This weekend's "BUBBA Burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach" (yes, that is the event's full name), ended with one Porsche 911 RSR in the penalty box, and the other at the top of the podium. It was a strange set of circumstances that led to such a result, and if you didn't catch the race, you'll want to read along to see just how that happened. This was Porsche's first win of the season in IMSA's WeatherTech Sports Car Championship, as well as their first victory at the Long Beach circuit since 2010. There were ups and downs to the weekend, and at the checkered flag, the Porsche camp was experiencing a combination of highs and lows.
Long Beach might just be the perfect place to hold a race of this caliber. Perhaps this event is the North American equivalent of the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix, playing host to IndyCar, IMSA sports cars, and Pirelli World Challenge racing, making for a full weekend of exciting racing. The backdrop is picture perfect, the venue is historic, and the racing is second-to-none. Most pertinent to Porsche's efforts, however, there were five car manufacturers battling for the GTLM class victory, and there was action from start to finish.
It was clear from the start that this race would be dominated by the Porsche contenders and those from the Corvette fold. By lap 13, it was Earl Bamber leading the race in his Porsche 911 RSR over teammate Patrick Pilet. The pair would remain in positions one and two through the one-hour mark of the race, when they pulled into the pits for a scheduled stop. Pilet handed his car off to Nick Tandy, and Bamber passed the reigns to Fred Mako. It would seem that Porsche's pit-lane speed limiter software is a bit off the mark, as both drivers were handed speeding stop-go penalties. Both cars clicked off a series of quick laps, and were aided by a fortunate safety-car period, and soon found themselves back among the leaders. With just a few minutes to go, the Corvettes were leading the GTLM class with a 1-2 locked up. Coming out of turn 8 onto East Seaside Way, the Corvette seemingly spins all on their own and promotes the two Porsches to the second and third positions.
As you probably know, the tight and twisty circuit at Long Beach is punctuated by a sharp and slow hairpin as the last turn, exiting onto the start-finish straight. It was at that fateful corner that Fred Mako apparently had a brain fade. Mako's #912 Porsche was running in second place and Tandy's #911 just behind in third at the time of 'the event'. Said event saw the #4 Corvette C7.R run just a smidge wide at the hairpin, and Frédéric Makowiecki acted perhaps on instinct, taking the opportunity to dive down the inside. Mako realized just a bit too late that he'd carried too much speed into the corner, and locked up his brakes knocking into the back of the Corvette. The move would see the #4 Corvette spun, and the #912 facing bumper to bumper with its victim with nowhere to go. Pilet, in the #911 sneaked through without issue and took the lead on that penultimate lap. With just two minutes remaining in the street-brawl race, Pilet coasted one more lap to the finish, while Makowiecki was called to the pits to serve a penalty for 'avoidable contact'.
Mako later took the blame for the event, with this to say:
“After two third places we finally had every opportunity to win today. But we didn’t use it. The first blow was the penalty for being too fast in the pit lane. The collision in the penultimate lap was my fault. I was a touch too optimistic heading into the corner.”
In case you haven't seen it, here is the incident in question (happens around 2 minutes in). You can pass your own judgement.
1. Pilet/Tandy (F/GB), Porsche 911 RSR, 73 laps
2. Gavin/Milner (GB/USA) Chevrolet Corvette, 73
3. Fisichella/Vilander (I/SF), Ferrari 488 GT, 72
4. Briscoe/Westbrook (AUS/GB), Ford GT, 72
5. Auberlen/Werner (USA/D), BMW M6, 72
6. Serra/Balzan (BRA/I), Ferrari 488, 72
7. Bamber/Makowiecki (NZ/F), Porsche 911 RSR, 70
8. Hand/Müller (USA/D), Ford GT, 70
1. Millner, Gavin, Corvette, 105 points
2. Bamber, Makowiecki, Porsche; Auberlen, Werner, BMW, 87
3. Fisichella, Vilander, Ferrari, 86
4. Pilet, Tandy, Porsche, 82
5. Serra, Ferrari, 80
6. Magnussen, Garcia, Chevrolet; Westbrook, Briscoe, Ford, 79
1. Chevrolet, 102 points
2. Porsche, 98
3. BMW, Ferrari, 88
4. Ford, 80
1. #4 Corvette Racing, 105 points
2. #912 Porsche North America, #25 BMW Team RLL, 87
3. #62 Risi Competizione, 86
4. #911 Porsche North America, 82
5. #68 Scuderia Corsa, 80
6. #3 Corvette Racing, #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, 79