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.
- 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.
- 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.