It’s Friday – Day One – of the 37th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, and the weather is beautiful with clear blue skies and a nice breeze to temper the heat. The good news is that the fan-friendly paddock (road racing name for garage area) is absolutely clogged. The bad news is that it’s absolutely clogged. People everywhere. Pit tours are flourishing, and spectators are everywhere enjoying the ambience. After a while I longed for Maserati air horn to clear a path. It’s a good problem to have.
The American Le Mans Series was first out Friday morning, for a two-hour practice, starting at 7:15 am = oh dark thirty. There second/only other session Friday is Qualifying at 5:00 pm local time, for ninety minutes.
Thirty-one cars are in the field, spread among five classes, and all were on course during the session. By far, the largest category is hotly contested GT with 14 entries. In the five years ALMS has been coming to Long Beach, this is the largest field. So far, there has only been one team getting back to back class victories – PATRICK LONG and JORG BERGMEISTER/No.45 Flying Lizards Porsche 911 won the GT class the last two years and are looking for a triple. And Long is on his way, turning the fastest GT lap in Friday’s morning’s Practice – eighth overall.
Long, ever the over-achiever, is also running in the Pirelli World Challenge Championships race this weekend, in No.45 TruSpeed Porsche 911 GT3. So far he’s the only driver I’ve spotted in more than one race.
Another double winner was the Corvette Racing team with OLIVER BERETTA and OLIVER GAVIN who won GT1 in 2007 and 2009. This year the two Oli’s are in separate Corvettes, with new co-drivers – TOM MILNER with Beretta, and JAN MAGNUSSEN with Gavin.
There were two Red Flag situations, the first caused by Beretta hitting the tires in Turn Eight. He was OK, but the car sustained heavy front end damage. He continued to the pits, while the track shut down to repair the tire wall.
WOLF HENZLER/No.17 Porsche 91 Team Falken Tire Porsche 911 GT hit the tires in Turn Nine. He was OK, but his car’s rear end took the brunt of it. Henzler made it back to the pits, while crews repaired the tire wall. Henzler’s co-driver is BRYAN SELLERS. They ended up fifteenth overall, seventh in GT class.
Overall Friday morning GUY SMITH drove No.16 Dyson Racing LMP1 Lola Mazda to the top spot. His teammate is CHRIS DYSON.
The next fastest class was LMPC and GUNNAR JEANNETTE/No.06 CORE autosport Oreca, who is paired with RICARDO GONZALES was fastest, third overall.
The LMP2 class has two entries, both from Level 5 Motorsports. CHRISTOPHE BOUCHUT was fastest in No.33 Lola Honda, seventh overall. Team owner SCOTT TUCKER is Bouchet’s co-driver.
JEROEN BLEEKEMOLEN took top honors in the GTC class in No.54 Black Swan Racing Porsche 911, twenty-fourth overall. Bleekemolen shares driving with TIM PAPPAS.
Oliver Gavin is an avid marathon runner and is missing this weekend’s London Marathon, with his BRDC team – British Racing Driver’s Club. Gavin’s ALMS race is Saturday afternoon. Sunday morning – 6:30 am – he is running a special marathon course he devised, which includes the coastal beach area. He will run it three times for a total of 26 miles. Gavin’s good buddy, Guy Smith, will run the last eight miles with Oli. After being fastest Friday he should be fit and in a good mood for the run, which raises money for Cystic Fibrosis.