IMSA teams prepare for ‘sprint race’ at Long Beach


LONG BEACH, California – After the two longest races of the season, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Series switches gears for its shortest event on the calendar.

It’s Saturday’s 100-minute BUBBA Burger Long Beach Grand Prix, the headline act of Saturday’s full day of racing at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

It tests the versatility range of the drivers on the DPi and GTLM teams. Instead of the long endurance events, such as the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring in March, there is no margin for error in Saturday’s 100-minute sprint to the finish.

Everything takes on added pressure, from shorter practice sessions, to qualifications, to race strategy. Even the mandatory driver change has more pressure because the slightest mistake can be the difference in track position on a race course that is so narrow, it’s probably the hardest circuit on the schedule to pass.

The Long Beach street course is just 1.968-mile with 11 turns.

“It’s a tight, short course,” Tommy Milner, one of the drivers for Chevrolet in the Corvette C7.R with Oliver Gavin in the GTLM Class, told “There are some corners that are more important for lap times. The hairpin in the last corner is a pretty important corner for as unique as it is. It’s something we don’t see normally on our calendar. It leads onto the long straightaway. Getting that hairpin turn down and into the corner is not only important for lap time, but also for race craft and protecting from a passing opportunity for the car behind or putting yourself in position to pass the car ahead of you.

“While it is the slowest and not the most fun corner on the track, it is very unique. To get that hairpin turn down and figured out is a pretty important corner not only for lap time, but also for racing.”

Milner and Gavin are currently eighth in the GTLM standings after finishing eighth in class at both Daytona and Sebring. But they’ve won each of the past two years at Long Beach and won the 2016 GTLM championship.

Joao Barbosa competes in IMSA’s top Daytona Prototype International class. He co-drives the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R with Filipe Albuquerque. They are currently fourth in the DPi championship standings with a third-place result at Sebring and a seventh-place outing at Daytona.

Barbosa admits after the two long endurance races of the season, everything speeds up in the 100 minutes of competition at Long Beach.

“Actually, it’s a very challenging race not only for the drivers, but also for the team,” Barbosa told “Just to get the right strategy for that race is the key point. Coming after the two longest races of the season, and now, it’s a sprint.

“Last year, the team did a great job and ended up winning the race with great strategy and great race. It’s a great challenge because with a short race, track position and fuel consumption, everything is super critical in a short race like that, especially on a street course where overtaking is difficult.”

If the Rolex 24 at Daytona is like simmering all day in a Crock Pot, the BUBBA Burger Long Beach Grand Prix is like preparing a meal in a pressure cooker.

“Everything has to be spot on,” Barbosa explained. “There is no room for mistakes. Every mistake you make, the other team might not make that mistake and they end up in front. Track position is very important so the least time you spend in the pits – fueling, tire change, driver change – everything has to be done perfectly.

“If there is any mistake, there is no room to recover, there is no physical time to make up for that mistake. Everything from driver change, to the crew to the strategy has to be perfectly executed to get the best results possible.”

Barbosa believes fuel consumption will be a key point in this race as it has been in the past. It’s important to focus and have the best race as possible and save as much fuel as possible.

It’s not easy.

Qualifying takes on added significance because there is so little room on the actual race course to make a clean pass.

“Qualifying for Daytona and Sebring are for bragging rights and ultimately aren’t a key part of your finishing position,” Milner said. “At Long Beach, it’s a street race, the track is narrow and it’s hard to pass qualifying becomes a crucial part of how you finish the race. With one pit stop in the race and it’s hard to pass. It’s always possible, but it’s difficult. Qualifying as high up as possible at Long Beach becomes the most important round because of how you do in the race.

“Qualifying at Long Beach becomes incredibly important. Any spots as far forward as you can qualify helps you in the race. The classes are so competitive now, the cars are so close, and the drivers are so close, if you have a fast car by a couple of tenths, that may not be enough to make the pass happen at Long Beach.

“To have a car fast right out of the box is important.

“The pressure is on at Long Beach, from the moment you show up, the first laps you turn, you squeeze every ounce of information and data that you can out of the teams and the drivers to really give yourself the best chance at the win on Saturday.”

To achieve success in the short race, the preparation before arriving at Long Beach is vitally important. There is very little practice time for this race and even shorter qualification sessions.

That is why a team has to be fast by the time it rolls off the truck.

