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Ace tire strategy gives CGR Cadillac IMSA win at Long Beach

Drivers and teams seemed to be in universal agreement that it couldn’t be done – that nobody could go the full race on a single set of tires as Porsche Penske Motorsports did last year to win in Long Beach. The No. 01 Cadillac Racing crew was of a different mind.

Aided by three full-course cautions in the 1h40m IMSA SportsCar Grand Prix of Long Beach, the No. 01 crew only added fuel when Sebastien Bourdais handed the Cadillac V-Series.R over to Renger van der Zande with an hour left in the race. Through a pair of restarts and a pileup in the hairpin, van der Zande held off Jack Aitken in the Whelen Cadillac Racing No. 31 V-Series.R to win the third round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. It was the 66th IMSA victory for Chip Ganassi Racing, the 20th for van der Zande and 12th for Bourdais.

The No. 89 Vasser Sullivan Lexus led the entire race from pole to claim the GT Daytona victory.

Polesitter Pipo Derani got the holeshot at the start as Bourdais slotted into second from his inside-second-row starting spot. Derani controlled the race at the front for the first half, and through the first full-course caution brought out when Brendan Iribe put the No. 70 Inception Racing McLaren 720S GT3 into the wall exiting Turn 5 and rebounded into the path of Adam Adelson’s Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, taking both cars out of the race.

Most of the GTP runners pitted around 30m into the race, giving them sufficient energy to make it to the end. Bourdais was the last of the bunch, after all the other cars had taken either four tires or left-side tires. Electing not to take tires as Bourdais exited and van der Zande entered moved the No. 01 out in front of the No. 31, a track position they would never relinquish.

“When we woke up this morning, it was quite cold,” explained van der Zande. “And the sun came out at one point and it started to warm up, so we really left it until the last minute to decide. I think that’s the best you can do in racing. If you plan a start or where to go at the start, it never turns out the same way. So in this case, as well, and with tires it’s something to make the decision right at the spot. They made the right choice for sure.”

Of course, that meant that at the end of the race, van der Zande had much older tires under him than Aitken did since the No. 31 took left-side tires. Aitken said he could see van der Zande struggling, but Long Beach is a tough place to pass under any circumstances, and the difference in grip wasn’t great enough.

“It was a handful – especially easy to look up the fronts, which at a street track I think is the end of the race most of the time. So taking it easy. When I got in the car I knew I had to keep the tires alive. So keeping control of the race and just don’t over push it, don’t over drive those tires so I have some some rubber left at the end of the race, was the key for me to how I managed the tires and it worked out that way. And traffic got really hairy at one point because the Lamborghini and the Aston Martin were fighting into … I think it was Turn 8, and we almost wrecked right there. I think those yellows always help for tire degradation, so that was nice,” van der Zande added.

BMW M Team RLL had high hopes for a good finish after Nick Yelloly qualified the No. 25 M Hybrid V8 in second, only 0.009s off Derani’s pole. But it was one misfortune after another for Yelloly and De Phillippi, starting with getting passed by Nick Tandy in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsport 963 10 minutes into the race for third position. It went downhill from there. The No. 25 hadn’t pitted as the second caution came out when Lous Deletraz put the No. 40 Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Acura into the wall in Turn 1, and ended up losing another position in the pit stop.

Chasing Nasr, De Phillippi tagged him in the back heading into Turn 9. The No. 25 suffered further damage to the nose in a pileup at the hairpin, started by Loris Spinelli in the No. 78 Forte Racing by USRT Lamborghini Huracan making contact with Mathieu Jaminet’s No. 6 PPM 963 and spinning the Porsche. After a nose change, De Phillippi buried the car into the tires at at Turn 6, bringing out the race’s third and final full-course caution with 16 minutes to go.

The No. 25 BMW’s troubles, along with the assisted spin for Jaminet, elevated the No. 7 PPM 963, giving third to Nasr and Dane Cameron. As a result, Cameron and Nasr took sole position of the points lead they had shared with the No. 40 WTRAndretti squad with 1082 points. Bourdais and van der Zande moved into second at 974, and Aitken and Derani are third, ahead of Jordan Taylor and Delétraz, with 955 points.

