The first sprint race of the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) era for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship produced intense competition between multiple manufacturers, daring strategy, a thrilling finish and a historical first victory in the category for Porsche Penske Motorsport.
Nick Tandy kept the No. 6 Porsche 963 within striking distance of pole winner Filipe Albuquerque (No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-06) in the opening stint of Saturday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. The Acura made its only scheduled pit stop just over 40 minutes into the 1-hour, 40-minute timed race, changing to a fresh set of Michelin tires for co-driver Ricky Taylor.
The Porsche stopped a lap later, and crucially, did not take on new tires. That left Mathieu Jaminet, who took over for Tandy, and Porsche Penske Motorsport’s No. 7 car shared by Felipe Nasr and Matt Campbell running 1-2. They enjoyed a comfortable cushion but were entering uncharted territory in terms of tire degradation and wear.
Still, it was worth the gamble because the Porsche drivers didn’t believe they had the ability to win the race on pure speed.
“We kind of knew from practice and qualifying that our pace was probably not going to win us a race,” Tandy related. “We wanted to try something different, and one of our options was to try and negate the tire warm-up issue that many teams have had in GTP this year, so we went with no tires.
“What we didn’t know was how the tire was going to end up over the last 40 minutes because nobody had run the tire that long.”
Sure enough, the Porsches began experiencing significant rear tire wear in the closing laps. Campbell cleanly defended second place, at one point losing the left rear wing endplate after contact from Taylor’s Acura. He got a slight reprieve when Taylor brushed the Turn 8 wall with 13 minutes remaining, but Taylor recovered and passed Campbell for second place with nine minutes to go and a seven-second deficit to the leader.
Jaminet got caught in traffic with under three minutes remaining, allowing Taylor to close right up. Time for two dramatic laps.
The Acura drafted the Porsche down Shoreline Drive, drawing level under braking into Turn 1. But Taylor misjudged the maneuver and skidded wide into a tire barrier while third-place runner Connor de Phillippi in the No. 25 BMW M Team RLL BMW M Hybrid V8 just squeaked past.
With the No. 10 Acura embedded in the tires, the race ended under caution, Jaminet and Tandy celebrating a monumental first win for the Porsche 963. De Phillippi and Nick Yelloly claimed second place in the No. 25 BMW, with Campbell and Nasr completing the podium third in the No. 7.
The win was the eighth in WeatherTech Championship competition for Jaminet and the 19th for Tandy. It was also the 33rd IMSA triumph for the Penske team, the first since WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in late 2020.
“(Taylor) had fresher tires and after I got caught in traffic with two laps to go, it made sense that he went for it,” Jaminet said. “I braked really late, and I saw him going past. I thought, ‘If he can make it stop, I’ll be impressed.’ I saw him lock up and he went straight in the fence.
“I knew it was going to be very close,” he added. “I just tried to make no mistakes with the traffic. As a team, you need to figure out the opportunities and take what’s there when it’s in front of you. Today was a real team effort, in the pits and with car No. 7. Everybody can be proud today.”
The Porsche strategy worked well because prior to the finish under yellow, the race featured only one other full-course caution, right at the start when Sebastien Bourdais experienced a braking issue just before Turn 1, spun and contacted the outside wall. Yelloly’s BMW tapped Tom Blomqvist in the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura ARX-06 into a spin, putting the outside front row qualifier a lap down.
Albuquerque led the first 30 laps before Jaminet took over at the front for the final 43 tours.
Like the No. 10 Acura, the No. 25 BMW executed a four-tire pit stop and De Phillippi looked racy at the end as he closed on Jaminet and Taylor prior to Taylor’s crash. The No. 24 BMW driven by Philipp Eng and Augusto Farfus finished fourth.
“Nick drove a brilliant first stint and it was clear we had the pace,” De Phillippi said after the No. 25 car’s second consecutive runner-up finish. “We ran a little longer than everyone else to see what they were doing with the tires. We were hoping to have a little better tires at the end – which we did. I’m really proud of the team.”
Qualifying and strategy are often keys to success in winning the 100-minute Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. Vasser Sullivan used both to its advantage Saturday to claim the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GTD PRO class win with Jack Hawksworth and Ben Barnicoat aboard the team’s No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3.
Hawksworth qualified on the GTD PRO class pole position, but second among all GT cars behind GT Daytona (GTD) class polesitter, Marco Sorensen in the No. 27 Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3.
