By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
LONG BEACH, California– Tristan Nunez took no prisoners at the start of Saturday’s BUBBA Burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach and it showed. The No. 77 Mazda Team Joest RT24-P DPi went from fifth to third at the start of the 100-minute race but ultimately finished fourth with co-driver Oliver Jarvis in the third race of the 2019 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
The Florida native muscled his way past Juan Pablo Montoya’s No. 6 Acura Team Penske ARX-05 DPi and got into third place by the first corner. Thanks to studying video of the 2017 start at Long Beach, Nunez figured out how to get more spots at the start.
“I studied those videos and saw that I could’ve gone and taken the lead (in 2017) if I would’ve gone to the inside and that’s exactly what I did but a few more spots back,” said Nunez. “I was three wide, a little touch but kept it clean, ended up third from fifth.”
Nunez had to go head to head with one of the hardest charging drivers in the IMSA championship in Montoya but after committing himself to the move, there was no turning back.
“I was questioning it but I was already fully committed at that point and I had the inside so I was prepared to hit,” said Nunez. “I was prepared for a little contact but I didn’t want to ruin his race either so I tried to make it as gentle as possible but I was prepared for a little bit of contact going in there.”
Nunez got to second place soon after the green flag came out following the race’s first full course yellow and stayed there until handing the car off to Jarvis at the first pit stop. Jarvis then got the lead after the No. 50 Juncos Racing Cadillac pitted on Lap 39 and stayed there until his pit stop six laps later. However, with a pit time of just over a minute compared to the 57.1 seconds of the No. 5 Action Express Cadillac and the 58.4 seconds of the No. 7 Team Penske Acura entries, the Mazda lost those two places off of pit lane and lost another place to Dane Cameron in the No. 6 Penske Acura after being on cold tires.
“I came out of the pits and we had cold left side tires and they were already on warm tires at that point,” said Jarvis. “They managed to pass, unfortunately but to be honest after that we just didn’t have the pace they had. They were comfortably pulled away. Really disappointing, I thought that was ours for the taking, it just didn’t happen.
“We’ve got a lot to analyze because I honestly believe we could’ve won that race. Tristan had a superb opening stint, honestly hats off to him, mega job and we just didn’t quite put it together. We need to analyze why we lost the race in the pits or track position in the pits and why we didn’t have the pace in the second stint because the middle of the race I was just controlling it, really comfortable having to save a bit of fuel but the pace was really good and then all of a sudden it dropped off a cliff.”
Jarvis brought the No. 77 entry home fourth, just over 21 seconds off of the winners from Action Express Racing. Jarvis’s frustration at finishing fourth was evident after losing much time to traffic late in the race. From Laps 54 to 64, the gap between him and the leader nearly doubled after getting through all eight GTLM cars.
“We were up near the front but we want to be first, second, fighting for the win, not fourth,” said Jarvis. “I’m really disappointed, we’ve got to really analyze what happened because we’re here to win races and that was a missed opportunity today.”
The Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is scheduled for the weekend of May 3rd-5th.