DEBRIEF: Long Beach 2011

It’s these changes in latitudes,
changes in attitudes,
nothing remains quite the same.
With all of our running
and all of our cunning,
if we couldn’t laugh
we would all go insane.

— Jimmy Buffett, Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes
When it comes racing, if there are two places more distant in philosophy, belief systems, dress code, and karmic intensity than Sebring, Florida and Long Beach, California (AKA Los Angeles) … I have yet to see them.
These two are the polar opposites on the sports car racing circuits: one track is a legendary butt-kicker and reputation maker and the other is something tossed up as a weekend show for the locals and visiting dignitaries.
Sebring is 12 hours of pain and grind and perseverance preceded by a week-long prep period that is, in itself, an endurance test.
Long Beach has the air of a party that is just barely going to start on time, with a course as permanent as an L.A. agent’s smile. One course is at the center of the sports car racing world for a weekend; the other is the center of the sports car racing world for about two hours. Sebring is a destination resort for the knowledgeable fan; Long Beach is a rolling party and high-def media opportunity where the stars, not the cars, are the center of attraction.One course is a continuous history lesson in the greatness that comes from world class endurance racing; the other track is an afterthought.

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If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.

Which brings us to the lines quoted above, from one of the great Jimmy Buffett songs. Buffett is both an amazing businessman and a unique musical talent. His masterpiece album was Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, released in 1977. That recording unleashed “Margaritaville” on the world (and the subsequent Magaritaville culture) but Buffet’s signature song was only one of a series of great songs on an album that many consider his masterpiece.
Without irony, looking for the right tone for this column, I bumped into “Changes…” again and boy did it ring true, especially for the task in front of us.
Coming out of Sebring and into Los Angeles is a huge cultural leap, a form of race attitude shape shifting that is blinding in its disparities.
Long Beach is tight for time, transporter space, pit accommodations, hospitality, press facilities and parking. Because the ALMS race is jammed into a dual race weekend with an INDY CAR event, track time is harder to come by than a Charlie Sheen apology.

But, Long Beach is important to sponsors, supporters, manufacturers and honored guests because it’s in L.A., it’s glamorous, and the weather is usually……perfect.

