The shortest race of the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship packed a week’s worth of action into 100 minutes through the streets of downtown Long Beach.
Corvette Racing’s Tommy Milner emerged from a traffic jam in the final turn of the last lap to claim the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class victory for him and co-driver Oliver Gavin, the 2016 WeatherTech series GTLM champions.
“The Long Beach fans certainly got a show from all of our Michelin technical partner teams from Corvette Racing, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, Porsche Team GT, BMW Team RLL and Risi Competizione Ferrari,” said Sarah Robinson, motorsport marketing manager, Michelin North America.
“With 34 cars, the traffic was three wide at times and the racing was very close. We are pleased that despite the low grip levels on street circuits, all of our teams were able to put it all out there and race at very high levels, as evidenced by the narrow margins in lap times.”
As the leading GT Le Mans (GTLM) class trio of Corvette Racing’s No. 3 Antonio Garcia (Jan Magnussen), the No. 4 Corvette of Milner (Oliver Gavin) and the No. 67 Ford GT of Ryan Briscoe (Richard Westbrook) approached the finish, the track was blocked by a three car crash on the outside of the hairpin turn and a stalled car to the inside.
Milner had faced a similar scenario earlier in the race, choosing the outside line and losing. This time Garcia went to the outside, Milner stayed to the inside and emerged first. Briscoe’s Ford, Kevin Estre’s (Laurent Vanthoor) No. 912 Porsche and BMW Team RLL’s No. 25 Alexander Sims (Bill Auberlen) followed him through, dropping Garcia all the way down to a frustrating fifth place a few hundred yards later.
“We had stopped later than Antonio so we were on newer tires and raced hard to catch him, but getting by would have been very tough,” said Milner.
“My first reaction to the blocked track was that the race is over, but one of the cars in front of me got going and the lane opened up.
“I feel really bad for Antonio and Jan and the No.3 Corvette guys. The exact same thing happened to us earlier in the race and we asked about restoring the position that we lost but the officials view it as an incident in progress and it would be difficult to reestablish positions.”
Ironically, Milner was the victim at last year’s Long Beach round, leading with just two laps remaining when he was tagged in the door by the second place car at the hairpin and scrambled to finish second.
Qualifying proved just how incredibly tight the GTLM competition would be as the top seven GTLM cars qualified within 0.371 seconds on the 1.968 mile, 11 turn Long Beach street circuit.
The top five qualifiers came from five different manufacturers; Corvette, Ford, Ferrari, Porsche and BMW, with Corvette Racing’s Jan Magnussen taking the pole position with a lap of 1 minute 16.909 seconds.
The gap separating second to sixth place in qualifying was a mere 11 hundredths of a second on a 76.9 second lap time, on the tight street circuit where passing is difficult and track position essential.
Race pace was similarity tight as the top five GTLM finishers posted best laps within a narrow 0.374 second range.
Next stop for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is at Circuit of the Americas outside Austin, Texas, on May 6th.