Street Smarts The SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge GT Championship returns to the streets of Long Beach for the third-consecutive year in 2008 and continues to be one of the most highly anticipated events of the season. Putting 30 ...
The SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge GT Championship returns to the streets of Long Beach for the third-consecutive year in 2008 and continues to be one of the most highly anticipated events of the season. Putting 30 fire-breathing, high-horsepower SPEED GT machines on a twisty street course enclosed by concrete barriers is always a recipe for intense racing. With each passing passing attempt, the crowd and teams hold their collective breaths, letting out a roar when it works and a groan when disaster strikes. Combined with the hi-revving standing start, it's all just a part of the mesmerizing Long Beach SPEED GT soundtrack.
Driving the No. 1 K-PAX Racing Porsche 911 GT3, defending SCCA SPEED GT Champion Randy Pobst hit the ground running this season, taking the win at Sebring in the rain. Pobst finished sixth at Long Beach last year, but proved later at Toronto that the Porsche 911 GT3 is a great package to have on tight street courses. His teammate, Michael Galati, in the No. 23 K-PAX Racing Porsche 911 GT3 also finished on the podium at Sebring and had impressive performances on street courses last year. Galati is the only five-time World Challenge Champion, but despite earning four podium finishes since joining the K-PAX team last year, he has not won a SPEED GT race since Mosport in 2006.
Finishing runner-up at Sebring was Andy Pilgrim in the No. 8 Remington Shaving Cadillac CTS-V. The Cadillacs have always performed well at Long Beach. Ron Fellows claimed victory at the first race here in 2006 with a spectacular last-lap pass and in 2007, Fellows and Pilgrim filled the front row of the Long Beach grid. Pilgrim went on to finish second last year. Now known as Team Remington Cadillac, Pilgrim is joined by Michael McCann, who has also done well here historically, leading both previous races.
Last year's Long Beach winner, Eric Curran, has had a rough start to the season. The No. 30 Whelen Engineering Chevrolet Corvette pilot crashed in the rain at Sebring. Considering Curran's 2007 season was either sink or swim with five DNFs and four wins, the team, including lead sponsor and driver of the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Chevrolet Corvette, Sonny Whelen, are hoping this year won't be a case of deja vu. With a win here and a seventh-place finish in the rain on the streets of Toronto last year, Curran's street-course credentials are strong, so expect him to be fighting for the win no matter what the weather.
Father and son duo, Mike and Brandon Davis, of nearby Huntington Beach, made a big splash at Sebring and it had nothing to do with the rain. Piloting the No. 10 and No. 11 ACS/Sun Microsystems Ford Mustang Cobras, each led a practice session at Sebring, with son Brandon coming out on top when the session times were combined. After qualifying was aborted due to a lengthy cleanup, Brandon was awarded the pole based on practice times. Remarkably, both father and son held on in tricky conditions to both finish in the top-10. Mike has always done well at his home track, but this will be Brandon's first SPEED GT race at Long Beach.
GMG Racing is another team composed of locals. Team owner and driver of the No. 14 Global Motorsports Group Porsche 911 GT3, James Sofronas, of Newport Beach, is also the co-owner of GMG, the premier Porsche and high-performance tuning shop of Southern California. For 2008, he's brought in former SPEED GT winner and Manhattan Beach resident Dino Crescentini, who will drive the No. 4 Centric Parts/StopTech Porsche 911 GT3.
Jeff Courtney will be one to watch in the No. 99 KENDA/MPI Coin/TJM Wealth Mgmt Dodge Viper. The Woodhouse Performance driver earned the Sunoco Hard Charger Award last year at Long Beach for charging from 29th on the grid to a 13th-place finish. Courtney and the team have obviously been working hard in the off-season, as just tied his career-best SPEED GT finish of fifth at Sebring in the rain. Courtney is joined by Claudio Burton this weekend, who will drive the No. 13 Woodhouse Performance Dodge Viper. Burtin returns to SPEED GT after a season away. In 2006, Burtin piloted a Chevrolet Corvette and, like Courtney, finished 13th in his Long Beach debut.
Reigning SCCA SPEED Touring Car Champion Jeff Altenburg will get behind the wheel of the No. 18 LTI Contracting/Foster Motorsports Dodge Viper for his first go around the Long Beach circuit since the 2000 Trans-Am race.
Tomy Drissi, from Hollywood, has something to prove this weekend in his No. 15 Unitech Racing Inc. Corvette. Drissi exited this race early last year and is eager to redeem himself in front of the hometown crowd. Drissi is a former Long Beach winner in the Trans-Am series and knows how to throw a car around this street circuit.
A Corvette wildcard this weekend is Tony Gaples in the No. 34 Kleinschmidt Inc/Blackdog Racing car. Gaples, now a five-year veteran of World Challenge, hasn't had great luck at Long Beach, but he's coming off an impressive sixth-place finish at Sebring.
Two more Californians lead the list of Porsche dark horses. Paul Brown, of Covina, returned to SPEED GT after a seven year absence to collect a top-ten finish at Sebring in the No. 96 K&N Filters/EPR/JRZ/Tiger Racing Porsche 911 GT3. Eric Olberz, of La Canada, finished just behind Brown in 11th, driving the No. 29 911 Design Porsche 911 GT3.
More Vipers to watch include Jason Daskalos' No. 05 Daskalos Development & Investments Dodge Viper, which finished a career-best eighth at the season opener after leading the race briefly; Ritch Marziale in the No. 56 All-Cut Concrete Cutting Dodge Viper; and another local, Stu Frederick, of Del Mar, driving the No. 57 Landsystems/Meissner Jacquet Dodge Viper.
Several SPEED World Challenge drivers can assist you in the event of an earthquake, including: Mike and Brandon Davis (Huntington Beach), James Sofronas (Newport Beach), Crescentini (Manhattan Beach), Tomy Drissi (Hollywood), Paul Brown (Covina), Eric Olberz (La Canada), and Stu Frederick (Del Mar).