Risi Comp came west after a stirring but ultimately unsatisfying debut at Sebring where our new Ferrari 458 did a DNF, excusing itself from further on-track excitement late in the race when certain electrical items failed to function as projected.
Back for another run at Long Beach glory were Risi Comp drivers Jaime Melo and Toni Vilander. Giuseppe Risi did some fine tuning to his team after Sebring, bringing some new faces in and leaving some others off the traveling squad.
The results started to return almost immediately. In the first/only practice session, which started at the very early hour of 7:15AM (I told you practice time was tight) on the Friday, April 15th before the race on Saturday, April 16th, Jaime Melo turned the fastest lap of a very fresh session at 1:25.99, later topped by Bill Auberlan in the No. 55 BMW M3 GT , who was then topped by P. Long in the No. 45 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. The merriment stopped when Wolf Henzler in the No. 17 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR went heavily and rather dramatically into the tires at Turn 9, bringing out the Red Flag. A few minutes later (3 to be exact), the Green Flag came out again.
There was a moment of anxiety at 9:01AM during the morning practice session when Melo in the Risi Comp Ferrari and Dominik Schwager in the No. 8 Lamborghini Gallardo LP 560-4 touched and did more-or-less simultaneous revolutions but no damage was incurred and both cars continued on. At the end of the session, the No. 56 BMW with Joey Hand at the wheel put up the fastest time of the sole practice session, at 1:20.522.
Next up: Qualifying at 5:20PM.
The record for Long Beach is 1:19.581 held by Jaime Melo in a Risi Comp F430 (set in April of 2010) and so the usual suspects set off in pursuit of a prized pole position and some post-Q bragging rights.
Qualifying wasn’t what we’re used to from Melo, because just five minutes into the session the car backed into the wall at Turn 2 and the rear wing came off and that was it for qualifying for the Risi Comp No. 62 Ferrari. Joey Hand set a new class record at 1:19.090 and took the pole.
And the Risi Comp Ferrari No. 62?
To quote Dean Wormer from Animal House, : “Mr. Blutarski. Zero Point Zero. No Grade Point Average”…all of which translates in racing to no qualifying time, go to the back of the grid. (Note: the car did have a qualifying time, but it was not a full flying lap and thus was “out of the money” for the GT class qualifying times.)
Now followers of the Rosso Corso have seen this before, the trip to the rear followed by an exhilarating run to the front, but this time prospects were not so great for a Cinderella-in-a-458 thriller, because it’s a street course with limited passing opportunities and only 120 minutes long.
Starting options could be better, but…we’re here and let’s race and so right at 4:30PM, Pacific Coast Time on Saturday the 16th of April, the race was flagged to a start and the carnage began: Bret Curtis in a GTC Porsche was first out with a broken radiator and broken rear suspension; Duncan Ende, in another GTC Porsche followed close after, with a brake problem and suspension issues. Paul Gentilozzi in the Jaguar XKR had an up-close-and-personal with the tires at Turn 8 and that brought out the Yellow Flag.
Twenty-four minutes into the race, the two BMWs (55 and 56) started mixing it up amongst themselves and the very sly Oliver Gavin pushed his GT Corvette C6 ZR1 into first and sped away.
There was more Dancing with the Stars action at 5:12PM (42 minutes into the 100 minute race) when P. Long’s 911 GT3 RSR Porsche, Joey Hand’s BMW M3 GT and Oliver Gavin’s Chevrolet Corvette C6 ZR1 do a meet and greet at Turn 7. Net result: Hand moves from third to first.
A mere six minutes later P. Long sees his race come to a rather jarring end when he punts his Porsche into the wall after making a pass on Joey Hand. Long heads for the pits where the techs take one look and call it a day. Meanwhile, Hand sails off in first.
One hour and 2 minutes into the race, Toni Vilander shows up on the radar screen, pitting for tires and fuel.
With each minute, the difficulties of street racing are making their presence known as cars go out due to on-course accidents. With an hour and a half (approximately) gone in a two hour race, the top 3 in GT were BMM, Corvette and Ferrari (Extreme Speed No. 1 458).
Thirty minutes can seem like an eternity in a street race and the mayhem amped up in the last thirty minutes of the race. Three cars (one Porsche GT, one Porsche GTC and an LMPC Oreca)came together at the last turn but no serious, lasting damage was done. Then Alex Figge sput out at Turn 11. Scott Sharp, who had driven himself into third (see above) in the Extreme Speed Ferrari saw it all get away in an on-course incident that whacked, heavily, the right rear of the car. Figge got a Stop and Go for avoidable contact, as did Nicky Pastorelli in the No. 8 GT Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4. Bryce Miller in the No. 48 GT Porsche GT3 RSR retired with just 8 minutes left in the race and when Dion von Moltke in the No. 68 Porsche GTC ground to a halt in turn 9 in an “unsafe position”, the Yellow Flag came out and stayed out until the white flag (one hour and 58 minutes running) was shown to the throng and then at 2 hours and 2 minutes the checkered flag was dropped and the race was over.
Risi Competizione, which started in last position on the Grid, ran a quiet, efficient race and ended up on the podium, in third position. The pits stops were good and on-course incidents and exciment were avoided. Good show. Mueller/Hand in the No. 56 BMW GT, who had played well a hot hand all weekend, won the GT class and Magnussen/Gavin in the No. 4 Corvette took second in class—they had also performed very well during the weekend. The showings of these two teams was not a surprise. What was a surprise was that no Porsche was on the Podium, Long Beach being the type of track that Porsches typically do very well on.
For Risi Competizione and the 2011 driving team of Jaime Melo/Toni Vilander, the race was a proper start to the main body of ALMS races to come.
The 458 made it’s first ALMS podium, but that’s history now.
The remaining 2011 season stretches the road ahead.

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