Long Beach’s ‘hairpin of drama’
Long Beach’s ‘hairpin of drama’
The GT Le Mans class result was turned on its head in the final minutes the last two times the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship has raced on the streets of Long Beach.
Both times, it’s involved Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin’s No. 4 Corvette C7.R.
Both times, it’s featured a single dramatic moment at the tightest corner of the year, the Turn 11 hairpin that completes the 1.968-mile street circuit.
The cars are so close that you can almost touch them at corner apex. Sometimes, the cars get too close to where they touch themselves.
Gavin and Milner nearly won the 2016 edition of the race. Gavin watched with tension from the pit lane as Milner defended against the pair of Porsche 911 RSRs. The Porsches were close, but by no means close enough to attempt the pass for the win.
That all changed in the final three minutes. Fred Makowiecki attempted a late lunge at the hairpin in his No. 912 Porsche, and collided with Milner’s Corvette. It took both cars out of win contention and opened the door for Nick Tandy in the sister No. 911 Porsche to sneak through on the inside, and take the victory.
It capped an up-and-down race for the winning Porsche. Earlier in the race, IMSA officials penalized Tandy and Patrick Pilet’s No. 911 car with a pit road speeding penalty, which knocked them back to fifth.
Having made it back to third when the Makowiecki/Milner collision occurred, suddenly they benefited.
“It was probably the most eventful win we’ve had, coming from things going badly and very badly, to those coming back with a victory,” Tandy summarized.
“I was just waiting on the 912 to make a move on the Corvette. Unfortunately the two cars collided and it’s unfortunate they collided and stopped, but it made up for the stuff that happened earlier in our race.
“Immediately when it’s your teammate that gets stuck and cannot carry on, you feel bad, but from my point of view driving my car I’ve gone from third to first without doing anything. I came out of the corner and said, that’s race over then.”
Gavin, who was watching from the pits, was noticeably frustrated upon watching the race slip away from them.
“It is a little hard to swallow right now. We felt like we were going to win and we were robbed of that,” he said.
Milner described the incident from his vantage point behind the wheel.
“I just got wrecked basically. Two Porsches running nose to tail… it is pretty clear what happened there. It is pretty disappointing that is the kind of racing here where we are better than that for sure,” he said.
Tandy defended Makowiecki’s passing attempt.
“It was building and building and building. Something had to give, he had to make a move. Maybe there could have been a bit of give and take. You can’t put it all on the passing driver. It wasn’t a mistake because he was trying to pass. But the 912 is the car higher on points after two races, and there are no team orders, he was just racing – trying to get the maximum result for the maximum effort,” he said.
Milner and Gavin earned a bit of redemption in 2017, albeit under even stranger circumstances.
Similar to 2016, multiple GTD cars collided at the hairpin. The collision between a Lexus, Acura and BMW in that class ultimately blocked the track on corner exit, to where any trailing cars behind them couldn’t make it through.
Antonio Garcia, in the sister No. 3 Corvette, was leading the No. 4 car of Milner. Garcia came upon the three-car crash and tried to go to the outside of the corner to eventually make it through. But Garcia got trapped at the corner as other cars got going through on the inside line.
Milner managed to sneak through on the inside and drive home to take a surprise victory. He attempted to explain the confusing ending.
“We came to the last corner there, I knew the race was over because Antonio had a bit of a gap on me. It came on the radio and I saw the (local) caution flags there. It was free, and then it wasn’t. I tried going to the outside in the same situation last time and lost spots. This time I went on the inside,” he said.
“I wasn’t even full speed, I was cruising thinking we were under caution. Then i saw the green flags and the guys on the radio said we were P1.”
Garcia and Jan Magnussen were classified fifth, and Garcia reflected on the lost opportunity.
“I’ve never been part of a finish like that. It’s for sure very difficult to go through; I’m very confused with how the officials judged both incidents in the last corner,” he said.
To win at Long Beach, you need to have good pace, good strategy, a good pit stop and good luck. Surviving the hairpin is key to ultimate success.