The first two races of the 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship were endurance races. Daytona lasted 24 hours. Sebring spanned 12 hours. Now, the first sprint race of the season is upon us with a standard 100-minute race to be held on the streets of Long Beach this weekend. This race is entirely different than the other two this season for obvious reasons. However, the main aspect in a sprint race is that you have no room for error. While you can always make a comeback, it’s highly more challenging over the course of an 1-hour, 40-minute race in comparison to one that lasts at least half of a day.
The intensity ramps up as a result. In Daytona and Sebring, you can afford to take it easy and ensure that you’re pit stops are timely but correct. For Long Beach, you really only have one pit stop to get to the end. Make a mistake on that stop and you’re out of it.
The opening two rounds were more about finesse and long run pace. This one is more about perfection and intensity.
Can The Acura’s Capitalize and End Cadillac’s Reign?
Since sports cars were coming here in 2006, qualifying has been everything. All 16 races were won by a top 6 starter. In fact, 11 of those 16 were won from the front row including 6 of the last 8.
The pole sitter has won each of the last two.
That’s great news for the Acura camp. They went 1-2 in literally all three sessions on Friday including qualifying to set the starting lineup for Saturday’s race.
Wayne Taylor Racing was quickest in the opening practice session and in qualifying later in the day. Meyer Shank Racing was fastest in the second practice session and second quick to WTR in Practice 1 and qualifying.
The question now is, can they hold off the Ganassi No. 01 Cadillac?
Cadillac cars have won in each of the last five tries here. In fact, they’ve swept the podium spots in 2021 and again in 2022. Since 2018, among the 12 podium positions, Cadillac has taken home nine of those 12 trophies including each of the race winning ones.
However, the GTP era for them is off to a rocky start here.
They went P4-P8 in session 1, P6-P7 in session 2 and P3-P7 in qualifying.
The Whelen Engineering Racing folks entered the weekend as the favorites, but now will be just lucky to snag a top five finish. They enter having won in Sebring, which is a rough track like Long Beach to go along with a 2021 win here as well with Felip Nasr and Pipo Derani.
Chip Ganassi Racing however went 1-2 last year and was runner-up in 2021.
Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande are back in the No. 01 Cadillac. This time, Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn aren’t in the No. 02 Cadillac as they’ll come with just one car. The No. 02 car led 23 laps a year ago while the No. 01 led 50. No one else led.
The year prior, the 31 Cadillac and No. 01 Cadillac led 75 of the 78 laps.
They look arguably third best this weekend behind BMW who looks more consistent. The Porsche’s are also strong with them being P3-P4 in session 1, P6-P7 in session 2 and qualified P6-P8.
The last time Penske raced here in IMSA was in 2019 to where they finished second and third respectively. The only difference then in comparison to now is that they had INDYCAR stars Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya in their IMSA rides that season. They don’t have any INDYCAR/Long Beach ties this year. The problem is, they’ve struggled at the start of this season. The 6 car finished 8th and 3rd respectively while the 7 car was 7th and 5th.
For the Acura’s, Wayne Taylor Racing was 18th after a crash in 2019, fourth in 2021 and sixth last year. They currently sit second in points though after a runner-up at Daytona and fourth place run in Sebring. Meyer Shank Racing was 25th (crash) in 2021 and fourth last year. They though appear to be the ones to beat.
With Cadillac’s struggling, this could really tighten the points standings on Saturday. Entering, the 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac leads the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura ARX-06 team by 10 points. The No. 01 Cadillac Racing from Chip Ganassi Racing is 60 points behind. The No. 25 BMW M Team RLL M Hybrid V8 is fourth (-84) while the No. 6 Porsche Penske Motorsports is fifth (-90). If the Cadillac’s struggle but the Acura’s dominate, there’s no reason to believe WTR won’t leave Long Beach with the points lead. So long as the Ganassi car can stay around the podium, it’s more than likely that they’ll leave close to second if not in that spot. The BMW and Porsche cars could close that gap dramatically to the Whelen Engineering Cadillac meaning we could have an intense points race leaving here.