I love going to Long Beach. There is so much to do there all weekend with the Thunder on Pine street party Thursday night with several World Challenge cars on display. The WC paddock is inside the Convention Center where it is also a huge vendor outlet, and several neat cars on display. Of course there is some racing going on, but it doesn’t stop with IndyCar and ALMS, which is awesome in itself, but there was a Formula Drift competition in the evenings, the Toyota Pro/Celebrity race, which was actually quite tame this year and lastly, Robby Gordon had an exhibition of his new Stadium Super Truck series with ramps placed throughout the course to see the trucks in flight. It makes for a very busy weekend and only enough time for World Challenge to have one race for the GT/GTS guys to sort it all out.
Qualifying was like watching F1 as the top spot would change hands in the closing minutes, and after the clock had run out, James Sofronas had a zinger of a lap and put his Audi on pole with a new track record. GTS qualifying was actually held the following day and Andy Lee put the Best IT Camaro on pole for the second time this season.
For the race, I positioned myself above turn one. There is scaffolding for photographers that bridges over the runoff area from turn one, so when things happen, it is right underneath you. Fortunately for me, there was a lot of action there. The race looked to be a good one for the local drivers, but someone took a voodoo doll out and it was a rough day for every one of them, beginning from the time the lights went out at the start. The first K-PAX Volvo of Randy Pobst fell victim to clutch issues as he launched for the start. Teammate, Alex Figge, took off into a nice lead. Like St. Pete, it was Figge and Andy Lee in control of the race. Mid-race saw turn one claim the next victim as Mark Klenin smacked the wall just beyond the tire barrier on corner exit damaging the right front. Klenin got out of the car alright. After the restart for the incident, Alex Welch, who was having a very good run, hanging out in the top five when he went right underneath me in the turn one runoff and parked it, apparently with mechanical issues. At least Figge and Lee were still out front.
Well that ended when Lee grazed the wall exiting turn eight and damaged the suspension putting him out. If it hadn’t gotten crazy already, it was about to. Lou Gigliotti and Kevin Gleason were fighting for position in GTS when they tangled in turn one, sending Gigliotti’s Camaro backwards into the tires. Within seconds of that happening I looked down the front stretch in time to see Figge’s car jerk to the left and swerve across the track and into a wild spin. He too went sliding underneath me and hit the wall in the runoff area with both ends of the Volvo. That just summed up the luck of the Colorado drivers on this weekend. Not to mention our friends at JDX Racing when “Goldie” the Porsche, had a mishap early in the ALMS race that put them several laps behind on the day.
However the craziness wasn’t over. As the field paced around under caution for what would be the remainder of the race, newly inherited leader, Johnny O’Connell in the Cadillac began displaying puffs of smoke that was progressively getting worse. As it turned out, Figge had a major brake rotor failure and a chunk of steel from the Volvo struck the Cadillac’s radiator. O’Connell tried to nurse the car around to the finish when the engine gave out less than a lap from the checkers. James Sofronas once again was in the right spot at the right time and took the win at his home track.
The GTS battle was terrific after Lee’s departure. Peter Cunningham and Lawson Aschenbach had a great battle all race and Aschenbach had to get around P.D. a couple times in order to get the win. More impressive is the fact that he spent the weekend flying back and forth between Long Beach and Atlanta in order to compete in the Grand-Am race there. No rest for the weary but I’m sure a win would suffice.
So now it’s on to the most anticipated race on the calendar at Circuit of the Americas where we will finally see the TC/TCB season get underway. With 90 entries, it’s going to be amazing.