Long Beach, Calif.: The ...
Long Beach, Calif.: The #5 VICI Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR finished the Tequila Patron American Le Mans Series at Long Beach Race this afternoon in a pleasing 8th place, the team delighted to see the chequered flag again after the issues encountered last time out at St. Petersburg. After 1 hour 40 minutes and 57.061 seconds of hard racing on the famous 1.968-mile temporary road course circuit Nathan Swartzbaugh crossed the finish line in the #5 VICI Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, after 64 incident-free laps.
This week has been a real test for the whole VICI Racing team following the damage incurred to the #5 car during the last round of the ALMS series held on the streets of St. Petersburg two weeks ago. Since then the team has had to prepare the chassis, and then drive right across the country from their Florida base to Long Beach in California. Final car preparations meant the team was forced to miss out on Thursday afternoon's two important acclimatisation sessions, losing invaluable track time. However, the task for this week has been to get the #5 car back on track and focus on moving the tire development program, being run on behalf of Kumho Tire this season, forward another step.
Race day dawned early at Long Beach, and while most of the residents of the city were in still their beds the VICI Racing crew were up and preparing for the morning 'warm up' session which was scheduled to run from an early 7:15 to 7:30 AM. Nathan would drive during this session; and it would be his first chance to get acclimatised to the RSR on this demanding track ahead of this afternoon's race.
Nathan took the #5 car out as the warm up session went to green flag at 7:15 AM; however a spinning Mazda prototype saw him quickly diving back in the pits, before exiting as the track returned to green conditions after six and a half minutes. With another tour under his belt Nathan posted his first representative time after 10 minutes of the session had been completed, a 1:29.648. He reported on the radio that the track was very green; and with the week-long hot sunshine being replaced this morning with a sullen overcast sky and mid-50s temperatures, the track conditions had swung dramatically.
The local resident, who had driven the temporary circuit last week while coaching celebrities, followed this opening lap up with a 1:28.848 next time round, before wrapping up the short session with back to back sub-1:27 laps, a 1:26.490, followed by a 1:26.712. It was a solid performance by Nathan as he got to grips with the very slippery, cold track and dealt with the traffic.
The cloud cover lifted as the afternoon wore on, and as race hour approach the circuit was packed with expectant race fans. By the time the cars assembled on the grid shortly before 4 PM we had hit 68 degrees air temperature, and 94 degrees track temperature. Long Beach is an evocative scene at the best of times but as the cars lined up a troupe of Brazilian dancers brought a real carnival feel to proceedings, the grandstands filled out with excited fans, and the countdown to the green flag got earnestly underway.
Pole time setter Craig started the #5 VICI Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR when the green flag was waved at exactly 4:17 PM, and immediately moved up a place into 9th position. Demonstrating the car's good race pace he swiftly posted a sub-1:23 lap the second time around (1:22.691). This would prove to be his, and the car's fastest race lap. Almost immediately (5 minutes) and the yellow flags were waved as the #11 Dodge Viper slowed to a stop on the main straight. After 12 minutes of the race the green flag was waved and action resumed. Craig was then able to settle into a strong pace, harrying the #21 Panoz Esperante in front, while maintaining a consistent sub 1:24 pace. On lap 9 he turned in a 1:23.813; on lap 10 a 1:23.153; on lap 11 a 1:23.066; and on lap 12 a 1:23.317.
Maintaining this steady rhythm Craig reported that it was quite tough out on track, very hot and slippery, and with a lot of traffic to deal with. On lap 32, at 5:05 PM, after 49 minutes of the race, and with just one early, short caution period, Craig pulled in to change over to Nathan, who exited the pits with 4 new Kumho tires fitted.
Nathan was very quickly into the groove, but exactly on the hour a full course yellow flag situation saw most of VICI Racing's GT2 remaining rivals pitting. However he was up to 9th on lap 44; and then into 8th the next lap. An extended pit stop for the third placed #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari F430GT on lap 47 lifted Nathan up to 7th place, and with the new development compound Kumho tires performing satisfactorily on this track he was able to turn in quite consistent mid-1:23 laps. Lap 52 and Nathan was past the Panoz into 6th place.
Another full course yellow on lap 53 allowed the #87 Farnbacher Loles Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, and the recovering #62 Ferrari F430GT to recover their time deficits and bunch up tight with the #5 car. However the Ferrari was then handed a stop-go penalty ruling it out of the equation. The race went green again after 1 hour and 28 minutes, and with just 11 minutes remaining before the chequered flag was waved; however Nathan, although he was posting high 1:23 and low 1:24 laps, found himself caught up the frenetic battle for the GT2 class lead which involved a bumper-to-bumper scrap between the #71 Tafel Racing Ferrari and the #45 and #46 Flying Lizard Porsches. Nathan's track position was compromised but after just over 100 minutes of racing he took the chequered flag in a solid and pleasing 8th position. Reaching the flag intact after a tough fortnight was a just reward for the team.
Craig Stanton says: "Racing here at Long Beach in front of my home crowd and many of our sponsors was great. The guys worked really hard to get us to the grid, VICI Racing is a thoroughly professional team and the car felt very good. The Kumho tires are moving forward and the race day atmosphere was amazing. Especially through Turns 9, 10 and 11, where the fans in the grandstands were on their feet the whole race long cheering away."
Roland Wall, Technical Director VICI Racing, says: "We have made good progress here. I'm pretty pleased with how the week has turned out. This was always going to be a tough race and with limited track time we had to focus on our race set up during the qualifying session. Porsche are improving the RSR with every race and our data looked good. I called for a conservative approach and we made solid progress throughout the race. Kumho brought new compounds for us to evaluate and we were able to get development work done despite having less time on the circuit than we would have liked. We are confident that the Porsche 911 GT3 RSR and Kumho Tire combination will achieve very good results. We will now go away and evaluate this performance and build on it for Utah."
Tim Bumps, Team Manager VICI Racing, says: "I'm pleased that we reached the chequered flag with the car intact, in fact with no marks on it whatsoever; after St. Petersburg we have had to work very hard to get here, and this result clearly demonstrates the professionalism of the whole team. They deserved this result and it is a satisfying end to the week. Now we have to immediately turn our focus to Utah, build on our performance here, and take the program forward in every area. We are a new team but everyone is pulling well together, and the determination shown to get to the race here bodes very well for the rest of the season."