The Englishman got around the Dane off the start as the GT field avoided a pair of spinning Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) cars on the first-lap run down to Turn 1. That positioned Hawksworth clear of the GTD class leader as a buffer to the rest of the GTD PRO field, and set up the Vasser Sullivan crew to deliver a pit stop to ensure the car stayed up front once the pit window opened.
Pitting shortly after the 40-minute mark, the last of the three leading GTD PRO contenders to do so, Hawksworth turned over the No. 14 Lexus to co-driver Barnicoat. His countryman brought it home by 2.785 seconds to take this car’s third win in the last six GTD PRO races, dating to 2022 (Road America, Motul Petit Le Mans). The win is Hawksworth’s 10th in the WeatherTech Championship and Barnicoat’s fourth. The car led all 73 laps of the race, as well.
“Perfect weekend for us, really,” Hawksworth said. “One of the best executed races we’ve been a part of. It was good to clear Sorensen off the start, and that put our Lexus RC F GT3 up at the front. Had an amazing pit stop and then Ben drove his tail off from there.”
The win is a banner one for the Vasser Sullivan team, co-owned by James “Sulli” Sullivan and Jimmy Vasser. It’s the team’s first street course victory since Hawksworth and Richard Heistand won at Detroit in 2019. Vasser’s got a third Long Beach win now, having won as an owner with Will Power in the Champ Car finale in 2008 and as an IndyCar driver in 1996.
With finishes of third, second and first to start the 2023 season, the No. 14 pairing is in good position to contend for the GTD PRO class championship. Unofficially, the No. 14 pair lead the No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 pairing of Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella by 73 points.
Behind the Lexus, Corvette Racing finished second with Jordan Taylor and Antonio Garcia sharing the No. 3 Corvette Racing C8.R GTD. Pfaff Motorsports completed the podium with Patrick Pilet and Klaus Bachler in the No. 9 Porsche 911 GT3 R (992).
Taylor made his way past Bachler in the second stage of the race, and the forceful pass was reviewed with no disciplinary action from race officials. Taylor and Bachler both put on late charges, Taylor on Barnicoat and Bachler on Taylor, but neither made a move past their rival in front.
After both cars’ 2022 Long Beach race was sabotaged by a freak incident when a wayward Corvette wheel nut leapt into and punctured the Pfaff Porsche’s radiator on a pit stop, both cars were back on the podium Saturday.
“Starting P3 on a street course isn’t a terrible place to start. We’re here to win.”
Words from Madison Snow after Friday qualifying proved prescient as he and Bryan Sellers prepared to win their third straight Long Beach GTD race in the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing BMW M4 GT3 from third place on the starting grid.
With a team known for executing excellent strategic moves and pit stops from the box, the No. 1 car vaulted from that third place to first after the only pit stop of the race. For that, the team’s third straight win in Long Beach’s 100-minute race was achieved.
The pivotal moment in class came after the 35-minute minimum drive time window opened for GTD teams to switch drivers. With 65 minutes remaining in the race, Sorensen (No. 27 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin), Frankie Montecalvo (No. 12 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3) and Mike Skeen (No. 32 Team Korthoff Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3) all dipped into Long Beach’s long, winding and curved pit lane for the driver change.
Snow stayed out a lap later on an overcut, with the pressure now on the PMR crew to ensure a clean handoff from Snow to Sellers and exit ahead of the No. 27. The BMW came back onto the track just ahead of the Aston Martin.
From there, all Sellers had to do was keep the hard-charging Roman De Angelis – and the rest of the GTD contenders – behind him to ensure the victory.
“Certainly, everyone that’s been up here has talked about track position and how hard it is to pass,” Sellers said. “Our race was decided in the pits. I think were three or so seconds faster than the Aston in the pits. Madison had two really good in laps, which were key. We reviewed the race from last year.”
The win is Sellers’ 16th and Snow’s 11th in IMSA and their second straight in 2023 after also claiming the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring victory. It also marks one year since Sellers and Snow delivered the first BMW M4 GT3 win in the WeatherTech Championship.
Sorensen and De Angelis finished second in their No. 27 Aston Martin, 4.468 seconds in arrears, with Montecalvo and Aaron Telitz third in the No. 12 Vasser Sullivan Lexus.
The No. 1 pair of Sellers and Snow unofficially leads the No. 27 pair of De Angelis and Sorensen by 99 points after three races, with Montecalvo, Telitz and the No. 12 Lexus just one point farther back.
The next round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is the Motul Course de Monterey Powered by Hyundai N, May 12-14 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.