“It’s a big adjustment for us to go from our two longest races – 24 Hours and 12 Hours – and then go into our shortest one,” Milner said. “Certainly, strategy changes quite a bit for Long Beach, how you go throughout the weekend, what you do to prepare for the weekend at Long Beach. Even our practice and qualifying schedule is compressed.

“Getting there and doing your homework as far as engineering goes and having what they think will be the best setup for the weekend. Luckily, for us at Corvette, we have a long history book of competing with this car, the C7R at Long Beach and have had success with the car. I think we feel pretty confident, but our class is so competitive, going off our past results is not going to be good enough.

“Mindset-wise, we have come from two long races where you want to get your first stint done and out of the way and what the track is doing and what your car is doing and then try to work from there to improve the car.

“At Long Beach, you have an hour’s practice for each driver and then you have to be on your game from the drop of the green.

“I’ve been on Corvette Racing for nine years now and we have had this experience in the past and have been in this position. Going off that past experience is going to be crucial.”

The mandatory driver change also creates one more obstacle for the teams. Even the slightest mistake in changing drivers can cause a delay that will adversely affect track position.

“There is a little extra pressure because we know if we don’t do our job right, it might cost us,” Barbosa explained. “In the long races, you know you have a long race to recover and it’s no big deal unless it is the last hour of the race.

“Here, with the mandatory driver change in such a short race, it’s important to have it done right.

“It puts a lot of extra pressure to execute everything perfectly.”

Milner isn’t exaggerating when he stresses how important the driver change can be to determine the outcome of Saturday’s race.

“That one pit stop, the one driver change, of all the races is probably the most pressure and most important one we do all year long,” Milner said. “One slip-up, one problem, one slow driver change, all of those things are magnified because you don’t typically have the chance to make that back up again.

“All of the drivers practice that throughout the year, practicing and honing and getting the driver change done as quick as we possibly can. The way the races play out at Long Beach and with the way the strategy is and how long the cars can take fuel, we aren’t waiting for the fuel to be finished, which normally takes the longest. Sometimes, we will pit early in the race and get the driver change out of the way, so we don’t have to spend as much time in the pits later on.

“That one pit stop becomes reliant on how fast you can get out and how fast you can get your teammate in. We practice this all year long and the crew guys practice it relentlessly at the shop. Everyone knows it is an important pit stop, the intentions are high and flowing for that one pit stop and that is why we spend time at the shop practicing these things.

“It’s racing, anything can happen, and you just try to make sure you have everything covered and hope luck is on your side. Then, your on-track performance can help determine your outcome rather than something in the pits.”

The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach features two headline events in consecutive days. IMSA is the main show on Saturday and Sunday features the NTT IndyCar Series in a continuation of one of the greatest street races in the world.

“It’s great to have the opportunity to bring the races to the fans,” Barbosa said. “Being in Long Beach, it’s such a big race that has been around for a long time. We are relatively new in certain aspects to that race, but we are attracting more and newer fans each year. The fans love to see sports cars racing around Long Beach.

“For the drivers, it’s an extra plus because we don’t have many street courses in the year. Just the challenge to go to Long Beach and the challenge and go as fast as you can, top speed is pretty high, and the track is a very interesting setup. It’s very cool for the drivers and also the fans. I think the fan base is growing around Sports Cars.

“It’s also very cool to be with IndyCar. We can really show what sports cars are all about to IndyCar fans. It’s a very special opportunity we have to race there.”

Milner also loves the fact that the street of Long Beach actually allows the drivers and teams to get a little more physical on the race track.

Instead of finesse, there will be some “Beatin’ and Bangin’”

“Most guys are ready for the fun street race, the fun Long Beach Grand Prix, go door-handle to door-handle a little bit and rub the wall a little bit here and there,” Milner said. “That gives you the thrill and excitement of racing has to offer.

“Long Beach brings that in large quantities.”


Joao Barbosa

  • Two-time IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype champion
  • Four-time IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup champion
  • Three overall victories in Rolex 24 At Daytona
  • 2015 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring overall winner
  • 23 career IMSA victories
  • Took overall and Prototype class victory at Long Beach in 2018 with co-driver Filipe Albuquerque in No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R for Action Express Racing
  • 2018 was Barbosa’s first Long Beach victory

Tommy Milner

  • 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Le Mans (GTLM) champion
  • 2012 American Le Mans Series GT champion
  • Two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans class winner (2011, 2015)
  • 2016 Rolex 24 At Daytona GTLM winner
  • Two-time Sebring class winner (2013, 2016)
  • 16 career IMSA victories
  • Three-time class winner at Long Beach in No. 4 Corvette
  • Won GTLM class each of the past two years with co-driver Oliver Gavin

‘It’s gnarly, bro’: IndyCar drivers face new challenge on streets of downtown Detroit

IndyCar Detroit downtown
James Black/Penske Entertainment

DETROIT – It was the 1968 motion picture, “Winning” when actress Joanne Woodward asked Paul Newman if he were going to Milwaukee in the days after he won the Indianapolis 500 as driver Frank Capua.