Jaminet and Tandy’s No. 6 Porsche was fourth, followed the No. 5 Proton Competition Porsche 963 of Mike Rockenfeller and Gianmaria Bruni.

Vasser Sullivan Lexus came to Long Beach with another ace up their sleeve — a second GTD entry. Jake Galstad/Lumen

With GTD PRO sitting this one out in favor of Detroit next month, Vasser Sullivan Racing took the opportunity to do as it has in the past and run a second car in GTD. Splitting the two regular drivers in the No. 12 Lexus RC F GT3, Frankie Montecalvo and Parker Thompson, and pairing them with the GTD PRO drivers, Jack Hawksworth and Ben Barnicoat, respectively, the team doubled its chances. They locked out the front row, Thompson claiming his second pole of the season.

The No. 12 of Montecalvo and Hawksworth had a miserable race, with Montecalvo receiving a drive-through penalty for changing lanes at the start. Later, Hawksworth had contact with the wall, breaking the suspension and retiring the car. For the No. 89, though, it was smooth sailing, and Thompson took his second victory in the WeatherTech Championship (the first came as the endurance addition in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen in 2023), and Barnicoat a second consecutive Long Beach win after he and Hawksworth won GTD PRO last year.

“It’s tough when you know execution is the only thing between you and winning the race,” said Thompson. “There was a lot of pros that qualified, so I was up against a pretty tough field at the start but controlled the race from the start, got a good jump, got into Turn 1, handled a couple of restarts and just saved our Lexus RC F to make sure that Mr. Platinum himself beside me can bring it home. So it was good. It’s really cool that 89 … the message behind that is 1989 was the first time that Lexus came stateside to the U.S., so it’s awesome to honor them, get the win for them. Back to back at Long Beach is fantastic.”

Several of the would-be frontrunners in GTD struck trouble, such as Spencer Pumpelly in his Heart of Racing debut getting tagged and spun out of fourth place by Anders Fjordbach in Turn 6. The No. 27 Aston Martin Vantage Evo Pumpelly shared with Roman De Angelis had been having a good run to that point.

The No. 34 Conquest Racing Ferrari 296 GT3 had been having a solid race as well in the hands of Albert Costa Balboa, which continued with Manny Franco, but both drivers had minor incidents of contact that left the car struggling at the end. And winner of the first two races, Winward Racing, lost any hope at victory when they were issued a drive through for too many crew members over the wall.

At the end, it was a three-way battle between cars that had started well back in the field for second. The No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT3 emerged in good position after the round of pit stops, and Robby Foley kept the car started by Patrick Gallagher in second.

Korthoff/Preston Motorsports had a rough start to their weekend, Mikael Grenier plastering the No. 32 Mercedes AMG into the wall in the first practice session and thus missing the second. With little practice, Grenier qualified the car in sixth and kept the car clean before handing over to Mike Skeen in fourth. Skeen benefitted from Pumpelly’s problems to get to third and proceeded to hound Foley, but could never get by.

The drive of the race, though, would likely go to the drivers that finished fourth. The No. 66 Gradient Racing Acura NSX GT3 Evo22 skipped qualifying to change an engine and started at the back. Sheena Monk moved up a few positions to 11th. After pit stops, Stevan McAleer, in his first stint as full-time partner to Monk, moved the car from 12th to fourth, and was on Skeen’s tail at the checker.

The No. 55 Proton Competition Ford Mustang GT3 of Giammarco Levorato and Corey Lewis finished fifth, followed by Orey Fidany and Matthew Bell in the No. 13 AWA Chevrolet Corvette Z06 GT3.R.

Russell Ward and Philip Ellis retain the GTD points lead for Winward despite a seventh-place finish with 987 points. Gallagher and Foley moved into second with 802 and Thompson is third in the points at 792 as the series heads next to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on May 10-12.

RESULTS

Story originally appeared on Racer