After taking the pole with a record-smashing lap on Friday afternoon, Sebastien Bourdais said that the No. 01 Chip Ganasssi Cadillac squad needed to avoid shooting themselves in the foot like they had at Daytona and Sebring. Little did Bourdais know that he would be the one pulling the trigger and the surgeon removing the slug and sewing up the wound.
Bourdais got a strong start to begin the 100-minute IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race and began to put a gap on the field, but as he began lapping the GTD cars he took a narrow line to go inside Kyle Washington in the GMG Porsche at the hairpin. Bourdais couldn’t make the turn and nosed into the outside wall. By the time he recovered and headed back down Shoreline Drive, he was last in the DPi field.
“It was a little bit more complicated than it should have been,” Bourdais said. “It was an amazing weekend for the No. 01 Cadillac. Just a magical car in qualifying — great lap, great feeling and everything seemed to be under control. Had a good start, and then Alex was following along and kind of pulled away. We’re making a fuel number and it was like, ‘OK, we got this.’ And then we started to get traffic and I got down the inside of that Porsche and, for whatever reason, he kind of drifted a bit to the right and put me quite a bit more inside than I wanted to be, but it should have been fine. And then for one reason or another — it must have been marbles or something else — the front just basically took off. And although it was going pretty slowly, I didn’t even make the corner whatsoever.”
In the tight confines of the Long Beach streets that should have been a death sentence, leaving Bourdais and Renger van der Zande possibly in the same position they finished the last two races. Bourdais, though, had no intention of that happening and with determination and a bit of luck he drove back to the front, handed the car to van Der Zande in the lead and celebrated in victory lane afterward.
“It’s one of those times you’re on fire because you’re mad at yourself,” he said. “You go into a bit of a trance when you’re trying to pull off something that shouldn’t be possible.”
Bourdais began hammering out fast laps, the quickest being a new track record at 1m10.317s. With teammate Alex Lynn in the No. 02 Cadillac out front, followed by Tom Blomqvist in the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb Agajanian Acura and Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Racing Cadillac, Bourdais started back toward the rest of the DPi field, aided by a car that was doing everything he, and later van Der Zande, wanted.
“We have an engineer, John Hennek…He’s very funny because he’s always worried that his car is not fast enough and he always has the fastest car,” said van Der Zande “Today the car was amazing. I never had a car at Long Beach like this – I could hit a curb and I could go power. It was all in control and amazing feeling. It was amazing to see angry Seb. That was amazing because you can’t really pass at this track. I don’t know how he did it but he got it done. He gave it to me in the lead and then from there, I wouldn’t say it’s easy, but to control the race is kind of easy. I had good restarts and brought it home for victory.”
Bourdais’s first position came easily. When the start was clean and the first minutes of the race went green, the DPi teams started to think that it might go green for the distance and it would be a two-stop race. Wayne Taylor Racing was the first to act on that thought, bringing the No. 10 Acura in for two rear tires and fuel; Filipe Albuquerque staying in the car.
Bourdais got by Tristan Vautier in the No. 5 JDC-Miller Motorsports Cadillac. By lap 20 Bourdais was on the tail of the top three. Derani gave him an assist by attacking Blomqvist and forcing him wide, allowing Bourdais to follow Derani through into third. Derani presented Bourdais with another gift a lap later, going wide himself in Turn 5, Bourdais slotting into second to make it a CGR one-two.
It would take another four laps for Bourdais to get back in the lead. When Lynn got held up by a GTD car heading into Turn 8, Bourdais seized the opportunity to go inside his teammate and get back to the lead.
With Bourdais back in front — even with the speed the team had shown — the outcome was far from certain. Other teams had already determined the likelihood of a one-stop race was slim. Bourdais made his fuel number while still charging through the field. As the race reached halfway, the remaining four DPi teams finally pitted for fuel, tires and new drivers, apparently secure that they could make it to the end.