“Everybody goes to Milwaukee after Indianapolis,” Newman responded near the end of the film.

Milwaukee was a mainstay as the race on the weekend after the Indianapolis 500 for decades, but since 2012, the first race after the Indy 500 has been Detroit at Belle Isle Park.

This year, there is a twist.

Instead of IndyCar racing at the Belle Isle State Park, it’s the streets of downtown Detroit on a race course that is quite reminiscent of the old Formula One and CART race course that was used from 1982 to 1991.

Formula One competed in the United States Grand Prix from 1982 to 1988. Beginning in 1989, CART took over the famed street race through 1991. In 1992, the race was moved to Belle Isle, where it was held through last year (with a 2009-2011 hiatus after the Great Recession).

The Penske Corp. is the promoter of this race, and they did a lot of good at Belle Isle, including saving the Scott Fountain, modernizing the Belle Isle Casino, and basically cleaning up the park for Detroit citizens to enjoy.

The race, however, had outgrown the venue. Roger Penske had big ideas to create an even bigger event and moving it back to downtown Detroit benefitted race sponsor Chevrolet. The footprint of the race course goes around General Motors world headquarters in the GM Renaissance Center – the centerpiece building of Detroit’s modernized skyline.

INDYCAR IN DETROITEntry list, schedule, TV info for this weekend

JOSEF’S FAMILY TIESNewgarden wins Indy 500 with wisdom of father, wife

Motor City is about to roar with the sound of Chevrolet and Honda engines this weekend as the NTT IndyCar Series is the featured race on the nine-turn, 1.7-mile temporary street course.

It’s perhaps the most unique street course on the IndyCar schedule because of the bumps on the streets and the only split pit lane in the series.

The pit lanes has stalls on opposing sides and four lanes across an unusual rectangular pit area (but still only one entry and exit).

Combine that, with the bumps and the NTT IndyCar Series drivers look forward to a wild ride in Motor City.

“It’s gnarly, bro,” Arrow McLaren driver Pato O’Ward said before posting the fastest time in Friday’s first practice. “It will be very interesting because the closest thing that I can see it being like is Toronto-like surfaces with more of a Long Beach-esque layout.

“There’s less room for error than Long Beach. There’s no curbs. You’ve got walls. I think very unique to this place.

PRACTICE RESULTS: Speeds from the first session

“Then it’s a bit of Nashville built into it. The braking zones look really very bumpy. Certain pavements don’t look bumpy but with how the asphalt and concrete is laid out, there’s undulation with it. So, you can imagine the cars are going to be smashing on every single undulation because we’re going to go through those sections fairly fast, and obviously the cars are pretty low. I don’t know.

“It looks fun, man. It’s definitely going to be a challenge. It’s going to be learning through every single session, not just for drivers and teams but for race control. For everyone.

“Everybody has to go into it knowing not every call is going to be smooth. It’s a tall task to ask from such a demanding racetrack. I think it’ll ask a lot from the race cars as well.”

The track is bumpy, but O’Ward indicated he would be surprised if it is bumper than Nashville. By comparison to Toronto, driving at slow speed is quite smooth, but fast speed is very bumpy.

“This is a mix of Nashville high-speed characteristics and Toronto slow speed in significant areas,” O’Ward said. “I think it’ll be a mix of a lot of street courses we go to, and the layout looks like more space than Nashville, which is really tight from Turn 4 to 8. It looks to be a bit more spacious as a whole track, but it’ll get tight in multiple areas.”

The concept of having four-wide pit stops is something that excites the 24-year-old driver from Monterey, Mexico.

“I think it’s innovation, bro,” O’Ward said. “If it works out, we’ll look like heroes.

“If it doesn’t, we tried.”

Because of the four lanes on pit road, there is a blend line the drivers will have to adhere to. Otherwise, it would be chaos leaving the pits compared to a normal two-lane pit road.

