IMSA: PREVIEW – BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach

Photo courtesy of IMSA
0 Comments

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.

Follow@KyleMLavigne

 

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance
2 Comments

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).