Steve Himelstein
Chip Ganassi (right) celebrates with his No. 01 Cadillac team in victory lane at Long Beach. (Steve Himelstein photo)

CGR’s Tire Strategy Results In Long Beach GTP Victory

LONG BEACH, Calif. — The pace exhibited by the pair of Cadillac V-Series.R prototypes this weekend indicated one of their two cars would likely win Saturday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. 

The only question was which one? The answer came for a second straight year by a strategic masterstroke on the only pit stop of the 100-minute race that often comes down to time spent on pit lane.

Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande took home the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class and overall honors in the Chip Ganassi Racing-prepared No. 01 Cadillac Racing Cadillac V-Series.R, after starting third.

Bourdais bided his time and pitted a lap later than Motul Pole Award winner and early race leader Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Whelen Cadillac Racing Cadillac, on Lap 27 to Derani’s Lap 26. Both cars changed drivers, Bourdais to van der Zande and Derani to Long Beach rookie Jack Aitken, but the difference came in the tire selection.

Al Steinberg
The No. 01 Cadillac is co-driven by Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande. (Al Steinberg photo)

With a softer compound Michelin tire on offer this year compared to last year, it was unclear going into the race whether the 2024 winning car would be able to repeat the 2023 winning strategy of running the whole race on a single set of tires.

The Whelen Cadillac team from Action Express Racing changed two left-side tires, while the Ganassi Cadillac team opted to go for it by not changing any tires.

That proved the difference in the race, with van der Zande returning to the track ahead of Aitken and hanging on for the remaining hour through a pair of restarts that provided ample opportunity for overtakes while maneuvering through Grand Touring Daytona (GTD) class traffic.

Ultimately, van der Zande held off Aitken by 0.564 seconds in the 68-lap race. Afterward, van der Zande noted it was a late call to opt for the no-tire-change approach.

“It was quite cold, then the sun came out and it started to warm up,” van der Zande said. “We left it to the last minute to decide. They made the right choice for sure. Strategy won this race. The tires were kind of gone at the end; it was quite slippery. But I’m very proud of my team.”

Aitken ran within a few tenths of van der Zande, but a series of incidents around the track cost him time before one final restart, when he was unable to make a move.

“It was pretty much the same as the last 50 minutes. I gave it everything,” Aitken said. “It was a big call for them to go on one set, and they jumped us there. I really tried. But it was a great drive by Renger.

“Once they had track position, it’s extremely difficult to pass without taking a huge amount of risk. The couple yellows we did have helped Renger to take care of the tires. They lasted surprisingly well, better than I think we expected at the start of the weekend.”

The win is van der Zande’s 20th of his IMSA career and Bourdais’ 12th.

The duo teamed in a Ganassi car to win at Long Beach in 2022. Bourdais crashed out on the opening lap last year when a mechanical malfunction made the car veer into the front straight wall.

“When we make it through Turn 1, we win,” van der Zande joked toward his co-driver, who promptly followed with a humorous water toss back at van der Zande.

For IMSA’s GTP class, it’s the second consecutive year three different manufacturers have won the first three races. Last year it was Acura, Cadillac and Porsche in that order and this year it’s Porsche, Acura and Cadillac.

Coincidentally, an Acura won this year’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Cadillac, while a Cadillac captured today’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Behind the pair of Cadillacs on Saturday were three Porsche 963s. The championship-leading pair of Felipe Nasr and Dane Cameron in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963 finished third ahead of the sister No. 6 car and the customer No. 5 Proton Competition entry.

Unofficially, Nasr, Cameron and the No. 7 Porsche have 1,032 points and a 58-point gap to van der Zande, Bourdais and the No. 01 Cadillac, with Derani, Aitken and the No. 31 Cadillac 77 points in arrears.

Lexus In ‘A Different Zip Code’ During Long Beach GTD Sprint

Lexus fielded a special entry in the Grand Touring Daytona (GTD) class of the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach carrying the No. 89 to signify 1989, the year the brand debuted in America.

Parker Thompson and Ben Barnicoat helped the now-well-established auto manufacturer celebrate that 35-year milestone by driving the No. 89 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 to the GTD class victory in the first sprint race of the 2024 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season.

They won by 1.449 seconds over Robby Foley and Patrick Gallagher in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT3.

Thompson earned the Motul Pole Award with a track record lap on Friday, then he and Barnicoat combined to dominate Saturday’s 100-minute race. They only briefly lost the lead during their single pit stop and driver change.

The No. 89 was an amalgamation of the Vasser Sullivan team’s two-car Lexus team that is normally split between the GTD and GTD PRO classes. Thompson generally co-drives the No. 12 Lexus with Frankie Montecalvo in GTD, while Barnicoat is teamed with Jack Hawksworth in the No. 14 GTD PRO entry.

At Long Beach, Hawksworth and Montecalvo shared the No. 12 since the GTD PRO class wasn’t in action.

The Vasser Sullivan Lexus program has achieved 15 wins in IMSA competition, including 10 in GTD. The team’s last GTD win came at Watkins Glen International in June 2023.

Barnicoat, whose FIA Platinum driver grade earned him the nickname “Platypus” within Vasser Sullivan, heaped praise upon Thompson, who at age 26 is considered a rising star in international sports car racing.

“He crushed it,” Barnicoat said. “Track record, and he was faster than me in the race too, so I might have to look out for my seat in the No. 14. He’s definitely one of the up-and-comers. He’s got a bright future and I’m very lucky to drive with him now. He’s going to achieve great things, no doubt.”

Thompson, who has earned the Motul Pole Award twice in three races this year, demonstrated his trademark enthusiasm in Victory Lane.

“It’s Long Beach, come on!” he exclaimed. “This is the crown jewel of the sprint season. (The first) sprint race in my GTD career and already a win thanks to the ‘Platypus,’ Ben Barnicoat. Mr. Platinum himself brought it home for us. I can’t thank him enough.

“The year 1989 was the year Lexus came stateside,” Thompson added. “It’s pretty awesome to honor them with the number on the car. I’ll be remembering this one for a long time. This is a big one.”

The No. 96 BMW qualified seventh but vaulted up to second place when the Turner team chose not to change tires as Gallagher handed the car to Foley. His deft tire management was key to the podium finish.

“We have the best guys in the business on pit lane and had a really good stop, which we knew we needed to leapfrog everybody,” said Gallagher. “The strategy here is always whether you take tires or not, and we worked on (maintaining tire life) all week long to put us into this situation. But the Lexus was in another zip code.”

The No. 32 Korthoff/Preston Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT GT3 qualified sixth, led briefly during the pit stop exchange, and finished third in the hands of Mikael Grenier and Mike Skeen.

Stevan McAleer claimed fourth place in the No. 66 Gradient Racing Acura NSX GT3 he shared with Sheena Monk after a forceful drive from the back of the pack following engine problems kept it out of qualifying and forced the car to start last on the 17-car GTD grid.

The No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes finished seventh, maintaining a commanding 185-point lead in the GTD standings for drivers Russell Ward and Philip Ellis.