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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F1 Preview: 2018 German Grand Prix

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The German Grand Prix continues its biennial presence on the Formula 1 calendar – it’s hosted F1 events in even numbered years since 2014 – as Formula 1 returns to the Hockenheimring this weekend.

The German fans will undoubtedly be joyful in Sebastian Vettel entering his home race in the championship lead, by nine points over Lewis Hamilton. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, Vettel despite being one of the most successful and decorated drivers of his generation, Vettel has won in Germany only once (2013, at the Nurburgring) and he has never won at Hockenheim.

Conversely, Hamilton has won in Germany three times, including twice at Hockenheim (2008 and 2016).

As such, Vettel will hope to add to his points lead over Hamilton with a win on home soil, though Hamilton may be equally as motivated after watching Vettel his own home race at Silverstone two weeks ago.

Nevertheless, their 2018 championship duel will most certainly continue to be closely fought.

Talking points ahead of the German Grand Prix are below.

A Different World in 2018 vs. 2016

Nico Rosberg during the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 31, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany. Photo: Getty Images

The Formula 1 landscape looked completely different back in 2016, the last time Formula 1 visited the Hockenheimring. Bernie Ecclestone was still the chief executive of Formula 1.

Nico Rosberg was partnering Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes team, and was on his way to a driver’s championship that year.

Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen were in the midst of a slump as Ferrari went winless in 2016.

The world was still getting to know a then 18-year-old Max Verstappen, the young Dutchman having won the Spanish Grand Prix in May that year.

And the cars looked completely different, with skinnier and taller rear wings and taller rear tires highlighting the appearance differences.

In 2018, Vettel and Ferrari might be the strongest combination. Rosberg is long from Mercedes, and Valtteri Bottas is doing his best to shine in the wake of Hamilton’s enormous shadow.

Verstappen is still a rising star, though he has come under fire at times for overly aggressive driving and his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo has garnered more headlines this year, with a pair of race wins alongside his status as an F1 free agent after 2018.

In short, the Formula 1 landscape is hardly recognizable from what it was back in 2016. And even though Hamilton won that year, followed by Ricciardo and Verstappen in second and third, very little will carry over from that race two years ago.

Hamilton, Mercedes Look to Take Back Momentum from Vettel, Ferrari

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 08: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 leads Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 8, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

The seesaw championship fight has tilted back in the favor of Ferrari, with Vettel leading Hamilton after finishes of third and first in Austria and England. Hamilton, meanwhile, DNF’ed in Austria and came home second in England after spinning on Lap 1.

Hamilton trails by nine points, but this is hardly an unfamiliar position for Hamilton in 2018 – he started the year trailing Vettel until he took the championship lead for the first time after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Both teams have had multiple swings of momentum this year – Vettel won the opening two races before finishes of eighth in China (he spun after contact with Verstappen) and a pair of fourth place efforts in Azerbaijan and Spain before getting two more wins in Canada and England.

Hamilton, meanwhile stumbled out of the gates somewhat with finishes of second and third before taking a fortuitous win in Azerbaijan and two dominant wins in Spain and France before the misfortune in Austria.

All told the ebb and flow of the 2018 season seems to change with every race, and while Vettel now leads Hamilton again, things could change this weekend.

Raikkonen Trying to Fend off Ricciardo, Bottas

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 06: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 6, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Kimi Raikkonen is somewhat of a forgotten man this Formula 1 season, but he does rank third in the championship at the moment, 10 points ahead of Ricciardo and 12 points ahead of Bottas.

However, both Ricciardo and Bottas are likely thought to have had better seasons – Ricciardo has the aforementioned wins (at China and Monaco) and the only thing that has kept Bottas from the top step of the podium is a string of horrendous luck.

However, Raikkonen, to his credit, has picked up the pieces whenever others around him have faltered, and he has six podium finishes through 10 races.

However, in order to fully silence any critics, and maybe even keep his Ferrari drive, Raikkonen would do well to get a win in 2018.

Misc.

  • The driver challenging Raikkonen’s position within Ferrari is Sauber’s Charles Leclerc. The Ferrari junior driver has five points finishes, and that could have been six if not for a pit stop error at Silverstone that caused him to leave his pit stall with a loose wheel – it forced him to retire. Leclerc’s star is on the rise, and he could shine again in Germany.
  • Nico Hulkenberg is the “other” German driver on the grid. And though he has a 24 Hours of Le Mans win to his name, he is yet to finish on the podium in an F1 race. The Renault package may not be a podium threat in usual circumstances, but if he stays clean and others falter, he could sneak in there…and doing so in his home race would make that overdue podium even sweeter.
  • After a pair of eighth place finishes, Fernando Alonso has helped McLaren at least stop the bleeding after a dismal stretch of races from Monaco through France in which the team scored zero points. However, the team still has a long way to go, and Germany could be another weekend of struggles.

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