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TUSCC: Tequila Patron Sports Car Showcase Preview

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The size of the starting field will not be big and only two of IMSA’s four classes are competing this weekend for Saturday’s Tequila Patron Sports Car Showcase at Long Beach, but do not think for a second that a dull and lame race should be the expectation. Although yes only 18 teams will contest the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship’s battle on the tight and twisty 1.9 mile street circuit that has been dubbed “the Monte Carlo of the U.S.A.,” the field is full of potential in terms of cars and drivers expected to run.

A lot of stories are on the table starting in the headliner Prototype division entering the third round of the 2015 campaign. Can Chip Ganassi Racing regain their momentum after winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona, but falling short in the following race at Sebring? Also can Action Express Racing, who crushed the competition with their Chevrolet Corvette C7 DP at Sebring, do so again at a Long Beach circuit where they have not fared well in races past in both the TUSCC and the former Rolex Sports Car Series championship? If you go by recent history, Ganassi has the upper hand. The Ford EcoBoost-Riley DP runners are gunning for a third straight victory in this event, after nearly going wire-to-wire in the 100 minute affair a season ago. Scott Pruett perhaps has the most experience among all the drivers on the TUSCC entry list, having participated here in sports cars, SCCA Trans-Am, and IndyCar competition. Joey Hand does not have the same credentials, yet should be a key factor if CGR is able to three-peat. Like Pruett, Action Express Racing’s Christian Fittipaldi has taken to the tight concrete canyon multiple times in IndyCar competition and should not be fazed by the circuit and the same goes for his teammate Joao Barbosa who has been a regular participant here in sports car-related events. Although the field is small for the Prototype division, due in part to several North American Endurance Cup only runners skipping this round (Extreme Speed Motorsports and Krohn Racing among them), there are others one would be a fool to forget about on Saturday, including the following.

Michael Shank Racing’s new Ligier JS P2-Honda coupe will take to the streets of Long Beach for the first time. After showing impressive pace at both Daytona and Sebring it will be interesting to see how the car fares on the street circuits, having not been featured on one to date. Oswaldo Negri, Jr., who will be paired with regular co-driver John Pew, is coming off a solid run for Krohn Racing this past weekend at Silverstone, England. The other three Chevrolet Corvette DP combatants should be a factor at some point in the conversation upfront. Wayne Taylor Racing and Visitflorida.com Racing were surprisingly quiet in terms of highlights last time out at Sebring, a factor that should change as the circuit enters the meat of the schedule. Action Express Racing’s second entry (the No. 31) should also be stout here with Dane Cameron and an improving Eric Curran at the controls. An X-factor in the final equation could be the little DeltaWing, who makes its debut on the streets of Long Beach. The car continues to show more speed in limited running, but the Dr. Don Panoz-led squad must improve their reliability to be in consideration for a high finish. Mazda’s SkyActiv-D project continues to gain in terms of overall performance, but still is not quite ready to contend for major results at this point. Starworks Motorsport’s Dinan powered-Riley DP is on the entry list provided by IMSA, but it is unknown if the team will be track side for Saturday’s race or not. If they are, they should be effective, but would not be a likely threat for victory.

Although Corvette Racing swept the first two legs of the North American Endurance Cup championship at Daytona and Sebring, it will be far from a cakewalk for them when they arrive at Long Beach, a layout where they have claimed only one victory in their history. The tight characteristics of this street circuit does not necessarily give their wide track Chevrolet Corvette C7.R an advantage here, when compared to the smaller, more nimble cars in the GT Le Mans division. However, the speed of the package on both Shoreline Drive and Seaside Way should keep both of its cars in contention on Saturday. Despite showing a lack of pace at both Daytona and Sebring, the street circuit at Long Beach could be the perfect scenario for Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing’s BMW Z4s to reach the top step of the podium. Bill Auburlen has a solid track record at this venue, as does John Edwards in the sister entry. The V-8 powered Z4 will also run ten kilograms lighter in total weight as opposed to the mass it carried at both Daytona and Sebring. Porsche North America and Team Falken Tire, will both take advantage of the nimble Porsche 911 RSR at this event, despite the irony of the car having a less than stellar resume here in years past. Rounding out GTLM, Risi Competizione’s Ferrari 458 Italia is a very much alive sleeper at Long Beach. The Houston-based runner received a great deal of assistance in the latest set of Balance of Performance adjustments following Sebring, including the approval of a new front splitter and rear diffuser, plus clearance from IMSA to run electronic fly-by-wire throttle on the 458. These additions should offset a weight increase on the car by 15 kilograms.

Stay tuned to Rubbings Racing for full coverage from the Tequila Patron Sports Car Showcase at Long Beach this weekend.

 

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About Matt Embury

Matt Embury is the Senior SportsCar Writer at Rubbings Racing and can be followed on Twitter (@MattEmbury) for the latest sports car news and opinions. A native of Mishawaka, Indiana, he has been following sports car racing for nearly 20 years.

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