By IMSA Wire Service
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Saturday’s 100-minute BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach provided a departure from the endurance racing mindset of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s first two rounds – January’s Rolex 24 At Daytona and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts – to a sprint racing approach.
But there was no shortage of strategy, intrigue and drama on the famed Southern California street circuit. Here are five things we took away from the weekend.
1. Portugal, The Men
This was the first race for Joao Barbosa and Filipe Albuquerque – two natives of Portugal – as a driving duo in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R, and while nearly 48 hours have passed since Albuquerque brought home the team’s second victory of the season, chances are both men are – to borrow a phrase – “feeling it still.”
Neither Barbosa nor Albuquerque put a wheel wrong, which can be easier said than done on the unforgiving, concrete wall-lined circuit. They also benefited from masterful strategy by the Action Express Racing team, as the Gary Nelson-led squad proved again that it belongs in the same conversation as one of the very best teams in motorsports.
It was the team’s first victory at Long Beach, which has been a challenging venue for Action Express over the years. While the No. 5 had finished on the Long Beach podium twice previously, finishing second in 2016 and third in 2014, both the No. 5 and the team’s No. 31 entry also finished in the bottom half of the field last year and in 2015.
Even better for the No. 5 team, the victory moved them to the top of the WeatherTech Championship Prototype standings with three of 10 races now complete. Barbosa and Albuquerque are five points ahead of their No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi teammates, Eric Curran and Felipe Nasr, who missed the podium for the first time this season with a seventh-place outing at Long Beach.
“It was one of those weekends where you really didn’t know what to expect and it fell our way for the win,” Barbosa said. “It was a great points day and nice to get some back after a tough Sebring (where the No. 5 team finished 10th in the Prototype class). The two pit stops were great, and it was a good run for us.”
2. Wait Continues for Acura Team Penske
After Friday’s qualifying session, which saw Juan Pablo Montoya score the first WeatherTech Championship pole position for the new Acura DPi program, and continuing through the first half of Saturday’s race, it seemed likely that the team would at least score its first podium finish in the series – if not its first victory.
Both the No. 6 ARX-05 shared by Montoya and Dane Cameron and the No. 7 of Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor passed the halfway point inside the top three before different circumstances dropped both cars down the running order.
While most of the Prototype field – including the No. 7 machine and the eventual race-winning No. 5 Cadillac – pitted under full-course caution just shy of the 40-minute mark in the race, Nasr stayed out in the race-leading No. 31 Cadillac, as did Montoya. It was a gamble that did not pay dividends as the lost track position for both the No. 31 and the 6 proved to be insurmountable in the end.
“When the [caution] came out, obviously, it was a gamble to pit,” Cameron said. “We stayed out, because we were leading, and ultimately it proved to be the wrong thing to do. That cost us track position, but fortunately a few things rolled our way later in the race.”
It was a different set of circumstances for the No. 7 team as Taylor was in contention for a podium with less than 15 minutes remaining before he was passed by his brother, Jordan Taylor, in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi for third. When all was said and done, Ricky Taylor fell all the way back to sixth at the checkered flag, one spot behind Cameron.
“We gained spots with that strategy and we had decent pace throughout most of the run,” Ricky Taylor said. “Unfortunately, when the tires ‘fell off’ at the end, I couldn’t hold off a couple of cars behind me. But we can look at the fact the team executed really well, and we showed pace throughout the weekend. Just a few more details here and there and we can get our first win at Mid-Ohio.”
3. Speaking of the Taylor Brothers
One of the key storylines heading into the weekend was if either one of the Taylor brothers would be able to extend their Long Beach winning streak to four consecutive races.
In a word, the answer was ‘No.’ However, Jordan Taylor and the No. 10 Cadillac DPi team from Wayne Taylor Racing still do have a four-race podium streak at Long Beach. Jordan and co-driver Renger van der Zande came home with a third-place trophy, after Jordan came out on top in a somewhat intense battle with Ricky for the position in the closing laps.
“I think Ricky was a little nice to us,” said Jordan. “He was struggling big time with his car. I could see him fighting it everywhere, just kind of hanging on. I put some pressure on him and I was going to go for it, but I saw him defend and he went a little wide, so I was able to capitalize on it. It was a good battle. Thankfully we didn’t touch each other or my dad would have been pretty upset. I think we are going to have some fun racing each other this year.”
4. Double Podium for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing
While Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and the No. 4 Corvette Racing team claimed the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class victory for the second consecutive year in the BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach, it was a solid Saturday for both Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GTs, who came home second and third in the race.
Leading the way for the team was the No. 67 duo of Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook, who finished a close second – which got even closer when Milner had to make a big save in Turn 10 on the final lap to prevent crashing. It was the second podium result in three races for Briscoe and Westbrook – who won January’s Rolex 24 – as was their third top-four run of the year to put them atop the point standings by seven over Milner and Gavin.
“It was great result for us,” Briscoe said. “We always want to win and we’re always prepared to win, but realistically, with this level of competition, you just do your best and celebrate when it all comes together. I think today’s second place is a huge result for us from where we started after we struggled to find pace in practice and qualifying.”
To get the runner-up spot, Briscoe had to get around his teammate, Dirk Mueller in the No. 66 Ford GT that Joey Hand started from the class pole position. Briscoe respected his team owner’s golden rule, ‘Don’t hit each other,’ to cleanly take second, and Mueller ultimately brought the No. 66 home in third.
“We got hit from behind on Lap 1 and that hurt us throughout the race, but we still had a pretty quick car,” Hand said. “All in all, I think it was a good day for us. It was a good points day. We just have to keep collecting points.”
5. One That Got Away from Porsche
With its GTLM victory, Chevrolet moved into a tie with Porsche as the winningest manufacturer of IMSA races at Long Beach. Each manufacturer now has eight Long Beach wins.
However, the 2018 BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach became a missed opportunity for Porsche to retain sole possession of that statistical lead, and even grow its margin. After qualifying second in the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR, Laurens Vanthoor took the lead on the opening lap and stayed there throughout his driving stint before pitting under caution to turn the car over to co-driver Earl Bamber.
Bamber, a two-time overall 24 Hours of le Mans winner now competing full time in the WeatherTech Championship for the Porsche GT Team, battled past Alexander Sims in the No. 25 BMW for the lead after Sims gained track position via a different pit strategy. Once he took the lead, it seemed likely Bamber would stay there for the remainder of the race, but disaster struck immediately following a restart with under 25 minutes to go as white smoke poured out of the right-front of the car when Bamber returned to race pace.
“The guys did one quick pit stop and we were holding a comfortable lead,” Bamber said. “But then something went wrong with the suspension and that was the end of our race.”
The No. 912 wound up seventh in class, one spot behind teammates Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet in the No. 911.