Long Beach: Marino Franchitti race report

\ The Long Beach event is the shortest race on the ALMS calendar. A 2-day programme culminating in a 100 minute race, so time to set-up the car is very limited indeed and for both the ...

\ The Long Beach event is the shortest race on the ALMS calendar. A 2-day programme culminating in a 100 minute race, so time to set-up the car is very limited indeed and for both the #16 and #20 Dyson BP Lola Mazdas critical time was lost during Thursday's test session when small technical issues reduced valuable track time.

However, by yesterday morning's practice session, the previous day's problems had been sorted out and the ongoing development of the Dyson BP Lola B0986 Mazda programme was clearly showing its continued progress. No more so than during yesterday afternoon's 25- minute qualifying session when both the #16 and #20 Dyson Mazdas were within six-tenths of a second of the Lowes LMP2 Acura here on the 1.968 mile Long Beach street circuit. The benchmark set by the Acura was 1:13.134; Guy Smith was qualifying the #16 Dyson Mazda and got to within two-tenths of it with a 1:13.378, whilst Marino's team mate, Butch Leitzinger qualified the #20 car a further four-tenths back with a 1:13.763; it was the closest the Mazdas had been to the Lowe's Acura this season.

The 15-minute Warm-Up session set for 7.30am this morning was abandoned by the majority of the teams all agreeing that not much would be gained by running for such a short time so early in the morning, even the tyres would not have sufficient time to get up to temperature.

So when the race began at 4.15pm this afternoon in the warm Californian sunshine, it was the first time many of the cars had taken to the track since qualifying yesterday, and the Dyson Mazdas numbered amongst them. Butch was behind the wheel for the first stint in the #20 car, up ahead Guy Smith had an early opportunity to overtake the Lowes Acura which then remained sandwiched between the two Dyson Mazdas for the first half of the race. Butch pitted from 5th place overall, 3rd in class, on Lap 39 after 52 minutes. Having decided to split strategies between the two Mazdas, the team bolted four new tyres onto the #20 car when it pitted for Marino's stint, the #16 car did not get new rubber, but it was not until the final stages of the race that the new Michelin's began to reward Marino's lap times in the #20 car. Another problem delaying Marino was his left shoulder strap which came out of the buckle two times during his stint and on each occasion it took a couple of laps to get it back. All this meant Marino would have a mammoth task on his hands to catch, let alone pass, the #16 sister car which now had Chris Dyson behind the wheel. Despite turning some quick lap times during the latter stages of his stint, Marino was not able to close on the #16 car which had been re- taken by the Lowes LMP2 Acura during their pit-stop. Finally when a GT2 car caught fire just 10 minutes from the end it meant the race would finish under the yellow flag; any hope of overtaking the sister car had gone. The #20 car was to finish the race as it started - 5th overall and a 3rd place LMP2 class podium.

Marino was upbeat after the race, "I was delighted to see my team mate, Guy, lead the Fernandez Acura for the first stint, the whole BP Mazda Dyson team has made huge progress this weekend in a lot of areas and it certainly showed on track. We decided to split strategies on the two cars and rolled the dice; our car got four new tyres at the pit stop and they took a long time to come up to temperature and pressure, but still we had a good run and scored some more valuable points. My left shoulder belt popping out twice during my stint was a real eye opener and I can't wait to see the footage from the on board camera!" said Marino with a wry smile. "We're going to use the gap until the next round to keep pushing to improve our package and I can't wait to get back out at Salt Lake City."

The fourth round of the ALMS Championship will take place at the Miller Motorsport Park in Utah on Sunday 17th May.

-credit: marinofranchitte.com

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Series ALMS
Drivers Guy Smith , Butch Leitzinger , Marino Franchitti , Chris Dyson