Milner, Gavin Score Last-Lap Victory for Corvette in BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach
April 8, 2017
IMSA Wire Service
LONG BEACH, Calif. – The iconic hairpin turn at the Long Beach street circuit played a central role in the fate of the No. 4 Corvette Racing team and co-drivers Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner two years in a row.
Last year, this was the turn where Milner was spun out of the lead late in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race by Porsche driver Frederic Makowiecki, enabling Makowiecki’s Porsche teammate, Nick Tandy, to sneak past for the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class victory. This year, the hairpin gave one back to the No. 4 teammates.
A multi-car incident in the hairpin on the final lap of Saturday’s 100-minute BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach had the entire racetrack blocked as race-leading Antonio Garcia approached the turn in the No. 3 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R ahead of Milner and Richard Westbrook in the No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT. Garcia attempted to maneuver around the outside of the incident, while Milner opted for the inside lane.
Moments later, the No. 52 Prototype managed to get going and drive away after the incident, opening the inside lane. With Garcia still blocked by cars on the outside, Milner passed through the incident scene and headed for the checkered flag, with Westbrook following close behind.
“I tried going to the outside in the same situation last time and lost spots,” Milner said. “This time I went on the inside. I wasn’t even full speed (after the incident); I was cruising thinking we were under caution. Then I saw the green flags and the guys on the radio said we were P1.
“Racing is a lot about luck in a lot of cases. I don’t think I’ve seen it play out this way for me or for anyone else. It’s good to just get some points for me and for Chevrolet and Corvette.”
When all was said and done, Milner and Gavin were standing atop the victory podium, with Westbrook and co-driver Briscoe in second and the No. 912 Porsche GT Team of Kevin Estre and Laurens Vanthoor in third. It was the fourth consecutive race in which the GTLM podium featured three different manufacturers.
Garcia and co-driver Jan Magnussen – who qualified on the GTLM class pole fell to fifth at the finish, behind the No. 25 BMW Team RLL co-drivers Bill Auberlen and Alexander Sims.
Milner and Gavin, the 2016 WeatherTech Championship GTLM champions, picked up their first victory of the season, but it was the second in a row for Corvette Racing, which won last month’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida with the No. 3 team. Overall, Corvette Racing now has 104 victories.
Milner now has won 15 times in major U.S. sports car racing between the WeatherTech Championship, American Le Mans Series and GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series, and it’s the 47th victory for Gavin.
Vanthoor led the first 42 minutes of the race in the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR before pitting to turn the car over to Estre. That handed the GTLM lead to Martin Tomczyk in the No. 24 BMW M6 GTLM, and a few laps later, the former DTM champion found himself in the overall lead when the Prototype class made their final pit stops of the race.
With less than 15 minutes remaining, the No. 24 car slowed dramatically with an apparent mechanical problem, handing the lead to Garcia. The No. 24 ultimately wound up seventh in class.
An opening-lap crash ruined the day for both the No. 66 Ford GT co-driven by Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller and the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE of Toni Vilander and Giancarlo Fisichella.
WeatherTech Mercedes-AMG Team Takes First WeatherTech Championship Win
The No. 50 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG team played its race strategy to perfection in the BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach, enabling co-drivers Cooper MacNeil and Gunnar Jeannette to earn their first victories in WeatherTech Championship competition in the GT Daytona (GTD) class.
After a 13th-place class qualifying performance on Friday, the team elected to start the race on fresh tires, moving the No. 50 Mercedes-AMG GT3 to the back of the field. When the second of the race’s five full-course cautions came out after 18 minutes, MacNeil brought the car into the pits for service and handed over the controls to Jeannette.
Jeannette then inched his way forward through the field as others made their stops, making his way to the head of the GTD field at the 47-minute mark in the race. He stayed there for the rest of the way, winning by 7.492 seconds over teammate Jeroen Bleekemolen in the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG entry.
“We qualified pretty far toward the back but times were tight,” MacNeil said. “We made the strategy call to change to four fresh tires and to go absolutely last. So, it’s pretty good to go from last to first.”
MacNeil had five previous victories in ALMS competition, while Jeannette won six ALMS races and one GRAND-AM race previously. It was the second consecutive WeatherTech Championship win for Mercedes-AMG, which earned its first victory in the series last month at Sebring, and was the manufacturer’s first 1-2 sweep.
“I kind of blacked out for a minute and the next thing I know the checkered flag is out and I’m crossing the finish line,” Jeannette said playfully in the post-race press conference. “A lot of things can happen if you roll the dice and take a risk and taking a chance was the only card we had to play.
“I knew my job was to go back out and go as fast as I could and not use any fuel. We might have had to take one more splash but with enough yellows we didn’t have to. With 35 cars going around we kind of lucked out and we didn’t have to risk it and it worked out our way.”
The runner-up result for Bleekemolen and co-driver Ben Keating allowed them to extend their lead in the GTD point standings to 21 points, 98-77, over No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 co-drivers and defending GTD champions Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan, who finished third in the race.
The next round for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is the Advance Auto Parts Sports Car Showdown at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas on Saturday, May 6.