 3 Corvette, lamented to NBC Sports. The only logical conclusion to occur at this point was that Garcia had exhausted all his luck with the racing gods after his heroic drive at Sebring, and the racing gods felt compelled to take one away that they giveth in Florida.

Meanwhile for the No. 4 car, it provided the quirkiest bit of redemption because a Porsche took Milner out at the hairpin last year.

While the win was appreciated for the No. 4 car, it was still hard to swallow because the No. 3 had the win to rights by strategy.

Gavin and Milner attempted to explain a race that was lacking in rhythm all the way through.

“The start for me was pretty interesting. I was coming into turn 1 and it looked like Jan had been jumped by the Ferrari and the Ford,” Gavin said. “And on first laps here you’re looking at who’s tires are up to temp and who is taking chances. It looked like everyone was taking chances. And by Turn 5 it looked like the Patron car was already into the curbing there. The three of us managed to avoid any contact after the stopped car. We were 1-2-3 then and it was just some insane racing, not by just us three, but by all the cars.

“There were some choice moves by a lot of cars out there, everyone wanted to win it, but making moves with 85 minutes to go. So I was just trying to keep the car clean and hand it over to Tommy for the finish. And the way the team managed the pit stop, we managed to get the car out in front of everyone we were racing. But the race kept turning on its head, and it’s one of those you can’t take your eyes off.”

Gavin then highlighted a variance in the technical regulations about the different elements the GT Daytona class cars have which the others in the series don’t.

“This really highlights an issue in that I really don’t think you can run cars with ABS in the same series with cars that don’t have ABS,” he said. “I think you have to have everyone on it, or no one. Especially in our class, trying to get past those guys, someone can make it really hard. They can park the thing in the middle of the corner and drag strip it off. We have to develop the speed with Michelin, and in the chassis and our team. And ABS on this circuit is something you can rely on and be a hero. Driving around here without ABS, you’re holding your breath trying to find out if you’re on the limit at every corner. With ABS you can just hump on the pedal and turn the wheel and the car looks after itself. This race really highlights that. I think it’s part of some of the reasons the race happened that way today.”

Photo: Corvette Racing

Milner then offered take on the race: “It was just a weird race today for sure. We started off a bit behind and it looked like the strategy wasn’t going to pay off for us, and the cautions made for the people who made the stop early were going to play it out on fuel. Then we kind of hoped for yellows to bunch us back up there. I was racing hard with Briscoe and Antonio and the BMW, but I had newer tires by 14 laps. The BMW had a problem coming off of turn 8 and I kind of went for it. I expected him to keep going, but he didn’t. we got a little sideways with the Ford and it freed up where Antonio was and we both pulled away. Certainly my newer tires were better, but getting by Antonio was going to be pretty tough.

“Then we came to the last corner there, I knew the race was over because Antonio had a bit of a gap on me. It came on the radio and I saw the caution flags there. It was free, and then it wasn’t. I tried going to the outside in the same situation last time and lost spots. This time I went on the inside. I wasn’t even full speed, I was cruising thinking we were under caution. Then I saw the green flags and the guys on the radio said we were P1. Racing is a lot about luck in a lot of cases, I don’t think I’ve seen it play out this way for me or for anyone else. It’s good to just get some points for me and for Chevrolet and Corvette and so we’ll start to go on to the next one.

“At no point do I feel like I was in a rhythm until the last 4 or 5 laps and then I could see what the car could do and find its limits, then start taking off tenths. For those short spurts you could see it was going to be hard to pass cars. I can’t say I took an opportunity at the hair pin, I just lucked out. It goes along with having classes similar in speed in a lot of places. Certainly the GTD cars are quicker in a few places. The way we mixed together is not ideal and this track really highlights those mismatches. Those guys are racing hard and we all have to co-exist, and it’s hard to get 100 drivers to co-exist for an entire race. It’s not ideal, but you make the most of it and deal with it.”

At least one Garcia won this weekend, as Sergio captured The Masters, and Garcia and Gavin had some fun with it on social media…

With this the 104th win in program history, albeit one of the strangest ones, it’s worth looking at how Corvette Racing has endured and sustained the success over nearly 20 years. A quick answer to that can be found below:

Final 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona results, stats

0 Comments

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona overall results were all streaks: two consecutive victories in the endurance classic for Meyer Shank Racing and three in a row for Acura.

And Helio Castroneves became the second driver to win three consecutive Rolex 24s and the first to win in three straight years (Peter Gregg won in 1973, ’75 and ’76; the race wasn’t held in ’74 because of a global oil crisis).

Starting from the pole position, Tom Blomqvist took the checkered flag in the No. 60 ARX-06 that led a race-high 365 of 783 laps with co-drivers Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Colin Braun.

RESULTS: Click here for the finishing order in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona l By class

Meyer Shank Racing now has two Rolex 24 victories and the 2022 championship since entering the premier prototype category of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2021.

“I think what’s so special about this team is we are a small team compared to some of our opponents, but the atmosphere, the way we work, enables people to get the best out of themselves, and I think that’s why we’re such high achievers,” Blomqvist said. “I think there’s no egos. It’s a very open book, and that just enables each and every one of us to reach our potential. I think that’s why we’ve achieved so much success in really a short time at this level of competition.”

It’s the 16th IMSA victory for MSR.

The 61st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona marked the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category that brought hybrid engine technology to IMSA’s top level.

In other categories:

LMP2: James Allen passed Ben Hanley on the final lap and delivered a victory in the No. 55 ORECA by 0.016 seconds. It’s the second IMSA victory for Proton Competition, which last won at Sebring in 2012. It was the first Rolex 24 victory for Allen and co-drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Fred Poordad and Francesco Pizzi.

GTD Pro: Cooper MacNeil won in the last start of his IMSA career as the No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3 scored the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for WeatherTech Racing and the team’s fourth career victory.

MacNeil, who co-drove with Maro Engel, Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella, earned his 12th career victory and first at the Rolex 24.

“Winning by last IMSA race is tremendous,” MacNeil said.

GTD: The No. 27 Heart of Racing Team delivered the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for Aston Martin, which has been competing in endurance races at Daytona International Speedway since 1964. Drivers Marco Sorensen, Roman De Angelis, Darren Turner and Ian James (also the team principal) earned the victory in the English brand’s 13th attempt.

It’s also the first Rolex 24 at Daytona win for Heart of Racing, which has seven IMSA wins.

LMP3: Anthony Mantella, Wayne Boyd, Nico Varrone and Thomas Merrill drove the No. 17 AWA Duqueine D08 to victory by 12 laps for the team’s first class win in IMSA.


STATS PACKAGE FOR ROLEX 24 HOURS OF DAYTONA:

Fastest laps by driver

Fastest laps by driver after race (over the weekend)

Fastest laps by driver and class after race

Fastest lap sequence

Lap chart

Leader sequence

Race analysis by lap

Stint analysis

Time cards

Pit stop time cards

Best sector times

Race distance and speed average

Flag analysis

Weather report

NEXT: The 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will resume with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 18 with coverage across NBC, USA and Peacock.