The annual 100-minute IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship dash for cash on the streets of Long Beach, California has not necessarily been known as an action-filled event, however the prestige of winning an event in America’s biggest street course race weekend every year makes it worthwhile for the 25 teams set to contest on Saturday afternoon. The event, which started as a stop for the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series in 2006 and then changed over to the American Le Mans Series sthe following year, has seen multiple winners in a setting where unlike at the combined 36 hours of running at Daytona and Sebring to start the season, places a greater importance on grid position. With most teams in the Prototype and Prototype Challenge divisions likely to require two trips on the pit lane to make the distance, the GT Le Mans runners could potentially make it on just one stop, pending on the amount of full course caution time involved.
The first two editions of the Bubba Burger Sports Car Grand Prix of Long Beach under the current sports car sanctioning body, have seen Daytona Prototypes claim the overall victory on the 1.968 mile layout, with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Riley-Ford DP winning in 2014 and Wayne Taylor Racing’s Chevrolet Corvette DP crossing the finish line first last year. The DPs are likely to make it three-for-three for two reasons in 2016. First, the event will be without the services of Daytona and Sebring double winners Tequila Patron ESM, who have crossed the Atlantic Ocean to run a Ligier JS P2 coupe with Nissan power in the FIA World Endurance Championship, which kickoffs this weekend at Silverstone Circuit in England. Second, following the second win last month in the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, IMSA’s Balance of Performance settings cut turbo boost maximums on the Honda V-6 engine, making the chances for IMSA full time runners Michael Shank Racing, who also runs the Ligier-Honda combination that much more difficult.
Equally concerning for MSR has been a somewhat iffy track record on the street circuits last year. Despite showing strong pace on the more permanent circuits, the Ligier coupe struggled on the street layouts only claiming one podium finish with a third at the Raceway at Belle Isle in Detroit. The odds also appear to be stacked against the LMP2-based cars from both DeltaWing and SpeedSource Mazda as well. Although both teams have shown marked improvement in terms of pace, the tight confines could limit their output likewise. With those parameters, the role of pre-race favorites rest with the quartet of Chevrolet Corvette DPs on the grid, which includes WTRs brother act of Ricky and Jordan Taylor, who are looking to bounce back from a DNF at Sebring after claiming runner-up honors at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Also equally potent are last year’s Detroit winners from Action Express Racing, Dane Cameron and Eric Curran. Visitflorida.com Racing also poses a threat, however the team will be without the services of Ryan Dalziel who joins ESM at Silverstone this weekend.
After being a two-class act the past two years, the Prototype Challenge division joins the mix for 2016 at Long Beach with the focus set on a possible duel between Daytona winners JDC-Miller Motorsports and Sebring winners CORE autosport. Both teams’ driver lineups appear potent, with a slight nod towards JDC’s Stephan Simpson and Misha Goikhberg. Of course CORE’s lead pilot Colin Braun is perhaps the best to offer in the division, however a strong start from team boss Jon Bennett could be required to keep them in the mix with the short time frame on Saturday. Among the second tier, Performance Tech Motorsports and PR1-Mathiasen Motorsports, while Starworks Motorsport’s could draw some interest as Ashley Freiberg makes her PC debut at Long Beach, after claiming runner up honors in GT Daytona last month at Sebring.
GT Le Mans has been the most up for grabs fight at Long Beach over the past five year track record and 2016 should be no different. Although reigning race champions BMW Team Rahal feature a faster car with the new BMW M6 GTLM, a reduction in power via the latest IMSA BoP could put their chances to repeat in some peril. While the “beemer brigade” has won three times at Long Beach, Corvette Racing has the other two available victories under their belt, impressive considering the latest GM masterpiece, the Corvette C7.R has not necessarily taken well to the street circuit layouts. The question mark is Porsche North America, who outside of the wet track running at Sebring last month, have been largely outclassed since placing third to a Corvette 1-2 at Daytona. The 911 RSRs dominated the sprint event last year in their run to the season title and will need to call upon them to defend in 2016. Ferrari’s new 488 GTE and the all-new Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT are a step off the big three at this point, however increased development work could make them a greater contender as the season continues if it does not occur prematurely this weekend.
Prototype: Action Express Racing. This type of event favors a sprint race ace such as Dane Cameron in the team’s No. 31 Corvette DP and the solid tandem of Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa in the No. 5 machine. A back to 100 percent Barbosa could be the key factor to put the Mustang Sampling-backed machine over the top at Long Beach.
Prototype Challenge: JDC-Miller Motorsports. Normally it would be foolish to bet against CORE, however the lack of pace from Jon Bennett may prevent them from being able to claim the top step of the podium this time around. If Misha Goikhberg can avoid trouble, the yellow and green-liveried entry should score its second win in three races.
GT Le Mans: Corvette Racing. Normally the role of second fiddle has befallen upon the Corvette tandem of Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin, as opposed to teammates Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen over the last two years. However, the roles have been reversed as the No. 4 car looks for its third-straight victory to open 2016. If the returns from qualifying are positive versus Porsche and BMW the odds of continuing the trend increase further.
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