The No. 66 Ford's day as a battering ram was a great metaphor for Long Beach IMSA race. Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: Digesting 35 cars, 100 minutes of drama in the LBC

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The BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix a little more than a week ago will have marked one of the craziest IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races since the series came under a unified banner in 2014, when the GRAND-AM Rolex Series and American Le Mans Series merged.

In 100 minutes of racing at Long Beach, there were nearly as many yellow flags, and way more incidents, than there had been in 12 hours of racing at Sebring, . a fortnight earlier. It went from 12 hours with six full-course caution flags – and periods of between two to three hours without a yellow – to 100 minutes with five, and a local yellow at the final corner of the final lap which changed the complexion of the race in both GT categories.

IMSA’s “Sights and Sounds” attempts to digest the race, linked here.

Here’s the race’s lap chart, lap leader sequence and overall results, which help describe why this race was so crazy.

With that as a backdrop, the easiest way to digest the race might be by breaking the race down, car-by-car:

PROTOTYPE

Nine Prototypes started before the carnage. Photo courtesy of IMSA
  1. 10-Jordan Taylor/Ricky Taylor, Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R: Despite leading the first 34 laps, this car got slotted behind the No. 2 Nissan on strategy and was unable to pass with a pre-race gear ratio change assessed to the Cadillacs that left them with taller first and second gears. Once Ryan Dalziel was blocked in by two GTD cars ahead of him, Jordan Taylor seized his opportunity with five laps to go, completed a three-wide move past the GT cars and then an outside pass of Dalziel into Turn 1 for this team’s third straight win both in 2017 and at Long Beach.
  2. 2-Ryan Dalziel/Scott Sharp, Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi: A decision to pit 20 minutes into the race allowed an early driver change from Sharp to Dalziel. Dalziel did the rest, in an excellent drive as he carved his way from as low as 19th overall on Lap 35 up to the overall lead by Lap 48, 13 laps and 23 minutes later. What Dalziel couldn’t account for was GTD traffic getting in his way late, and a block from Wolf Henzler’s TRG Porsche in front of him killed his momentum, and cost them the win.
  3. 55-Jonathan Bomarito/Tristan Nunez, Mazda RT24-P: Easier recap here. Nunez went three-wide versus two Cadillacs at Turn 1, and hounded Ricky Taylor for the rest of his stint. Despite losing a position later, Mazda ended with a hometown podium not far from its North American headquarters in Irvine.
  4. 85-Stephen Simpson/Misha Goikhberg, JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson: Having nearly lost a lap early after a spin and falling to 32nd overall, a yellow flag saved the No. 85 yellow car from losing a lap. The car stayed trouble-free the rest of the way for its third top-five in as many races for John Church’s team.
  5. 52-Tom Kimber-Smith/Will Owen, PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson: Series and track debutante Owen fell slightly back during his stint but kept the car intact to hand over to “TKS” for the final 40 minutes. Despite running as low as 24th overall, the No. 52 car banked its first overall top-five in 2017.
  6. 70-Joel Miller/Tom Long, Mazda RT24-P: From Mazda’s release: “A Ford GT had stalled and was sitting sideways on the track. As Nunez squeezed around the car, the Ford lurched forward, forcing Nunez to come to a halt. Meanwhile, Long took a tighter angle to the inside of the stalled car. Then, the Ford suddenly backed up, forcing Long to a halt, eventually losing a number of positions in the traffic jam.” Said Long, “The traffic was like driving on the 405! The hairpin always seems to have some excitement and it happened multiple times this race. We had a traffic jam there. I don’t expect to be using reverse during the race, but it happens!”
  7. 5-Joao Barbosa/Christian Fittipaldi, Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R: Fittipaldi was running third overall before being contacted by Gunnar Jeannette’s Mercedes just over half an hour into the race. With a rear wing assembly replacement needed and a yellow caused, hopes of success fell by the wayside here. “I passed a slower GTD car on the back straight then as I was entering the next turn, I felt a hit from behind,” he said.
  8. 31-Dane Cameron/Eric Curran, Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R: Cameron was inhuman for his stint, both in terms of insanely good passes and a rare-non-Cameron-like unforced error into Turn 8, when he apexed early and then smacked the Turn 8 wall hard on driver’s left. He was OK; the car was not.
  9. 22-Ed Brown/Johannes van Overbeek, Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi: Brown fell into the clutches of the GTLM field off the start before being hit by Toni Vilander’s Risi Ferrari, a rare mistake from the veteran Finn. This sent the team behind the wall just after the start.
  10. 90-Renger van der Zande/Marc Goossens, VISIT FLORIDA Racing Riley Mk. 30 Gibson: A brake issue sent the likable Dutchman into the Turn 1 wall in Friday practice, which meant van der Zande, his family, Goossens and the rest of the No. 90 team was done for the weekend then and there.

