Round 3 of the 2017 IMSA Weathertech Series was contested this past weekend on the historic street circuit in Long Beach, Ca., “The BUBBA Burger Grand Prix at Long Beach.” The Long Beach circuit is rich with motorsport history having hosted Formula 1 and IndyCar races since the 70’s. Long Beach has been good to Porsche through the years, in 2016 the factory Porsche team won the IMSA GTLM class.
The GTLM class is contested fiercely between 5 manufacturers: Porsche, BMW, Chevrolet, Ford and Ferrari. Porsche enjoyed success at the opening round of competition scoring a podium finish at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Porsche battled hard in round 2 at Sebring but a faulty air gun kept Porsche from scoring a podium finish. Porsche was eager to arrive in Long Beach and defend their 2016 victory.
The Long Beach circuit places a premium on every race team the minute they arrive on Wednesday. At Daytona and Sebring, the teams have ample track-time to set up and dial-in the race car. This is not the case at Long Beach. Practice sessions are drastically reduced and are followed almost immediately by qualifying. This pressure bleeds into the race, crews know pit stops are crucial as time lost in the pits is nearly impossible to regain on the track.
Porsche’s defense of the 2016 title was off to a tough beginning when entry #911 was involved in an accident in practice and missed qualifying, forcing the 911 RSR to start the race from the back of the field of strong GTLM entries. The #911 was repaired in time for the race and pilots, Patrick Pilet and Dirk Werner, who are no strangers to success at Long Beach winning in 2016 and 2015 respectively, were set to begin the march towards the front of the field. Pilet and Werner would have to draw from experience and skill to work their way through the field on the tight Long Beach circuit that is notorious for adventurous passing.
The opening lap at Long Beach is always exciting and potentially perilous, 2017 was no different. When the leading Chevrolet, Ford and Ferrari GTLM cars tangled in turn 5 of lap 2, the #912 Porsche piloted by Laurens Vanthoor and Kevin Estre moved quickly into the lead and maintained the #1 position for nearly 45 minutes!
The Porsche #912 performed flawlessly on track but lost 4 positions on pit lane when Vanthoor handed his leading Porsche over to Kevin Estre. Back on track, the workhorse Porsche in the hands of Estre started clicking off laps with precision, ultimately scoring a 3rd place podium finish due to a last lap, last turn pass!
Pilet and Werner were on the move throughout the entire race, making their way up to P4. Werner had his sights set on grabbing a podium finish despite starting the race from dead last. A drive through penalty for “making contact with another competitor” slowed Werner’s momentum and the team settled for a 6th place finish.
Head of Porsche Motorsport, Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser was pleased with the team’s effort but in typical Porsche fashion, felt as if Porsche left something on the table. “Finishing in third place was pretty good. Still, you are left feeling that there could have been more.”
The GTD class was won by the WeatherTech Mercedes Benz GT3R piloted by former Porsche drivers Cooper MacNeil and Gunnar Jeannette. Park Place Motorsports with factory driver Jorg Bergmeister and Patrick Lindsey finished 4th in GTD.
Finishing 5th in GTD with works driver Wolf Henzler and co-driver Jay Heylen in the #991 GT3R of TRG.
Time stands still for no one, the IMSA WeatherTech series moves on to round 4 at Circuit of the Americas on May 6. The words of Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser will ring true with each driver and team member. The expectation will be more at COTA!
Race result GTLM class
1. Gavin/Milner (GB/USA), Corvette, 63 laps
2. Westbrook/Briscoe (GB/USA), Ford GT, 63
3. Estre/Vanthoor (F/B), Porsche 911 RSR, 63
4. Auberlen/Sims (USA/GB), BMW M6, 63
5. Garcia/Magnussen (E/DK), Corvette, 63
6. Pilet/Werner (F/D), Porsche 911 RSR, 62
7. Edwards/Tomczyk (USA/D), BMW M6, 62
8. Hand/Müller (USA/D), Ford GT, 61
9. Fisichella/Vilander (I/SF), Ferrari 488, –
1. MacNeil/Jeannette (USA/USA), Mercedes GT3, 62 laps
2. Bleekemolen/Keating (NL/USA), Mercedes GT3, 62
3. Balzan/Nielsen (I/DK), Ferrari 488, 62
4. Bergmeister/Lindsey (D/USA), Porsche 911 GT3 R, 62
5. Henzler/Heylen (D/B), Porsche 911 GT3 R, 62
12. Christensen/Morad (DK/USA), Porsche 911 GT3 R, 61
14. Bennett/Braun (USA/USA), Porsche 911 GT3 R, 61
Points’ standings GTLM class after 3 of 11 races
1. Müller, Hand, Ford, 91 points
2. Garcia, Magnussen, Chevrolet, 89
3. Westbrook, Briscoe, Ford, 82
4. Pilet, Werner, Porsche, 82
5. Fisichella, Vilander, Ferrari, 82
6. Gavin, Milner, Chevrolet, 78
7. Estre, Vanthoor, Porsche, 78
8. Auberlen, Sims, BMW, 76
9. Bourdais, Ford, 67
10. Edwards, Tomczyk, BMW, 66
1. Ford 99 points
2. Chevrolet 98
3. Porsche 88
4. Ferrari 86
5. BMW 82