I raced at Long Beach for the first time when I was 16, and I was enthralled by the event. Unfortunately, for the next 6 years I wasn’t ever in a series that raced at Long Beach, so I was forced to watch from home.
When the new TUDOR United SportsCar Championship announced it was merging GRAND-AM and ALMS, Long Beach was one of the tracks I was most excited to revisit.
It’s one of my highest recommendations of a race for fans to travel to, alongside Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Road America.
The sports car schedule on the Long Beach weekend is a tough one. Friday morning is our earliest day of the year with a 7:40am practice, and it’s the one time that Dirk Müller’s jet lag actually helps him since he’s awake at 5 am most of the time anyway.
I know most people won’t feel sorry for the poor race car drivers who have to get up early to go to their dream job, but it’s still an early morning!
After turning a lot of consecutive laps in first practice, I got in a rhythm but hit a plateau still a few tenths off the pace.
That’s not uncommon and usually after looking at some data between sessions, I would get to go back out and work on driving style to pick up speed. In this case, I needed to ask less of the tire at turn in and late entry due to the lower grip on the street course.
However, the Long Beach schedule isn’t just tough due to the 7:40am practice. Since Dirk was qualifying, he was scheduled to drive the afternoon session, which meant my next time in the car after first practice would be the race at 3:00pm on Saturday.
I would have preferred some more time to try a few things with my driving when it didn’t matter. However, since they don’t let me make the race weekend schedule, I didn’t get to add a personal practice session, so I did a lot of imagery to practice what I needed to do in my head before the race.
In typical Long Beach fashion, only about the first 4 or 5 rows got lined up by the time the leaders started accelerating for the rolling start, which left a lot of people single file.
I was the first car single file and running P3, which gave me the luxury of deciding whether I would go inside or outside for the first corner.
It looked like Antonio Garcia was going to get bottled up behind the prototypes on the inside, so I was ready to follow Andy Priaulx round the outside of the traffic jam in T1, but Garcia forced his way through to the inside of the prototype.
That opened a different scenario where the outside wasn’t going to work, so I followed Garcia and got past my teammate, but couldn’t make it past the backmarker prototype.
That first corner proved to be the pivotal moment in the race, as I spent the next 20 hours trying to pass the prototype. Ok, maybe it was only 20 minutes but it felt like an eternity as I got held up in a lot of corners, but didn’t have the horsepower to out-drag the prototype.
With a field of aggressive GT cars behind me, every mistake the prototype made in front of me had me worried about losing positions. Although I maintained my spot until I finally got by the traffic, and we had all lost 12 seconds to Garcia in that time.cWith the race running green from start to finish, there was no way we could make up that time by the end.
Dirk drove a great stint with a car that was difficult to drive on long stints. He managed to hold off Tommy Milner, who had turned some fast laps and closed the gap to pressure Dirk.
Although we’re tied for P4 in the championship right now, we’re one of 5 cars within 6 points of the lead, so it’s anyone’s game for the championship right now.
Next up is Laguna Seca, where I scored my first ALMS podium last year. Although we’ve been on the podium plenty of times, it’s getting close to a year since Dirk and I won a race together, so we’re hungry to get back to the top step.