GT LE MANS

Michelin was always going to win GTLM, but Milner’s quizzical look describes the “what just happened” angle of race. Photo courtesy of IMSA
  1. 4-Tommy Milner/Oliver Gavin, Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R: Secured the win after the team car was blocked in at the hairpin logjam on the final lap. Minor redemption for last year’s loss, but still tough to inherit the win this way. Milner called this the “weirdest race of his career” in victory lane, which said it all.
  2. 67-Ryan Briscoe/Richard Westbrook, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT: Ho-hum last-in-class on the grid to second in the race on a one-stop strategy. The No. 67 car made it from ninth to fifth at the end of Lap 1 and snuck in behind its 2016 title nemesis, the No. 4 car, on the final lap.
  3. 912-Kevin Estre/Laurens Vanthoor, Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR: Led the first 26 laps following Vanthoor’s rocket start, running on the same set of Michelins for 45 minutes and change. But the car fell back on the pit stop sequence, only returning to the podium after the hairpin delay elsewhere.
  4. 25-Bill Auberlen/Alexander Sims, BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM: Ran second early, but like the No. 912 car was on the wrong strategy and fell to fourth. Still made it four manufacturers in as many positions.
  5. 3-Jan Magnussen/Antonio Garcia, Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R: What more can be said. Damaged early in the Turn 5, first lap mess, than shot back to the front, only to have a sure win escape them in the final corner. Brutal ending to a fantastic comeback.
  6. 911-Patrick Pilet/Dirk Werner, Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR: Hopes here were dashed by Werner getting a drive-through for enacting some “Dirk-on-Dirk” violence at the hairpin, hitting Mueller’s No. 66 Ford.
  7. 24-Martin Tomczyk/John Edwards, BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM: The luckless start to 2017 continues because this car threw a strategic gem at Long Beach and vaulted to the class lead by Lap 27 and overall lead by Lap 34, where it was until Lap 47. But a likely ECU issue shut the car off exiting Turn 8 and the two Corvettes and No. 67 Ford made it through to the lead.
  8. 66-Dirk Mueller/Joey Hand, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT: Target doesn’t sponsor the Ford Ganassi team but was an accurate word for the No. 66 car Saturday. Its hood got crunched on the start of the race with Hand driving and then Mueller was the recipient of some “Dirk-on-Dirk” violence in the hairpin later, contacted by Porsche’s Werner. Eighth place was the result for the car that won Daytona and was second at Sebring.
  9. 62-Toni Vilander/Giancarlo Fisichella, Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE: Vilander shot to first at Turn 1, but his failed passing attempt on Ed Brown at Turn 5 of the first lap ended this car’s race and caused damage to the No. 3 Corvette and No. 66 Ford.

