By Larry Mason, copyright 2018
April 13, 2018 —
The sun was out in full force today with 83 degrees at 3:30 in the afternoon greeting the large throng of race fans and competitors. The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was given the honor (or dishonor) of being the first race group out on a chilly and dusty track at 7:40 this morning. After their two hour practice, two Cadillac DPi prototypes, an Acura and a Mazda were the top four quickest cars in the 14 car field. The Nasr/Curran Whelen Engineering Cadillac was quickest.
In the afternoon IMSA qualifying was capped off with some scintillating times as track records fell in both the prototype and GTLM classes. Juan Pablo Montoya extended his fantastic weekend after yesterday’s induction into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame and gave Acura Team Penske its first ever pole position in Honda’s backyard. “I really love this car. It reminds me of a Formula One car, it’s so well balanced . . . you can drive it so hard, said a jovial Montoya. He also mentioned that the car is really good on tires as his fastest lap in the morning session was from the single set they used during the entire session. The same Cadillac that was fastest in the morning was second quick this afternoon followed by the Mazda Team Joest car of Tincknell/Bomarito.
In GTLM, local racer Joey Hand earned the pole in the Ford GT with an incredibly committed lap. The team had done an anti-roll bar change and went out with time running out. He commented, “I lost my second mirror of the day on the wall.” That’s how close to the walls he was sliding that car. A pair of Porsches rounded out the top three.
In the Verizon IndyCar Series, the morning practice times were about two seconds a lap slower than last year and the times remained quite similar in the second practice session. Scott Dixon was quickest in the morning followed by Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi. Will Power (7th quick) who has won here in a Champ Car and also in the Indy Car talked about the challenge that this track presents. “It’s a real driver’s track. You’re apexing at the wall and the car is never really planted. You do three runs and the tires are pretty shagged.” Graham Rahal (11th) lamented that this historically has not been a kind track to the Rahal family when it comes to wins. They have never won the race here. “We want to get that monkey off our back this weekend. Dad finished second, four-times here and I’ve finished second once or twice.” In regards to chassis setup, he and his teammate Takuma Sato (6th) start the weekend with the same setup and also give similar feedback on how the car feels. However there are some things that bother Sato more than Rahal so they’ll end up going in different directions to tailor the handling to their preference.
AJ Foyt Racing had a press conference to announce that Australian James Davison will be piloting a third Foyt entry at the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500. This program is a total team effort with Byrd-Hollinger-Belardi and they’re all very enthusiastic to get this program on the track. Larry Foyt smiled as he said “I’m glad we’re back to having bumping. We just hope we’re not a part of it!”
In the afternoon practice session, with temps in the mid-80s teams experimented with the Firestone alternate tires (reds) which have a softer compound and are designed to provide more grip and lower lap times. As it turned out, there wasn’t much time difference between the primary (blacks) and the reds. Top three were Rossi, Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden. Sato and Dixon rounded out the top five. Dixon mentioned that the top speeds are about 5 mph faster down Shoreline Drive with the new body kit and an equal but lower speed in mid-corner. However with qualifying coming up tomorrow he anticipates that the speed loss in mid-corner will be eradicated.
Historic Trans Am had the top three drivers in a press conference and one of the drivers said that it’s “a very scary track . . . but a lot of fun.” A full field of nearly 30 cars that not only looked cool but sounded great were certainly a feast for the eyes and ears of the fans. The historic Trans Am car is an original car with a documented history. The car must be prepared to period specifications and livery too. The cars have to have run from 1966-1972 in the Trans Am Series. To keep these cars on the track, preparation is critical. Driving is also a serious subject as if a driver causes damage to their car or a competitor’s car they get a 13 month excused absence.
Firestone Fast 6 IndyCar qualifying, the BUBBA Burger (IMSA) Sports Car Race, Historic Trans Am race, Pirelli World Challenge qualifying, SST truck race 1, and Motegi Racing Super Drift will all be in action tomorrow. We’ll bring it all to you then.