“If it wasn’t there, there’d be guys fighting for real estate where there’s one car that fits, and there’d be cars crashing in pit lane,” O’Ward said. “I get why they did that. It’s the same for everybody. I don’t think there’s a lot of room to play with. That’s the problem.

“But it looks freaking gnarly for sure. Oh my God, that’s going to be crazy.”

Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing believes the best passing areas will be on the long straights because of the bumps in the turns. That is where much of the action will be in terms of gaining or losing a position in the race.

“It will also be really easy to defend in my opinion,” Palou said. “Being a 180-degree corner, you just have to go on the inside and that’s it. There’s going to be passes for sure but its’ going to be risky.

“Turn 1, if someone dives in, you end up in the wall. They’re not going to be able to pass you on the exit, so maybe with the straight being so long you can actually pass before you end up on the braking zone.”

Palou’s teammate, Marcus Ericsson, was at the Honda simulator in Brownsburg, Indiana, before coming to Detroit and said he was shocked by the amount of bumps on the simulator.

Race promoter Bud Denker, the President of Penske Corporation, and Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix President Michael Montri, sent the track crews onto the streets with grinders to smooth out the bumps on the race course several weeks ago.

“They’ve done a decent amount of work, and even doing the track walk, it looked a lot better than what we expected,” Ericsson said. “I don’t think it’ll be too bad. I hope not. That’ll be something to take into account.

“I think the track layout doesn’t look like the most fun. Maybe not the most challenging. But I love these types of tracks with rules everywhere. It’s a big challenge, and you have to build up to it. That’s the types of tracks that I love to drive. It’s a very much Marcus Ericsson type of track. I like it.”

Scott Dixon, who was second fastest in the opening session, has competed on many new street circuits throughout his legendary racing career. The six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion for Chip Ganassi Racing likes the track layout, even with the unusual pit lane.

I don’t think that’s going to be something that catches on where every track becomes a double barrel,” Dixon said. “It’s new and interesting.

“As far as pit exit, I think Toronto exit is worse with how the wall sticks out. I think in both lanes, you’ve got enough lead time to make it and most guys will make a good decision.”

It wasn’t until shortly after 3 p.m. ET on Friday that the IndyCar drivers began the extended 90-minute practice session to try out the race course for the first time in real life.

As expected, there were several sketchy moments, but no major crashes during the first session despite 19 local yellow flags for incidents and two red flags.

Rookie Agustin Canapino had to cut his practice short after some damage to his No. 78 Dallara-Chevrolet, but he was among many who emerged mostly unscathed from scrapes with the wall.

“It was honestly less carnage than I expected,” said Andretti Autosport’s Kyle Kirkwood, who was third fastest in the practice after coming off his first career IndyCar victory in the most recent street race at Long Beach in April. “I think a lot of people went off in the runoffs, but no one actually hit the wall (too hard), which actually surprised me. Hats off to them for keeping it clean, including myself.

“It was quite a bit less grip than I think everyone expected. Maybe a little bit more bumpy down into Turn 3 than everyone expected. But overall they did a good job between the two manufacturers. I’m sure everyone had pretty much the same we were able to base everything off of. We felt pretty close to maximum right away.”

Most of the preparation for this event was done either on the General Motors Simulator in Huntersville, North Carolina, or the Honda Performance Development simulator in Brownsburg, Indiana.

“Now, we have simulators that can scan the track, so we have done plenty of laps already,” Power told NBC Sports. “They have ground and resurfaced a lot of the track, so it should be smoother.

“But nothing beats real-world experience. It’s going to be a learning experience in the first session.”

As a Team Penske driver, Power and his teammates were consulted about the progress and layout of the Detroit street course. They were shown what was possible with the streets that were available.

“We gave some input back after we were on the similar what might be ground and things like that,” Power said.

Racing on the streets of Belle Isle was a fairly pleasant experience for the fans and corporate sponsor that compete in the race.

But the vibe at the new location gives this a “big event” feel.

“The atmosphere is a lot better,” Power said. “The location, the accessibility for the fans, the crowd that will be here, it’s much easier. I think it will be a much better event.

“It feels like a Long Beach, only in a much bigger city. That is what street course racing is all about.”

Because the track promoter is also the team owner, Power and teammates Scott McLaughlin and Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden will have a very busy weekend on the track, and with sponsor and personal appearances.

“That’s what pays the bills and allows us to do this,” Power said.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500