It’s a whole new ballgame for IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship drivers this weekend at the BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach.
After 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 last month — Saturday’s 100-minute sprint on the streets of Long Beach requires a completely different approach for the drivers and teams.
“It’s kind of a shock to the system, for sure, when you come from these really long weekends where we get a lot of track time to here, where we don’t get as much track time before and it is a really short race,” said No. 6 Acura Team Penske ARX-05 DPi driver Dane Cameron. “It’s a two-day weekend and it’s over before you know it.
“You have to be perfect to win at any venue in IMSA but for sure on these street course, 100-minute races. There is no margin for error. It is one, maybe two pit stops, depending on yellows, so it has to be perfect for us to win. Qualifying is really important because it can be difficult to pass here, so everything has to be perfect. It is nice to come to a track now for a second time with this program, so we have some notes and a memory bank we can use to be stronger than we were last year.”
“It is crazy in the way that works that we go from a 24-hour and a 12-hour race to a 100-minute race,” added No. 4 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R driver Oliver Gavin, who is going for his third consecutive Long Beach victory in the GTLM class. “It is always so intense here. You have to be on your game the whole time.
“If you slip up by a quarter of an inch you can end up in the wall. It is short but it is super intense. So, you need full focus and all of the guys are very well prepared and well-versed in racing and competing here since we have been here every year since 2007. We have enjoyed the racing here, had a lot of success here, and hoping for another victory here on Saturday evening.”
Bourdais to pinch hit for Hand in No. 66 Ford GT
News broke Wednesday afternoon that Sebastien Bourdais would be stepping into the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Ford GT this weekend in place of regular driver Joey Hand, who will miss the race due to flu-like symptoms.
It will be the third consecutive race for Bourdais in the No. 66 alongside season-long driver Dirk Muller. Bourdais, Mueller and Hand co-drove to the 2017 Rolex 24 At Daytona GTLM victory and the GTE Pro win in the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“Well first and foremost, I hope Joey gets well soon,” Bourdais said. “The team obviously needs him. I am going to be a bit of a super sub here this weekend in IndyCar and the Ford GT, but I am looking forward to it. This is a great place, but I have never driven anything else around here other than an Indy car or Champ Car. But you are never too old to learn new things.”
It will be Bourdais’ first sports car start at Long Beach, where he won three consecutive Champ Car races from 2005 through 2007. He also will drive in Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach IndyCar race in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan Honda.
“Sebring is the only place that I have driven both cars,” said Bourdais. “The GT is a lot about flow. Braking late and carrying a lot of speed is the key in that car. The grip looks quite high in the GT cars around here. In those slow-speed corners, an open-wheel car is not super agile and there are a few of those here. It is going to be an interesting challenge that I am looking forward to.”
Montoya and Castroneves looking to add sports car trophies at Long Beach
Juan Pablo Montoya’s first Champ Car victory came on the streets of Long Beach back in 1999. Helio Castroneves won here in the 2001 Champ Car race, and also won the Indy Lights race at Long Beach in 1997.
But neither one of the Acura Team Penske teammates have yet won the BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach. They’re looking to change that this weekend.
Montoya will share the No. 6 Acura ARX-05 DPI with Cameron, while Castroneves is co-driving the No. 7 Acura DPi with Ricky Taylor. Both Montoya and Castroneves were inducted into the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach’s Motorsports Walk of Fame last year.
“I am so excited to be back in Long Beach,” said Castroneves. “This place is about tradition. I’ve been very fortunate to win in IndyCar. I wasn’t able to win in a sports car last year, but now we are really excited because Acura is the main sponsor of the race and we’d love to combine not only great performance, but a victory as well.”
Montoya won the Motul Pole Award in qualifying here last year and acknowledged that racing the sports car is quite a bit different at Long Beach.
“There’s been races this year where you drive for 15 minutes and a caution comes out and you do a driver change,” Montoya said. “Or you don’t get a caution and you drive for an hour and a half and the other guy drives for 20 minutes. It’s a little different.
“The way we look at it, the guy who qualifies, his focus is to get the car in the best possible position and the other guy is closing. We will keep swapping all year. We are pretty comparable, there are tracks where I do a better job than him, and there are tracks that are the other way around.”