Veterans Ryan Dalziel, Patrick Long and Alvaro Parente led a spectacular Pirelli World Challenge GT practice round Friday in the opening day of action at the 43rd annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach as the top 11 drivers were within a second at the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit for Sunday’s PWC Grand Prix sprint event presented by Optima Batteries.
The lead trio, along with Bryan Sellers and Johnny O’Connell, put on a highly-competitive GT/GTA practice session with the top five drivers swapping the leading lap times before Dalziel posted a one minute, 18.994 second clocking in the final minute of the one-hour stint that followed the Verizon IndyCar Series cars Friday afternoon.
Dalziel, driving in both the Pirelli World Challenge and IMSA races this weekend at Long Beach, took the No. 2 CRP Racing/DeVibliss Mercedes AMG GT3 sports car to the No. 1 position with the only sub-1:19 lap of the day. The Scotland native just missed Parente’s Long Beach GT qualifying record lap of 1:18.947 set last year. The Florida resident recorded an average speed of 89.688 miles per hour to Parente’s record of 89.741 m.p.h.
Before Dalziel’s top practice time, Long, Parente, Dalziel, Sellers and O’Connell were all just eight-hundredths apart in practice times with just a minute left in the Friday’s GT session.
At the checkered flag, it was Dalziel at 1:18.994 followed by Long at 1:19.142 (89.520 mph) in the No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, reigning PWC GT champion Parente at 1:19.144 (89.518 mph) in the No. 9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S, Sellers at 1:19.161 (89.499 mph) in the No. 6 K-PAX Racing and four-time PWC series champion O’Connell at 1:19.228 in the No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R.
“We obviously didn't have a good start to our season in St. Pete," said Dalziel. “We know how much potential the Mercedes has so it's good to finally put it together for a session. We learned a lot at St. Pete, and we got a lot of help from AMG since then, and it's refreshing right now – takes a little bit of pressure off everybody. I'm happy we did double this weekend and a successful first day in both cars, so let's hope it continues. It's a pretty short amount of track time for both series so when you add up the track time for both series it almost adds up to a normal weekend for World Challenge so it's not too bad. I've done this enough now that hopefully I'll be able to get through the whole weekend but I'm sure I'll be hurting Sunday night."
“I could tell it was a street fight, it was back and forth," said Long, winner of PWC GT Round 2 in St. Petersburg. “We went out there with a plan, we stuck with the plan which was to develop a car for the race. That we were able to run some quick laps was a bonus. This is going to be tight; it always is here in Long Beach. So we're just going to put together a solid weekend and see where we come out. Sometimes you unload with a really strong package. I knew on my ‘out’ lap that the boys had done their homework. The track felt fast, it was grippy, and the weather conditions were good since the air temps were not that high but the track temps were up there. Everybody was up to speed and giving each other room so that was about as good a session as you can get."
Rounding out the top ten in the GT division were Alex Riberas of Spain in the No. 61 RFerri Motorsport Ferrari 488 GT3 at 1:19.455 (89.167 mph), Daniel Mancinelli of Italy in the No. 31 TR3 Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 at 1:19.555 (89.08 mph), Pierre Kaffer of Germany in the No. 4 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 at 1:19.594 (89.03 mph), Alec Udell of The Woodlands, Tex., in the No. 17 GMG/Euroworld Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R at 1:19. 604 (89.02 mph) and Michael Cooper of Syosset, N.Y., at 1.19.658 (88.96 mph) No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R.
Local favorite and two-time Long Beach PWC winner James Sofronas of Villa Park, Calif., posted the quickest GTA practice time Friday with a 1:20.103 (88.447 mph) in the No. 14 GMG Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R over Michael Schein of Glen Cove, N.Y., in the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R at 1:20.155 (88.411 mph).
“It's definitely a track I'm familiar with, but regardless the competition is so stiff that it's good to be in the middle of the pack (13th overall)," said Sofronas. “At this point, we rolled off the truck with a pretty good car, made two changes, then stick it up mid-session; we tried to get a balance and a long run, and the car kept coming back to us and was pretty stable. For now, it's a good position to be in, and we have good balance but I know the pole in GTA will be a second faster."
Qualifying for Sunday’s 50-minute PWC GT/GTA sprint event at Long Beach will take place Saturday at 9 a.m. PDT. Round 3 of the GT/GTA PWC series is set to begin at 10 a.m. PDT and will be televised at 2:30 p.m. EDT/11:30 a.m. PDT on a same-day coverage.