Cadillac Racing’s 1-2 finish in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach – the third round of the 2022 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship – was anything but cut and dry.
“That was a little more difficult than it should have been,” admitted winning driver Sebastien Bourdais.
Bourdais, the fastest qualifier in the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class and early race leader, slipped up just seven minutes into the 100-minute race while trying to lap a GTD class Porsche at the iconic hairpin of the Long Beach street course.
The wall contact was light, but Bourdais struggled to get the No. 01 Cadillac DPi-V.R prepared by Chip Ganassi Racing back in gear and he fell to the back of the field, 21 seconds behind his teammate Alex Lynn in the No. 02 Cadillac.
It made little difference to the 43-year-old Frenchman, who had smashed the Long Beach IMSA track record by nearly two seconds in qualifying. Bourdais required 22 laps, or a little under half an hour, to work his way past the five cars in front of him, culminating in a pass for the lead on Lynn in Turn 8.
Not only did he make up a 21-second deficit and pass five competitors, he did it while under instructions to save fuel due to a lack of telemetry data.
“You kind of go into a bit of a trance when you try to pull off something that really shouldn’t be possible,” Bourdais said, shortly after handing off the leading Cadillac to co-driver Renger van der Zande.
“You’re on fire because you’re so mad at yourself. I guess I’m accustomed to stupid mistakes and trying to make up for that. Luckily, there wasn’t much damage and I’m just glad we got the lead back.”
Van der Zande was able to maintain the lead over Earl Bamber in the No. 02 Cadillac through three full course cautions and restarts in the second half of the race. He pulled away for a 3.761-second margin of victory after completing 73 laps of the 1.968-mile Long Beach layout.
Tristian Vautier and Richard Westbrook claimed third place in the No. 5 JDC Miller MotorSports Cadillac after a furious four-car scrap in the final laps.
“I think we learned something today, which is don’t make a Frenchman angry,” said van der Zande. “He (screwed) up; he put it in the wall, but then he did well by moving up the order and he gave the car to me in the lead.
“Amazing job by Sebastien, and I just had to drive it home,” he added. “We had a fantastic car – all smiles at Chip Ganassi Racing.”
It was the first win of the 2022 season for the No. 01 team after they encountered difficulties in the opening two endurance rounds at Daytona and Sebring. Bourdais claimed his first sports car trophy at Long Beach after earning three wins in Indy cars; it was also van der Zande’s first victory on the Southern California streets.
“I’ve had some pretty awesome days on street courses,” Bourdais said. “When you have the confidence on a street course and really dig deep, you can really switch on the tires in a different way and get to a different level.
“When you get in the zone and can really challenge the course and feel under control, it’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever experienced in a race car.”
The Heart of Racing’s No. 23 Aston Martin Vantage GT3 may not have been the fastest GTD PRO car in today’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. But drivers Ross Gunn and Alex Riberas never put a wheel wrong and, in contrast to some of the competition, the Heart of Racing crew was flawless in the pits. As a result, Riberas took the checkered flag 1.4 seconds clear of Ben Barnicoat in the No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3 to claim the first GTD PRO win for Aston Martin and the Heart of Racing squad.
“We had a very clean race,” said Gunn. “We just chipped away at it and made no mistakes, then this guy (Riberas) was awesome and brought it home.”
Riberas had his work cut out in the final stint, as a series of full-course cautions repeatedly negated any advantage he had been able to eke-out over the second placed Lexus.
“It’s hard not to have your rhythm disrupted with all those yellows,” said Riberas, who posted the best lap of the race for the winning car at 1 minute, 19.010 seconds. “I just had to focus on not overthinking things and get back in my rhythm on the restarts.”
Barnicoat and Jack Hawksworth drove a similarly clean race and the Vasser Sullivan Racing crew executed their lone pit stop to perfection, enabling the No. 14 Lexus to come home 1.4 seconds adrift of the winners.
Things weren’t as smooth for the third place No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C8.R GTD. Having started from pole and led the first third of the race, Jordan Taylor brought the ‘Vette into the pits for fuel and tires on Lap 29. In a strange sequence of events during the tire change, one of the Corvette’s wheel nuts rolled into pit lane into the path of Mathieu Jaminet in the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche GT3 R which was running third in class at the time. The wayward nut punctured the Porsche’s radiator, knocking the car out of the race and resulting in a drive-through penalty to the Corvette Racing entry.
GT Daytona (GTD)
Paul Miller Racing had lots of ground to make up, changing manufacturers in the offseason and not taking possession of its BMW M4 GT3 until February. It mattered not on Saturday as Madison Snow and Bryan Sellers drove the No. 1 BMW to the GT Daytona (GTD) class victory at Long Beach in the opening round of the IMSA WeatherTech Sprint Cup.
Starting from the pole position that Snow earned in qualifying on Friday, the No. 1 led throughout, surrendering the point only briefly during the pit-stop sequence midway through the 100-minute race. Sellers crossed the finish line 1.886 seconds ahead of Mario Farnbacher in the No. 66 Gradient Racing Acura NSX GT3.
“You have to make sure you win on days like today,” said Sellers, who picked up his 13th career IMSA victory. “When they’re right in front of you, you have to win and that’s when it really comes down to everyone: the team, the drivers and everyone putting it together. That’s what I’m most proud of. You get the opportunity, and you don’t give it away because you don’t get them very often.”
It also gave PMR, Sellers and Snow a second straight Long Beach win. The 2021 triumph came in a Lamborghini Huracán GT3. Team owner Paul Miller made the move to BMW and its brand-new M4 for 2022, but it forced the team to miss the Rolex 24 At Daytona in January waiting on the new car.
A positive sign came in the No. 1 BMW’s debut last month at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts, when the car led 33 early laps before being caught in an incident when another car spun. Additional confirmation came in the dominant drive to victory on Saturday, though Snow knows there’s much more knowledge yet to acquire with the BMW.
“It definitely adds confidence,” Snow said after gathering his eighth career win. “With Lamborghini, we started in 2016 so we had years of that experience. Now we’re in our second race with BMW. It’s a great car, we just will learn a lot as time goes.”
Both of the winning drivers benefitted by having a GTD PRO car between them and the rest of the GTD field throughout the race. Sellers was especially happy to see Antonio Garcia in the No. 3 Corvette between him and the hard-charging Farnbacher in the No. 66 Acura as the clock wound down.
“Mario is extremely strong,” Sellers said. “Anytime you get into the last 15 minutes of a race, he’s not a guy that you really want behind you trying to hold him off for the win, so Antonio provided us a great buffer.
“It’s our second race with BMW and I think it’s the M4’s first win in WeatherTech racing, so it’s exciting for us,” Sellers added. “I’m really proud of what we were able to do with virtually no time in the car.”