By IMSA Wire Service
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Daytona Prototype international (DPi) and GT Le Mans (GTLM) machines return to action this Saturday, April 13 for the annual battle on the streets of Long Beach.
It’s the 100-minute BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach. Coming on the heels of the two longest races of the season – January’s Rolex 24 At Daytona and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts – this is one of the shortest races of the WeatherTech Championship season and is the first sprint race of the year.
Whether you’ll be in attendance at the #BUBBAGP this year (tickets are still available at GPLB.com), watching the live NBCSN telecast that starts at 5 p.m. ET in the U.S. or the IMSA.tv live stream from an international location, or listening to the IMSA Radio team call the action on IMSA.com, RadioLeMans.com or SirusXM Radio Channel 202 (Internet 972), there’s plenty to keep your eye on.
Here’s what you should watch for this weekend:
Qualifying is Important in DPi
Everybody loves to win Motul Pole Awards, regardless of the event, but this weekend in Long Beach, they’re even more valuable. With 19 cars on a 1.968-mile, 11-turn circuit, track position will be uber important.
Since the start of the WeatherTech Championship in 2014, the overall race-winning car has started from the front row four out of the past five years. Three times, the winner started from the pole position.
Last year’s winners – Filipe Albuquerque and Joao Barbosa – started the deepest in the field of a winner in recent memory, charging from fifth on the grid in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R to take the checkered flag.
Qualifying is Important in GTLM Too, but Not Quite as Much
In the GTLM class, none of the race-winning cars the past three years have started from the front row. Last year, the No. 4 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R duo of Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin won from fifth in the grid. The year before, they won after starting sixth. The No. 911 Porsche GT Team duo of Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet started from third in their Porsche 911 RSR before taking the victory.
But – and this is important because these races followed a similar format to what we’ll see this weekend – the GTLM winners in both 2014 (Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen in the No. 3 Corvette) and 2015 (Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner in the No. 25 BMW) did start from the class pole position.
Full-Course Cautions Could Be Scarce
Even though the concrete wall-lined Long Beach street circuit leaves little margin for error, there’s a good chance we won’t see many – or any – full-course caution periods on Saturday afternoon.
Back in 2014 and 2015 – when just the Prototype and GTLM classes competed at Long Beach – neither race had a full-course caution period. Essentially, it’s the same format we’ll see this weekend, albeit with a new moniker for the top class, DPi.
Last year’s race also included just Prototype and GTLM and yielded two full-course caution periods, while the 2016 race – which also included the Prototype Challenge (PC) class – had one FCY.
Keep an Eye on The Hairpin
If there is a full-course caution, an incident in the famed Long Beach hairpin – the 11th and final turn on the circuit that leads back onto the front stretch – very well could be the culprit.
With passing opportunities at a premium, the hairpin invites contact between the cars, especially toward the end of the race when desperation sets in. We’ve seen it before (the end of the GTLM races in both 2016 and 2017 immediately come to mind, but they’re far from the only incidents in the hairpin), and it’s a pretty safe bet that we’ll see it again.
Turn 1 is Where the Magic Happens
The Hairpin is not a passing spot on the Long Beach circuit, not that we haven’t seen drivers try it (see above). What is a passing spot, though, is on the opposite end of the Long Beach front stretch in Turn 1.
It’s rightfully the center of attention at the start of the race and any restarts, as whoever gets through there first knows that there’s not many other places where they can be overtaken. But Turn 1 passes for the lead aren’t strictly limited to starts and restarts.
Jordan Taylor secured his fourth consecutive BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix victory in the run to Turn 1 late in the 2017 race aboard the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R, charging past Ryan Dalziel’s No. 2 Nissan DPi in traffic.
Races are won, and lost, in Turn 1 at Long Beach.