By Larry Mason, copyright 2018
April 14, 2018–
Another cool start to the day ended with temps in the mid-80s with not a cloud in sight greeted the Grand Prix goers again as the annual pilgrimage descended upon the sandy shores.
In Pirelli World Challenge (PWC) qualifying, Toni Vilander in the Ferrari 488 GT3 grabbed the pole position just a couple tenths in front of the sole Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the field of Daniel Morad. Daniel Mancinelli rounded out the top three in another Ferrari. Local racer and fan favorite Rocky Moran Jr. hopped into the Trench Shoring/King Taco Audi R8 LMS for a one-off race and ended up 11th on the grid just a scant 0.001 seconds in front of his teammate Parker Chase.
The Verizon IndyCar Series had their final practice session before qualifying and Alexander Rossi put his Andretti Honda just ahead of the Penske Chevrolet duo of Josef Newgarden and Will Power. Ryan Hunter-Reay, in another Andretti Honda, and Simon Pagenaud in the third Penske Chevy rounded out the top five. Of note, last year’s Indy Lights Champion Kyle Kaiser, who was last on the grid after P2, moved up five positions on the grid after making a major change to the Juncos’ car’s setup. He mentioned that he probably would’ve been another five or six places quicker but he was balked on his fast lap.
In the Historic Trans-Am race, Jimmy Hague out of Santa Clara, CA led a Ford sweep of the top two finishing positions with his 1970 Boss 302 Mustang in front of the ’68 Boss of Holland, Michigan’s Bill Ockerlund. The Ford vs. Chevy battle went to Ford today but Chevy still landed on the podium with the ’69 Camaro of pole-sitter Chad Raynal. These cars proved to be a big hit with the kids. as they not only liked the thunderous sounds but also relished in the facts that their dads had lots of stories to tell about them.
The IMSA Bubba Burger Sports Car Grand Prix saw Juan Montoya leading the field for the first several laps, but he was unable to match the pace of second-place qualifier Felipe Nasr in the Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R. Lots of carnage took place during the 100-minute race with a prototype going off in the fountain turn. which led to a lengthy full-course caution starting on the second lap. While the cars slowly circulated, you could see a large part of the rear diffuser of the pole-winning Ford GT dangling off the back as he had been hit by one of the Porsches. The Porsches were not shy about bumping and banging during the race as the closely matched factory teams tried every trick in the book to either get to the front or keep from falling back. The tight confines of the concrete jungle that is Long Beach made it difficult to pass as a one-line groove developed. In the end, it was the Mustang Sampling Cadillac taking the win over the Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi of Scott Sharp and Ryan Dalziel. In the GTLM category, Oliver Gavin earned win number 50 in his career for Corvette Racing and teamed with Tommy Milner to get the job done. Second place went to the number 66 Ford GT of Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook.
Knockout IndyCar qualifying saw many fast challengers. The Firestone Fast Six was a heated shootout with all six drivers pushing to the limit. In fact, Josef Newgarden made a mistake and smacked the wall at the exit of Turn 8 and bent a toe link. leaving him sixth. Graham Rahal was pleased to be starting in fifth compared to where he was at St. Pete. Scott Dixon almost spun going into Turn 8 after making an adjustment that just didn’t work, although prior to that he was on pace to qualify second. Simon Pagenaud was pleased that all three Penske cars were in the Firestone Fast Six, but acknowledged the fact that finding just the right setup on these cars has been difficult. Will Power kissed the wall with his car at least twice during qualifying trying to extract the maximum performance out of his car but had to settle for second behind the blazingly quick Alexander Rossi, whose pole-winning time was nearly four-tenths quicker than Power! Rossi remained humble when asked about that large of a time gap to the rest of the field saying that it didn’t matter how big the gap was, just as long as he was on pole. He also mentioned that he was looking for redemption after leading late last year and suffering a mechanical issue that knocked him out. As a Californian, he’s happy to have about 50 – 60 guests at the track to cheer him on this weekend.