After two consecutive endurance races lasting 24 and 12 hours held at Daytona and Sebring in Florida, respectively, the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship sanctioned by the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) shifts to sprint mode in California.
As announced in the IMSA.com website, the next races of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship downshift into a pair of sprint rounds at Long Beach and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on the opposite coast.
The BUBBA burger SportsCar Grand Prix at Long Beach is highlighted by a 100-minute race for the Prototype (P), Prototype Challenge (PC) and GT Le Mans (GTLM) classes on the streets of the scenic community on April 17.
Two weeks later, the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca hosts a pair of two-hour races in the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix powered by Mazda on May 2. The first race features the P and GTLM classes followed by the PC and GT Daytona (GTD) classes.
Despite the extreme shift in race distances, it remains business as usual for the competitors of the championship.
“Our preparation for the California races is exactly the same as it was for Florida,” said team owner Wayne Taylor, whose sons Ricky and Jordan co-drive the No. 10 Konica Minolta Corvette DP. “Long Beach is dramatically different in terms of the race track, and you really need a good setup there. Also, there is more urgency with the strategy, because you can’t afford to lose a lap.”
Mike Shank, who fields the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Honda Ligier JS P2 for John Pew and Ozz Negri, echoed Taylor’s thoughts.
“It does not change how we prepare,” Shank said. “The car is still prepared the same way it’s prepared for the Rolex 24 [Hours at Daytona]. We will get all the weight out of the car that we can, but otherwise it’s prepared very similarly.”
“Strategically, though, Long Beach is totally different,” Shank added. “Adding the PC cars to the mix changes our strategy. For a one-hour, 40-minute race, it’s a one-stop race. The question is when do you stop?”
First glimpse of full-season line-ups
Teams competing at Long Beach in the P, PC and GTLM classes – and GTD teams at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca – are expected to use the two-driver pairings they will use for the remainder of the season, with the exception of the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup rounds at Watkins Glen International and Road Atlanta.
One of the few drivers breaking that mold is Scuderia Corsa’s Alessandro Balzan, who will switch from the team’s full-season No. 63 Ferrari 488 GT3 entry to the No. 68 Ferrari 488 GTE in the GTLM class, co-driving with Daniel Serra. Balzan is coming off a GTD class victory in his regular ride, which he co-drives with Christina Nielsen.
With the Prototype Challenge class making its debut in the WeatherTech Championship competition at Long Beach, it will be a new experience for many of the drivers in that class who did not race there when it was included in the American Le Mans Series events from 2010-13.
Stephen Simpson, who shares the No. 85 JDC/Miller Motorsports Hi-Tide Boat Lifts/Red Line Oil ORECA FLM09, is one of the contenders who have raced on that street venue, competing in Formula Atlantic competition in 2006.
“It was a long time ago, but I have raced there, and I really like Long Beach,” said Simpson, who opened the 2016 PC season with a victory in the Rolex 24 At Daytona. “It’s a famous race in American motor sports, and it’s a challenging street circuit. It’s also wider than most street circuits, and I think we’ll see some overtaking there. I think it will be an exciting race.”
Current PC competitors who competed in PC races at the circuit include Colin Braun and Jon Bennett, who won the 2013 event; Alex Popow, who won in 2012 with Ryan Dalziel for CORE autosport; Hollywood resident Tomy Drissi, a three-time PC racer; and Kyle Marcelli, who ran in two events.