By Larry Mason

Copyright © 2019

April 12, 2019

Long Beach, CA – Another beautiful day in Long Beach greeted competitors and fans alike as the city streets reverberated the sounds of exotic racing engines at full song. As is typical in the schedule the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Series went out bright and early at 7:40am to do some “street sweeping” as Dane Cameron of Acura Team Penske half-joked. Just like last year, the Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi was quickest with Felipe Nasr earning the time to beat spoiling the Acura title sponsorship of Team Penske with Ricky Taylor and Juan Pablo Montoya filling out the top three.

The afternoon practice session led directly into a qualifying session and was a very heated affair with the top times getting traded back and forth between the Mazdas, Acuras and Cadillacs in the DPi class. In the end, it was Helio Castroneves blistering the track record by over a second to win the pole in his Acura Team Penske DPi. He was thrilled to do that especially with Acura being the title sponsor of the weekend. Meanwhile Jonathan Bomarito stuffed his Mazda lightly into the Turn 6 barrier (driver’s right at the exit), which ended his quest for pole. He ultimately wound up 5th. Felipe Nasr continued his strong run and will start on the outside of the front row while JPM completed the top three.

The GTLM qualifying saw a Porsche party with Nick Tandy grabbing the pole position just in front of his teammate Laurens Vanthoor who was about 0.06 seconds behind. Tandy complimented the track staff with getting the course cleaned well overnight in that he didn’t notice much of a change in grip level from morning to afternoon in a number of corners. With only seven minutes between practice and qualifying the team had just enough time to do a small anti-roll bar change but he feels they went just a bit too far as the car was a bit loose.  Five time Long Beach winner Oliver Gavin rounded out the top three in his Corvette.

The headlining NTT IndyCar Series came into Long Beach on a high with three different winners in the previous three races including rookie Colton Herta who hails from nearby Valencia, CA. He won at the Circuit of the Americas track in Austin, TX in Round 2 but had a DNF last weekend in Alabama. In Practice 1, former Long Beach winner Ryan Hunter-Reay set the quick time just ahead of last year’s champ Scott Dixon. Herta, Graham Rahal and last year’s Long Beach winner Alexander Rossi rounded out the top five. Of note, Ed Jones who finished on the podium here last year in third place was dead last in the field. He’s been suffering the same malady that he’s been experiencing at all the other races this year where the car is very unstable on turn-in and yet to compensate for that the understeer in the slower corners just kills lap time. He was frustrated yet hopeful for better luck in Practice 2.

Speaking of Practice 2, Dixon proved to be quickest in hustling his PNC Bank Honda around the unforgiving street circuit. Every turn here is important at this level and the drivers can’t afford to lose even a tenth of a second or they’ll tumble down the grid. Keeping good form in P2 was Hunter-Reay just 0.0494 seconds behind in his DHL Honda. Dixon’s rookie teammate Felix Rosenqvist rounded out the top three which was impressive for his first time here. He mentioned that part of his preparation to race here included simulator time, video and data reviews along with a track walk yesterday. Josef Newgarden was next in his Hitachi Chevrolet and completing the top five was another really fast rookie – Patricio O’Ward improving his 16th place P1 standing. “I’m just getting my head around this place because you don’t have grass, you have walls. You can’t just go out there and shunt it in the wall.” He felt good balance on the Firestone alternate red tires but still needs to find the “sweet spot” on the blacks.

In the Historic IMSA GTO qualifying, Craig Bennett was quickest in a 1990 Nissan 300ZX ahead of Joel Miller in a 1991 Mazda RX7. Pieter Baljet rounded out the top three.

Firestone Fast 6 IndyCar qualifying, the BUBBA Burger (IMSA) Sports Car Race, Historic IMSA GTO race, Pirelli GT4 qualifying, SST truck race 1, and Motegi Racing Super Drift Competition #2 will all be in action tomorrow. We’ll bring it all to you then.

Photo by Larry Mason

Dixon flies grabs some opposite lock rocketing onto the short chute between Turns 6 and 7 on his way to the top time of the day.