The win at Sebring was amazing on so many levels. For me, for Ford, for sponsor Telcel and for Team Ganassi. So, as I looked ahead to the Grand Prix of Long Beach, all I saw was an even bigger challenge.
You see, the team and I haven't raced there since 2006 -- and before that, 1999. I also saw a huge challenge from the P2 cars as they are 300 pounds lighter than our Prototype and so should be better with braking and acceleration. Long Beach has a lot of heavy-braking areas and fast turns. And the fact that most of the P2 teams had been racing there for the last several years was going to be an even bigger challenge to overcome.
I'm happy to say I was wrong. We unloaded our Ford-powered Telcel Prototype and were fast out of the box. In fact, we were the fastest car every session, which was great! All we did was fine-tune the setup.
The new Tudor United SportsCar Championship series brings several different rules from what we had in Grand-Am. Qualifying is one of them. For the past 10 years in Grand-Am, the driver who qualified started the race. Now, any driver can qualify and any driver can start. So I was excited that I would get to do the job. Qualifying is 15 minutes of flat-out driving between the unforgiving cement walls of the Long Beach track, putting it on the ragged edge without putting it into the fence. When qualifying was finished, we were first. It was great to get my first pole of the year. It was also exciting, getting the first pole ever for Ford and the new EcoBoost engine.
Next up, the race. Long Beach is such a great place to race, the crowds are huge, the atmosphere is electric and the track is fast and challenging. Track time was very limited -- a two-hour practice -- a 20-minute practice, a 15-minute qualifying session, then the race. Bang, bang, bang.
Since the car had such a good balance from the start, we made only fine adjustments in the setup before the race. My teammate, Memo Rojas, was the driver to start, and I'd finish. I also need to mention this was a 100-minute race. One stop! We had to get it right.
The green flag flew, and into the lead Memo went. The 01, the 5 and the 10 were neck and neck through the first stint, nose to tail. Twenty minutes into the race, I got ready. You never know when a yellow might fly, so I have to be ready. The low-fuel warning activated, and to the pits Memo came. Four new Continental tires, a full load of fuel and a driver change. The 5 car followed us in. Memo hit his marks, and I got in. Waiting, waiting, go go go!
The 5 car beat us out by inches, probably because they took on less fuel than we did. All I could think was that I had to get around the 5 car within the next two laps, or it would be very unlikely to happen. I was on him. I got a better exit off the hairpin onto the front straight. I tried to pass on the outside, and he blocked me and drove me to the fence into turn one. Not this time. As we worked our way through turns two, three and five, I was right on him. Then into turn 8, I made the move, out-braking him. Wheel to wheel. Then into the lead we went. I believe the 10 car took advantage of that and followed me through.
For the rest of the race, I was driving as hard as I could without making a mistake. Nobody wants to be that guy who crashes in the lead. Sometimes I got the advantage in traffic and sometimes I lost the advantage in traffic. The 10 car was right behind me, and on him was the 5. The laps were winding down. The white came out. One to go! I hit my marks, no mistakes and brought it to the checkered. Winner, winner, chicken dinner! Two in a row! What a race.
The Grand Prix of Long Beach has always been a very special race for me. Winning in a Pro Kart race in 1977, Trans-Am in 1987, Toyota Celebrity race in the 1990s, a Grand-Am race in the 2000s and now the first Tudor SportsCar race in 2014. Wow, hard to believe! Many thanks to Ford, Telcel, my teammate and Team Ganassi. Great job guys. Next stop Laguna Seca, May 3-4.