GT DAYTONA

WeatherTech Mercedes emerged from obscurity to win GTD. Photo courtesy of IMSA
  1. 50-Gunnar Jeannette/Cooper MacNeil, Riley Motorsports-WeatherTech Racing Mercedes AMG-GT3: Last-to-first win following a pre-race tire change and an epic fuel save from Jeannette thanks to the yellows. Jeannette contacted the No. 5 Cadillac earlier in the race but was not penalized. How’d they win? “I kind of blacked out for a minute and the next thing I know the checkered flag is out and I’m crossing the finish line!” Jeannette laughed.
  2. 33-Jeroen Bleekemolen/Ben Keating, Riley Motorsports-Team AMG Mercedes AMG-GT3: Clean race brought third straight podium for this crew, who extend title lead to 21 points this early in 2017.
  3. 63-Christina Nielsen/Alessandro Balzan, Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3: Nielsen described the “magic” that brought this car from the back to a podium: “I can’t take any credit for today. This credit goes entirely to Scuderia Corsa and Alessandro Balzan, they were totally my heroes today. How they executed, it’s just unbelievable what they did.”
  4. 73-Joerg Bergmeister/Patrick Lindsey, Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R: From 32nd overall and last in GTD on Lap 1 to fourth in GTD at the finish. Like the others, we’re not entirely sure how.
  5. 991-Wolf Henzler/Jan Heylen, TRG Porsche 911 GT3 R: Top-five a great result for this car in a surprise entry, albeit not without controversy after Henzler’s chop on the front straight ahead of overall leader Dalziel.
  6. 14-Scott Pruett/Sage Karam, 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3: Started from back after Pruett’s heavy crash in Friday practice, then strategized their way to front and Lexus’ best finish yet in a rebuilt car. Karam lost a top-five to Henzler inside the final 10 minutes.
  7. 93-Andy Lally/Katherine Legge, Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3: Had an incident before qualifying but the team made it back out then, then despite a missed wave around, Lally carved from 11th to seventh by the finish. Post-weekend, he also launched a new motoring app on Monday called “MotorCrush.”
  8. 16-Jeroen Mul/Corey Lewis, Change Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3: An exasperated Robby Benton was left to swallow the team’s second straight last-lap heartbreak that cost a podium, this time after Mul and what looked like another car had contact exiting Turn 9. A season-best result of eighth was little solace.
  9. 96-Jens Klingmann/Bret Curtis, Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3: The outside car in the three-wide, final lap, hairpin mess, smashed against the wall.
  10. 86-Jeff Segal/Ozz Negri, Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3: The middle car in the three-wide, final lap, hairpin mess, smashed in the middle of two cars.
  11. 15-Jack Hawksworth/Robert Alon, 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3: The inside car in the three-wide, final lap, hairpin mess, with Alon trying an ill-advised move that put him on probation. Hawksworth led five laps after starting second.
  12. 28-Daniel Morad/Michael Christensen, Alegra Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R: Got up to third early but like others, entered a closed pit, got a penalty, and never recovered en route to an unrepresentative P12.
  13. 57-Lawson Aschenbach/Andrew Davis, Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMS: Hit with an early spin and electrical issues that stuck them a lap down, trapping them there.
  14. 54-Colin Braun/Jon Bennett, CORE autosport Porsche 911 GT3 R: Rough start to the championship-winning team’s transition to GTD continued, losing a lap early and never getting it back.
  15. 75-Tristan Vautier/Boris Said, SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3: Per Mercedes’ release, the team was one of several in the GTD class that got caught out by entering a closed pit lane during the race’s second caution period.
  16. 48-Bryan Sellers/Madison Snow, Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3: Sellers took pole and led the first 23 laps but then this happened on the second caution: “At the time the car entered pit lane, the track and pits had yet to be declared green, resulting in a stop and hold penalty.”

F1 Preview – 2018 French Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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It’s hard to believe that the French Grand Prix, the oldest grand prix event on the planet, as it dates back to June of 1906, was ever removed from the Formula 1 calendar.

Alas, not since 2008 at Magny-Cours has Formula 1 held a race on French soil. Yet, that all changes this weekend, as Formula 1 visits the Circuit Paul Ricard for its first French race in a decade.

Formula 1 teams are not strangers to Paul Ricard. It has been a popular testing facility for years, as evidenced by the below photo from 2016, featuring Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari in a wet tire test.

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – JANUARY 26: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Scuderia Ferrari drives during wet weather tire testing at Circuit Paul Ricard on January 26, 2016 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

However, in terms of racing, Paul Ricard has also been absent from the calendar for quite a long time – the last time Formula 1 race at Paul Ricard was in 1990. Alain Prost won for Ferrari that day.

1990: Alain Prost of France punches the air in celebration after passing the chequered flag in his Scuderia Ferrari to win the French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard circuit in Le Beausset, France. Mandatory Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport

As such, despite being a known quantity as a testing facility, how a race weekend will shake out is anybody’s guess.

And what’s more, it marks the beginning of three consecutive race weekends – The French Grand Prix, The Austrian Grand Prix, and The British Grand Prix – which F1 teams and drivers are calling “the triple header.”