A host of full-course cautions in the second half ensured that everyone would make it on fuel. The first was for the gator-teeth curbing — made of individual pieces bolted to the street — coming loose in Turn 6. The second came shortly after the restart when Maxime Martin in the No. 27 Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage GTD entry made contact with the GTD-leading No. 1 Paul Miller Racing BMW M4 GT3, cutting a tire. The Aston Martin veered into the wall and headed into the runoff area. The final yellow came three minutes after the second restart when Stevan McAleer put the No. 32 Korthoff Motorsports Mercedes AMG into the tires from fourth place in GTD. Although he got going, it wasn’t soon enough to avoid the full-course yellow.
The final 14 minutes went green with the race far from settled. Although the two CGR Cadillacs sailed off into the distance, the battle behind was heating up. Derani, having taken back the No. 31 from Tristan Nunez in a second stop, started attacking Westbrook in the No. 5, getting by and heading for Oliver Jarvis in the No. 60. With only a few minutes left, Derani was outside Jarvis heading into the hairpin. Jarvis got sideways and hit the No. 31 letting Westbrook sail into third, making it an all-Cadillac podium.
With Lynn and Bamber in second, the Sebring winners take the DPi points lead, albeit by the slimmest of margins — just three points over Westbrook and Vautier who have been on the podium in all three races this season.
Staying out of trouble was the key in GTD PRO. The polesitting No. 3 Corvette of Jordan Taylor and Antonio Garcia seemed to have the measure of the field, going unchallenged for the first part of the race. When it went wrong for Corvette Racing, so too it did for the No. 9 Pfaff Racing Porsche of Matt Campbell and Mathieu Jaminet.
The Corvette crew lost a wheel nut during its pit stop which ended up in the radiator of the No. 9 Porsche, ending Pfaff’s day. The Corvette, with Garcia at the wheel, received a drive-through penalty for losing control of pit equipment.
The class lead was handed to Alex Riberas in the No. 23 Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage after he had taken over from Ross Gunn. Riberas was able to hold off Ben Barnicoat in the No. 14 VasserSullivan Lexus RC F on each restart to hold the lead to the end, with the Lexus second followed by the No. 3 Corvette.
“It’s a massive thing for us,” said Gunn. “We’ve had a really tough start to the season; a little bit of bad luck at Daytona and also Sebring. So, you know, we really knuckled down hard after Sebring and made sure we brought our A-game to this event. Preparation was really good and we hit the ground running in FP1 and we’ve just had a reasonably strong performance all weekend. I don’t think we’ve had the outright pace of Corvette in particular, but we’ve been there and we were there to pick up on the the issues that the No. 9 car and the No. 3 car had. But you’ve got to be there to capitalize on those things and the team did an awesome job. Alex did an incredible job. It was really, for him, about bringing that home under a lot of pressure at the end in particular.”
The No. 25 BMW M Team RLL M4 GT3 squad had a bad day get progressively worse. After losing the quick qualifying time that Connor De Phillippi set yesterday due to exceeding max engine speed, the team stayed out when the other GTD PRO teams pitted. They still hadn’t pitted when the first caution came. When the pits opened, one of the drivers hit the door quick release as De Phillippi handed over to John Edwards, knocking the door completely off. De Phillippi put the door back on but IMSA determined he was acting as a crew member at that point and gave them a drive-through penalty for too many crew working on the car. To add insult to injury, the team had already exceeded De Phillippi’s maximum drive time and the car was placed at the back of the field in the final result.
Bryan Sellers brought the pole-sitting Paul Miller Racing BMW M4 GT3 home to claim BMW’s first victory with the M4. The team was never pressed; aided in the end by having the Corvette in between them and the rest of the GTD field led by the No. 66 Gradient Racing Acura of Mario Farnbacher and Marc Miller (who finished second — their best of the season so far) and the No. 12 Lexus RC F of Aaron Telitz and and Frankie Motecalvo (giving VasserSullivan a double podium in class).
“After the driver change and pitstop and everything, the Corvette ended up being behind Bryan for a bit,” said Snow. “That just gives you that little bit of buffer. If they do catch you — if they are on you — you kind of gotta let them go or play nice with them, but thankfully we were able to stay ahead.”
Saturday’s race doesn’t pay points for the overall GTD championship, but it is the first race of the Sprint Cup — the sub-championship now led by Paul Miller Racing.