WEC/IMSA/GT
Sunday, Apr 14 11:19am
AUTHOR: Simon Chapman

Redemption for Earl Bamber in dramatic Long Beach sprint

Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor have won a dramatic Bubba Burger Sports Car Grand Prix of Long Beach for Porsche.

 

It’s redemption for the pair who last year failed to finish the race due to a suspension failure while leading.

 

Driving a wounded Porsche 911 RSR, Bamber survived a late attack to score their first win of the season. With a podium at the season opening Rolex 24 at Daytona and fifth at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the duo now lead the GTLM division.

 

“It’s the first time we’ve ever finished this race, but I’ve led every time, so it’s awesome to get a win,” Bamber said after the race.

 

“Porsche did a great job all weekend long. We had quick cars and we managed to convert it.

 

“It’s super sweet to get it with Laurens. We’ve been quick but we’ve been missing a bit of luck and I would say finally the luck went our way.”

 

Nick Tandy in the no.911 and Laurens Vanthoor in the no.912 led a Porsche RSR 1-2 into Turn 1 behind the leading DPi field. At the front of the queue it was Helio Castroneves in the lead with Acura Team Penske.

 

Drama on the opening lap saw the no.54 CORE Autosport Nissan of Jon Bennett go into the tyre wall at Turn 6. The rest of the pack continued around unabated, but on lap two Bennett still lay idle in the tyre wall. He began reversing as the full field approached but quickly stopped while everyone narrowly avoided making contact with the car that was parked in the middle of the road.

 

Moments later the no.55 Mazda Team Joest driver Bomarito dived down the inside of the Acura Team Penske car driven by Juan Pablo Montoya at Turn 7. The ambitious move didn’t pay off and Bomarito spun, in doing so he lightly touched the Cadillac of Jordan Taylor.

 

Bomarito gave the wall a slight love tap as he lit up his rear tyresto try and get himself pointing in the right direction. The trailing GTLM field managed to miss the stricken car, class leader Tandy coming withing millimeters of making contact. It had been a solid start from Bomarito who’d made up five spots, but that was quickly thrown away.

 

The Full Course Caution was duly called and the race stalled.

 

With one hour and 25 minutes to go the race restarted. Castroneves led the DPi field with Nasr and Nunez in behind while Tandy led Vanthoor and Corvette driver Oliver Gavin in the GTLM field. The cars began to spread out and carried on without much in the way of drama.

 

The race went Full Course Yellow though with a little over an hour to go when the no.55 now driven by Harry Tincknell stopped on track. He managed to get the Mazda going again, but the safety car was already out.

 

Almost everyone in the DPi and GTLM field headed for the pit lane to complete their pit stops and drive changes. There was drama in the pit lane when the no.24 BMW M8 didn’t get it’s right rear wheel on properly. Jesse Krohn stopped in the fast lane and eventually got going. Tom Blomqvist’s co-driver Connor De Phillippi in the other no.25 BMW gained a place to get up to sixth.

 

There was more chaos under safety car when the no.31 Cadillac lost its right front wheel after a bad pit stop. The front right tyre changer didn’t get the wheel nut tightened but the car controller let the car go.

 

 

An early pit stop prior to the full course caution meant the no.66 Ford GT of Sebastien Bourdais and Dirk Mueller got a huge undercut and took the GTLM lead. However, there were some concerns the car might not make it on fuel to the finish.

 

The craziness continued once the race went green. As the faster no.31 Cadillac passed the second placed no.911 Porsche RSR driven by Patrick Pilet, that placed him wide of the apex and allowed the sister no.912 now driven by Bamber to steal away second place. Mueller was just up the road. From there the no.911 began loosing speed and eventually fell down the order.

 

The no.10 Cadillac of Renger van der Zande made a big mistake into Turn 9 and slammed into the wall on his own. The impact with the concrete wall broke the left front suspension and he duly retired from the race.

 

Bamber began narrowing the margin to Mueller and with 45 minutes to go he finally got a good run on the Ford for the lead. The pair went side-by-side and rubbed shoulders down the front straight but Mueller held on into the first turn.

 

A lap later the door opened up again after a slow exit by Mueller out of the final corner. Bamber immediately edged away and established a margin and left Mueller to fend off the third placed Porsche.

 

Mueller was given a reprieve though as Pilet went from the aggressor to the defender with the no.3 and no.4 Corvette C7.R drivers of Yann Magnussen and Tommy Milner breathing down his neck. With 25 minutes to go Pilet finally lost out to Magnussen down the front straight. The pass for the final place on the podium took a bit of bumping and grinding for Magnussen, but the veteran got the pass completed.

 

The final stanza of the race saw Bamber out in front with Mueller in second. Magnussen held third while Pilet fought to keep himself inside the top five.

 

As the laps wore down Bamber’s lead began to narrow. Damage to his rear diffuser began to get worse and was costing him precious rear downforce and time. Mueller closed in on the Kiwi and it looked like he wouldn’t be able to hold on for the briefest of moments. That was until the leading DPi pack stormed through and spread the GTLM drivers apart once more.

 

As it turned out, Bamber didn’t need to worry too much about Mueller. With only a handful of minutes to go he began to slow and fall into the clutches of Magnussen and Milner in the two Corvettes.

 

Bamber was well in front when Magnussen finally caught Mueller on the final lap. As they headed out of Turn 7, Mueller suddenly slowed. Having been tucked right under his rear wing, Magnussen clattered into the back of Mueller and sent the Ford into a spin and hard into the adjacent concrete wall.

 

Mueller was out of contention and the two Corvette pilots passed the stricken Ford. While all that went down, Bamber was out to a 4.4 second lead and crossed the line to take his first win of the season.

 

It was a stressful sequence for Bamber’s co-driver Vanthoor who watched the dying moments of the race from the pit lane. The team did consider bringing Bamber in at the end of the race due to the loose rear diffuser, which did threaten to dismount.

 

“The last two years we’ve had such bad luck here at Long Beach,” Bamber’s teammate Vanthoor said.

 

“Now this weekend we’re leading! Oliver Gavin, he hit me at the second corner and the splitter came loose. It was getting worse, and worse, and worse and I was like ‘no way, this isn’t happening again’ so I was pretty much shitting my pants for an hour.

 

“Earl, myself, everybody else, we got along super well. We’re a really good team. We’ve always had some kind of thing go wrong when we’re in a good position. We need this and I hope this is the start of a good year.”

 

The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship heads to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course over May 3-5 for the Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio where the DPi and GTLM fields will also be joined by the LMP2 and GTD entries. 

 

CLICK HERE for Sports Car Grand Prix of Long Beach results

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