Another nail-biting battle in the GTLM class of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship has seen Porsche come out on top for the second time on the bounce.
Round 3 of the hugely popular North American SportsCar series took place on the short and demanding Long Beach street circuit, where only the DPi prototypes and GTLM pro cars are fielded due to limitations of space.
Following Porsche’s win at Sebring last month, the teams arrived in California determined to maintain that momentum and showed impressive pace and consistency in practise. All this was consolidated by Briton Nick Tandy’s superb pole lap, allowing Porsche to lock out the front row for the shortest race of the season on a circuit where overtaking is notoriously tricky.
L-R: Laurens Vanthoor – driving the No. 912 car – joined Nick Tandy in the No. 91 RSR for the first driving stint
The 100 minute race got underway late on Saturday afternoon local time, under cloudless Californian skies, with Tandy in the No. 911 RSR and Laurens Vanthoor in the No. 912 sister car. Both drivers managed to defend their positions at the start and gradually pulled out a comfortable lead over the field. But a safety car phase shortly before the midway point saw this hard-won advantage wiped out in an instant, and at the restart the lead was lost.
After the driver change, Earl Bamber in car No. 912 managed to squeeze past Tandy’s teammate Patrick Pilet, before mounting a charge on the leader. In a spectacular overtaking manoeuvre that capped off a day of dogged and fearless toe-to-toe racing from all the entrants, Bamber managed to wrestle the lead from the Ford GT. The experienced New Zealander was then able to defend his position to the flag, despite having sustained substantial damage to his rear diffuser earlier in the race, securing back-to-back victories for Porsche’s GT campaign in the US.
Pilet in the sister car had less luck, with his tyres rapidly deteriorating in the dirty air, and was forced to settle for a frustrating fifth place. But the result means that Porsche now leads the team and drivers’ classifications in IMSA, hitting a nice, round 100 points in the manufacturer standings.
Steffen Höllwarth, Programme Manager IMSA SportsCar Championship, summed up the teams emotions after another rollercoaster race: “What a thriller! At first everything ran according to plan. We defended the first two positions and managed to eke out an advantage. Ford gambled on the strategy and hoped for a safety car phase – which then eventuated. They took the lead. But our No. 912 car reclaimed the lead and brought it home. The sister car could no longer match the pace on the second set of tyres. We have to take a look at why. Last year Earl and Laurens retired while in the lead, now they’ve made up for that with this victory.”
Earl Bamber joins Laurens Vanthoor at the top of the drivers' classification following the victory at Long Beach
Thanks to the Long Beach victory, Bamber and Vanthoor have moved to the top of the drivers’ classification, leapfrogging Pilet and Tandy who now find themselves in third place.
“That was a really crazy race,” Bamber said shortly after taking the chequered flag. “Laurens kept our car on P2 at the start. At one point someone hit the rear of the car and we sustained some damage that was worrying. After the pit stop I was running in third. I then overtook Patrick and the leading Ford shortly afterwards. After that it was all about somehow getting the car to the finish. I prayed that the diffuser wouldn’t fall off. It didn’t – I’m pleased!”
Round 4 of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will be take place in Mid-Ohio (USA) over the first weekend in May.