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Big Saturday’s Start On Friday On The Long Beach Street Circuit

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, April 14 2016
The No. 10 Corvette DP of Wayne Taylor Racing is looking for two straight wins in Long Beach. (Richard Prince/Chevrolet file photo)

The No. 10 Corvette DP of Wayne Taylor Racing is looking for two straight wins in Long Beach. (Richard Prince/Chevrolet file photo)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

While the start of this weekend’s WeatherTech United SportsCar Championship series race at the Long Beach street course is set for Saturday, big steps toward winning the event could be taken on Friday when qualifying for the 100-minute race is held.

Fact is, in-race passes are hard to come by on the funky 1.968-mile course. That means track position will be key, and that means qualifying will be a prime concern to the teams and drivers in both the prototype and GT Le Mans classes.

A year ago in Long Beach, Dane Cameron, co-driver of the No. 31 Action Express Whelen Engineering Chevrolet Corvette Daytona Prototype, was able to execute one of the few on-track passes.

This week, Cameron said the event – which hosts two practice sessions during the day Friday and then qualifying on Friday in the late afternoon – offers some mighty interesting challenges.

“That format places a premium on showing up ready to go and maximizing every opportunity,” he said. “It is tough to pass so qualifying well and using strategy and perfect pit stops to your advantage are a must at Long Beach.”

The course is not just tough in terms of passing. It’s lined with concrete barriers and catch fences and, because it is conducted over streets that see street-vehicle traffic the rest of the year, it has few of the damage-control amenities which modern road courses boast.

“Long Beach is an extremely difficult course,” said Christian Fittipaldi, co-driver of the No. 5 Action Express DP Corvette. “You have to respect the fact that it’s a street course so you don’t have a lot of run off area and room so if you mess up, it’s going to end your day quickly. There are a lot of technical zones and limited passing opportunities so you have to be quick, have a good handling car and constantly be ready to jump on opportunities.”

Fittipaldi’s driving partner and fellow defending series champion, Joao Barbosa, said even the best of cars can have trouble at Long Beach.

“As with any street course,” Barbosa said, “you have no margin for error so you have to hit your marks lap after lap and of course, slower traffic can really disrupt you. If you get stuck behind a lap car it can allow your competitors to get position on you and overtake.”

GT-class cars will be subject to the same problems at the prototypes. Hence, they, too, will be concentrating on qualifying during the Friday practices.

Bill Auberlen will co-drive the No. 25 IHG Rewards Club BMW M6 GTLM for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

He won a year ago, in the team’s BMW Z4. He’s back in an RLL M6.

“Getting the pole and setting the fast lap in our most recent race at Sebring showed the true potential of the new M6,” said Auberlen, who resides in nearby Redondo Beach. “Now we are heading to a race I’ve won twice in the last three years. I have high hopes for bringing BMW its first win with the all-new M6.”

Somebody, of course, is going to conquer the Long Beach challenges and win the race on Saturday night.

A good place to look for that would be in the paddocks of the folks who won there a year ago.

The Wayne Taylor Racing No. 10 DP Corvette is not only the defending champion at Long Beach, but it also finished as runner-up the year before.

The secret?

“We’ve always seemed to run well on both street courses and sprint races,” co-driver Jordan Taylor said. “We’ve had a first and second at Long Beach, and then two wins at Detroit. Everything has to go right in these races, from the drivers maximizing every lap, to the guys in the pits for that one crucial stop, to the strategy. So I think it just shows how well our team executes in those situations.”

In GT, the team that has won the first two races of the season certainly should be a strong bet to do well on Saturday.

Corvette Racing opened the 2016 with Tommy Milner, Oliver Gavin and Marcel Fassler winning back-to-back races in the GTLM class in the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in the No. 4 Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R.

“Tommy and I have had a fantastic start to the season, and we’re full of confidence,” Gavin said. “Our Corvette has been running extremely well. Coming into this race with the points lead is great. But the race at Long Beach is a totally different beast. You have to switch hats a little but fundamentally the car setup and how we attack a race weekend is somewhat similar to the other races. We know this race is extremely short and sweet. We have to execute thoroughly.”

The Long Beach race will be the first non-endurance event of the season. So what? So all teams will have to make adjustments for shorter races.

“One pit stop, one driver-change and a tight street circuit means everybody has to be on their game from start to finish,” Gavin said. “Taking on fuel and changing tires will take around 25 seconds and switching the drivers will take at least that amount of time, so the way Tommy (Milner) and I swap is going to be crucial. On-track we have to stay clean, as recovering from any misfortune is almost impossible, as we found in 2015.”

After giving the Ferrari 488 GT3 its first GT Daytona class victory at Sebring, Alessandro Balzan will be looking to do the same for Ferrari’s new 488 GTE in the GTLM class when he co-drives the No. 68 Scuderia Corsa entry with Daniel Serra.


“It is a big honor to get drive the Scuderia Corsa No. 68 Ferrari 488 GTE at Long Beach,”Balzan said. “The last time I drove a GTE car was in 2012 and I am looking forward to racing for the first time in the GT Le Mans class. The level of competition with all of the factory teams is very, very high but this is very fun for the drivers.

“I am very excited to race at Long Beach. I really enjoy the street circuits, and on the simulator where I am training it looks like a very fun and very challenging circuit. Long Beach is a very special event, and for us it is more than another race as it is the home circuit for Scuderia Corsa with the Ferrari South Bay, Ferrari Beverly Hills and the Ferrari Los Angeles dealerships near the circuit. And after winning at Sebring, I would love to bring them another great result.”

Ford Chip Ganassi Racing is set for the Long Beach debut of the attention-grabbing Ford GT, the first sprint race for the program. Joey Hand and Dirk Muller – who won at Long Beach as co-drivers in American Le Mans Series competition in 2011 – share the No. 66 entry. Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook will co-drive the No. 67 Ford GT.

Porsche brings a two-car lineup that includes defending WeatherTech Championship GTLM champion Patrick Pilet and 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans overall winners Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber. Pilet and Tandy co-drive the No. 911 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR, with Bamber sharing the No. 912 entry with Frederic Makowiecki.

“It’s a fabulous challenge to race non-stop at the limit on such a tight street circuit,” Pilet said. “There are virtually no run-off zones. Every mistake is punished immediately. If you take a corner too fast you’ll hit the wall. Still, it’s one of my favorite American racetracks. In 2008 I set my first pole there for Porsche. Perhaps now I could follow up with my first victory.”

Practice for the Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach begins at 7:40 a.m. PT on Friday, April 15, with qualifying that afternoon beginning at 5:35 p.m. PT. The race takes the green flag at 4:05 p.m. PT on Saturday, April 16.

Live television coverage beginning at 7 p.m. ET on FS2 and the FOX Sports GO app.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, April 14 2016
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