Now for something completely different in the second round of the 2012 American Le Mans Series. Instead of the wide-open expanse of Sebring, Corvette Racing will compete in the concrete-lined canyons of downtown Long Beach. Instead of 12 grueling hours in central Florida, the ALMS at Long Beach will condense the competition into 120 minutes of close-quarter combat. What hasn't changed, however, is the imperative to perform. With 20 championship points to be won on the waterfront street circuit on Saturday, April 14, the Chevrolet team will be fighting for a victory.
Corvette Racing has participated in every ALMS race in Long Beach, winning three straight in the GT1 class in 2007-09. After moving to the GT category, the team scored consecutive runner-up finishes in 2010-11. Now with two new wide-body Compuware Corvette C6.R race cars, a fresh driver lineup, and the momentum from a double podium finish in Sebring, the Chevrolet camp is primed to return to the top step of the podium.
It's a race against the clock as well as the competition in Long Beach. With only a single two-hour practice session on Friday morning to prepare for qualifying and the race, track time is precious. The Corvette Racing engineers and crew will have to test and evaluate setups quickly in this abbreviated schedule. In addition, driver Antonio Garcia will have to learn the intricacies of the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary circuit.
Garcia has won his class in the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times, the 12 Hours of Sebring once, and scored an overall victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona – but he has never raced on the streets of Long Beach. Now as a full-season driver with Corvettte Racing, the Spaniard relishes the task ahead of him.
"I've done street races before in places like Pau and Macau, and I enjoyed them very much," Garcia said. "I'm looking forward to my first street race in the American Le Mans Series, which has become one of the best endurance racing series in the world."
Jan Magnussen, Garcia's teammate in the No. 3 Compuware Corvette C6.R, is a formidable force in Long Beach. Magnussen won the GT1 class with Johnny O'Connell in 2008 and scored runner-up finishes in the GT category in 2010 with O'Connell and in 2011 with Oliver Gavin.
"I'm fortunate to have Jan as my co-driver in Long Beach because he has been successful there in the past and I can count on him to teach me the circuit," Garcia explained. "I've prepared for my first race there by watching videos of the track, and I'll walk the course with Jan and the engineers on Thursday to learn about the corners. I know the Corvette Racing team will give us a good setup. Jan can work on fine adjustments while I focus on learning the track."
Tommy Milner, now teamed with Gavin in the No. 4 Compuware Corvette C6.R, will make his second start at Long Beach for Corvette Racing. Last year he came from the back of the grid to finish fifth after a post-qualifying tire change.
"Having very little track time definitely adds to the challenge in Long Beach," Milner said. "It takes 30 to 45 minutes for the track to get rubbered in, and with the predictable red flags, we may have only an hour or so of meaningful track time before the race. Fortunately the team can apply information from last year. Based on the performance of the new Corvette chassis and Michelin tires at Sebring, I think we'll be very competitive.
"Long Beach is tough, no question about it," Milner noted. "Staying off the walls is obviously very important, but the bumps and the varying levels of grip can also catch a driver out. The braking zone going into the first turn presents an overtaking opportunity, and the end of the back straight is another good place to pass. The track layout allows a car ahead to be defensive without really blocking. Sometimes you have to be a little forceful to overtake, but that's the nature of a street race."
ESPN2 will broadcast the American Le Mans Series at Long Beach live at 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, April 14. The 2-hour race will be carried simultaneously on ESPN3.com.