With a record 35-car entry for this weekend’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship round at Long Beach, IMSA’s Senior Director of Logistics Mike Simons and his team have been preparing for the event and the paddock space challenges it presents for months in advance.
The complications of an average race weekend are compounded at Long Beach, where team transporters, tents, hospitality units as well as manufacturer and series trailers are all crammed into a paddock cobbled together from parking lots and convention centers at the temporary street circuit.
And that’s before you consider the fact that three other sanctioning bodies and their teams, vendors, and personnel are sharing the space.
Simons said he and his team of 16 people plan anywhere from 60-90 days in advance of each event, with street races, such as Long Beach, presenting the biggest challenges.
“[IMSA Manager of Track Marketing and Promotions] Emily Nash in our marketing department sets up a phone call with the promoter,” he told Sportscar365.
“We get the promoter and all of the IMSA logistics staff and have a phone call, usually an hour and a half or two and a half hours, just to go over the fine points of what everyone needs.
“Everyone is on the same page before we get to the track, and when we get to the track, Long Beach is one of the events that has a minute-by-minute meeting every morning starting on Monday. They go over every minute of every day.
“So everybody sees what everybody else is doing, and everybody is on the same page when we get there.
“As far as paddock space, when we share space with IndyCar we work close with IndyCar to make sure that we have enough area for us and they have enough area for them.
“But at Long Beach, we’re secluded in our own paddock where there’s nothing in there but WeatherTech [Championship] teams and support equipment.”
The challenge of Long Beach comes in stark comparison to the previous event at Sebring which has room in spades accommodate the series.
Each team on a typical WeatherTech Championship weekend are allocated a 30 by 90-foot space for the car, tent and transporter, which has been reduced for this event.
“You go from Sebring which is the largest paddock of the year where you’re all spread out down the backstretch to Long Beach which is the smallest,” Simons said.
“We have teams cut down to 20 by 90 feet per entered car. We take the total footage, and then we take the number of entered cars, the support series, both of our tire manufacturers, plus all of the IMSA trucks and the IMSA WeatherTech tech trailer, and we divide it out.
“The issue when we come to Long Beach is that it’s not just a flat parking lot that’s 300 by 400 feet. It’s got light poles every 58 feet. It’s basically divided into 111 feet one way and 58 feet the other way.
“You have to fit trucks between poles, around poles, or up against the poles and it creates a lot of long hours of measuring and hoping everything will fit in what we lay out.”
Simons, who began his career in NASCAR in 1985 before shifting to the American Le Mans Series and now IMSA in 2002, said significant planning goes into where to place the cars within the paddock itself, with and eye on keeping teams consolidated and providing a striking visual for fans.
“As far as who parks where, we try to park everyone by points by class,” he said.
“We take the leader of the Prototype class and we try to get them to be the closest to the main entrance of the paddock, and then we take the leading GTLM car, and right down the road we do the leading PC car and the leading GTD car or team.
“We try to divide them so when people walk in, they get to see a car from every class. But we try to keep all of the ‘P’ cars together, the GTLM cars together, and so on.
“Basically, we can’t set exactly who goes where until the prior event concludes. We start working anywhere from 60-90 days out as far as measuring space and knowing just how much space we have.
“When we laid out Long Beach, we had to wait until Sebring was over before we knew where everyone in the paddock is going to be as far as points.”
Simons said the addition of GT Daytona and its 16 cars this year, replacing the Prototype Challenge class from years past, has caused IMSA to alter its plans from previous trips to the venue.
“What we’ve done in the past is we’ve shared the paddock with our WeatherTech Paddock Club and Robby Gordon’s Stadium Super Trucks,” he said.
“When we knew we were bringing GTD, the only way we could consider it is if we have the entire area. That meant moving the Paddock Club, moving the SST Trucks, to have the extra paddock space.”
In the final analysis, Simons said the whole process comes down to teamwork and compromise.
“IMSA, the entire organization, we’re all one team,” he said.
“We’ve got a logistics staff of truck drivers, so we’ve got 16 men and women that drive the trucks, set everything up, and when the event is over they tear everything back down and then they drive off. It’s all about the team.”