In what has to be one of the fastest turnarounds for the ALMS circus, the Long Beach Grand Prix afforded little time for teams to adapt to the concrete-lined, 1.97-mile, 11-turn temporary road course. Less than 72 hours after the paddock opened to all competitors, ALMS teams were loading their transporters to head home and get ready for Le Mans.
First on the track Friday morning, most teams consider the initial 60 minutes to be nothing more than an exercise in ‘rubbering-in’ the road surfaces. Grip changes rapidly and the morning’s cooler temperatures do little to help set the cars up for Saturday’s late afternoon start of the race.
A fifteen minute qualifying period for each of the four ALMS classes requires each driver to bring their best game and execute it perfectly on a course with no room for errors. Despite replacing a driveshaft in the morning practice, Jan Magnussen qualified second in the #4 Corvette C6.R (8th overall) in which he would share driving duties with Oliver Gavin. Starting from P9 in class, the #3 car, driven by Tommy Milner and Olivier Beretta, ended up about 1.8 seconds behind Magnussen’s 1:19.137 (89.526 mph) lap time.
When the green flag fell later on Saturday afternoon, the 29 cars on the starting grid would rely as much on strategy as driving skill to complete the race. Oliver Gavin started the #4 Corvette from second on the GT grid and held that position through the opening segment, which was interrupted by a lengthy full-course caution. When racing resumed he took the lead with a bold move.
“I had a very eventful stint with lots of bumping and banging and cars spinning in strange places,” Gavin offered. “The start was pretty standard, everyone got a bit strung out, and then the LMPC cars were getting in the way. It all started when the BMW behind me disappeared. On the next lap he was turned around at the fountain turn! The race leader went the wrong way, I went the right way, and I got myself into the lead.” Shortly after an hour into the race, Gavin would pit and hand off the #4 Corvette to Magnussen, who would keep it all together until the race’s end.
Due to a last minute tire change, Milner and Beretta’s #3 car was moved to the back of the grid, so Milner’s job was clear from the start. He managed to push the Corvette from 14th in class up to fourth before handing the car over to Beretta.
Beretta brought the #3 car home in fifth with a common-sense and relatively uneventful run. “I’m happy for the team – we got our second podium in two races which is really important, ” Beretta said. “Tommy did a good stint, he was very clever, and the car was quite fast. Then it was just using my brain to keep the position and put the points in the pocket.”
Le Mans preparations begin this weekend with a test session at the fabled track. While several team members will be present, they will be driving a customer car from Larbre Competition, who have a Corvette C6.R of current spec. The alternative was preferred to shipping car car directly from Long Beach to France.
Corvette Racing team manager, Gary Pratt, explained, “The schedule makes it difficult, expensive, and risky to get the cars and equipment from Long Beach to Le Mans in time for the test. Everything would have to be crated up and flown from LAX on Sunday morning after the ALMS race. Even a short delay in customs or air transport could mean that the shipment wouldn’t arrive in time for the test.”
The next event for the Corvette Racing team is the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race, which runs on June 11-12, 2011.