Talking points ahead of the French Grand Prix are below.

A Journey Into the Unknown?

Like all new venues, or resurrected and refurbished ones in this case, the Circuit Paul Ricard represents somewhat of an unknown, as there’s no available race data to make predictions off of.

And the 3.61-mile, 15-turn track itself represents a range of challenges. It has fast corners, like Turns 1 and 2 (S de la Verrerie), a technical section between Turns 3 and 7 (Virage de l’Hotel through the Mistral Straight Start), and a 1.1-mile straightaway in the Mistral Straight, though it is separated by a chicane (Turns 8 and 9).

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff discussed the challenge of the circuit, highlighting the lack of data to build off of as well the tough three-race stretch ahead as especially challenging, in a preview on Formula 1’s website.

“France should be an interesting race. We don’t often get to race on a track where we have little to no historical data. It makes preparing for the weekend a bit trickier than usual, but that element of the unknown also adds to the challenge. The French Grand Prix marks the first race of the triple header, which will test all F1 teams to their limits, but also offers the chance to score a lot of points over the course of three weeks – which is precisely what we’re setting out to do,” said Wolff.

That element of the unknown makes Paul Ricard one of the biggest wildcards on the 2018 F1 calendar, and a championship shake up could be in the cards as a result.

Ferrari, Mercedes Continue Their Back and Forth

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari and Mercedes have traded jabs throughout the 2018 season, with neither able to pull away from the other so far through seven races.

Sebastian Vettel enters the French Grand Prix with a one-point lead over Lewis Hamilton, and holds a slight edge in victories – three to Hamilton’s two – and comes off a thorough domination of the Canadian Grand Prix.

Vettel led every lap at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on his way to victory, while Valtteri Bottas had to carry the Mercedes flag in finishing second. Hamilton languished in fifth, a surprising and disappointing result given his previous success there.

The aforementioned Toto Wolff described it as a “wake up call,” though Mercedes will roll out a power unit upgrade this weekend – Ferrari and Renault, which also powers Red Bull Racing, rolled out upgrades of their own in Canada.

With four long straightaways present at Paul Ricard, power will certainly be at a premium, so such upgrades will be vital in giving Mercedes a chance to make amends after Canada’s disappointment.

Trio of French Drivers Look to Impress on Home Soil

It comes hardly as a surprise that the three French drivers – Romain Grosjean, Pierre Gasly, and Esteban Ocon – are keen to make an impression at their home race.

And all three could certainly use a boost. Gasly has only one finish inside the points (seventh in the Monaco Grand Prix) since his stellar fourth place effort in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Ocon is coming off back-to-back points finishes (sixth in Monaco, ninth in Canada), but he has only one other finish inside the points this year (tenth, in Bahrain). And Grosjean, despite showing the speed to finish in the points, is yet to score any in 2018.

As such, all three are hoping for big things in their home race this weekend.

“I want to get a good weekend, have some luck, get my first points of the season, and get a lot of support from the fans,” said Grosjean. “I think we should be in a nice place at Paul Ricard. I’m always looking forward to jumping back in the car. I just love driving an F1 car.”

Ocon, who has raced and won at Paul Ricard in the past, expects his prior experience could be a big help.

“I did race at Paul Ricard early in my career – it was actually where I had my first victory in single seaters in 2013 so I have some fantastic memories of the place,” Ocon described. “I hope we can add some more success this weekend. Having been there in the junior categories makes getting used to a new track in a Formula One car much easier. I think I will find my rhythm quite quickly.”

Gasly’s excitement level obviously matches that of his French compatriots, with the added bonus that the return coincides with his rookie F1 effort.

“For me it will be absolutely incredible that my first full season of Formula 1 coincides with the return of a French Grand Prix to the calendar for the first time in 10 years,” said Gasly. “That has to be a reason for me to be very happy and I’m really excited to be racing in my home country. I can tell it will be a special feeling going out on track and actually, I have spoken to Jean Alesi and Alain Prost about it and they both told me that it will feel really special and something that you really have to experience as a Frenchman racing in France.”

Qualifying for The French Grand Prix begins at 9:55 a.m. ET on Saturday, with Sunday’s race at 9:30 a.m. ET.

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