There are many unknowns heading into this weekend’s Tequila Patron Sports Car Showcase at Long Beach, but perhaps none more than how the Balance of Performance in the Prototype class will shake out.
January’s TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona unsurprisingly saw DP domination, and while Chip Ganassi Racing’s Riley-Ford came out on top at the Twelve Hours of Sebring, three P2 cars finished inside the top-five after showing race-winning pace.
Now, the new-look category heads to its first street race of the season, and for the first time this year, without any BoP changes from the previous race.
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Whether the tight and twisty 1.9-mile 11-turn circuit will suit the light-and-nimble P2 cars or the heavier and more powerful DP machines, depends on who you ask in the TUDOR Championship paddock.
“From what I can see, I think there’s going to be a clear advantage on the P2 side,” said points leader Joao Barbosa, driver of the No. 5 Action Express Corvette DP. “At Sebring, we had faster corners and a little bit longer straights.
“Here, everything is tighter, so aero is going to be very important. The P2 cars are very nimble and agile and much lighter cars than what we are.
“We’re probably going to struggle a little bit more. But I don’t see why we can’t have a good result here.”
A select number of P2 teams head into the 100-minute race with a leg up, at least from a setup perspective.
Extreme Speed Motorsports claimed class victory here last year with its HPD ARX-03b, although shod with Michelin tires, while OAK Racing will be able to lean off the experience of Conquest Endurance in 2012 with the same Morgan-Nissan package.
DP cars, however, haven’t raced at Long Beach since 2006, with little to no carry over from the Gen 1 cars into 2014-spec prototypes, which boast a significant increase in horsepower and downforce, along with the addition of carbon brakes.
For ESM’s Ryan Dalziel, who is one of five Prototype drivers in this weekend’s race that took part in the DP event nearly a decade ago, the now-P2 pilot doesn’t necessarily feel it could be in their favor.
“I think we can be very close or we can be way off. I think that’s the same on the DP side,” said Dalziel, who claimed a PC class victory at Long Beach in 2012.
“I’ve driven the DP here, albeit one of the older generation cars. But one place [a P2 car] will struggle is in the extreme slow-speed corners due to nature of our car works best with downforce on.
“I’m definitely hoping that through the last section, the [Turns] 9-10 complex, that’s going to be one of our strong points. The front straight won’t be a strong point for us but hopefully we’ll have good mechanical grip out of the hairpin.”
Michael Shank Racing’s Ozz Negri, meanwhile, has tried to take a philosophical approach to the weekend.
“I’ve been trying to think really hard where the BoP will be but… I’m a little lost still,” Negri said. “I thought the P2 cars were going to blow us away at Sebring and they didn’t. A DP car was on pole and a DP car won the race.
“I’m not confident in saying it will be a P2 car or DP car [that wins the race]. I think the two cars are strong in different points.
“What comes to my mind is how hard we’re driving the [DP] and trying to keep the tires longer in the car. That’s one of the hardest parts.”
Dalziel agrees that tire degradation could end up playing a factor, which could tip the race into the favor of the P2 cars, who will likely be able to do the entire race on a single set of Continental tires.
“It’s really going to come down to how both cars react on the Continental [tires] on a short race,” Dalziel added. “I think it’s going to be very difficult to predict because I think the winner will be based upon yellows.
“I think it’s no secret that the DP gets up to speed quicker than us but I also think it’s no secret that we’re better on tires over a stint.
“If it’s a green race, we’re in good shape. If there’s a lot of yellows, we’ll probably not be in as good of shape. We’re hoping for a green race.”