Facing the challenge of the first temporary street circuit on the 2017 schedule, Acura Motorsports and Michael Shank Racing looked on pace for a top-three finish Saturday in Long Beach, California, before a communication error during a mid-race caution period for the No.93 NSX GT3, and final-lap contact for the sister No.86 machine, cost both dearly in the final results.
Starting eighth in the No.93 Acura, Katherine Legge gained three positions during her stint behind the wheel, pitting the car from fifth just before mid-race in the one hour, 40-minute event. A quick pit stop, which saw the team elect to change just a single tire, gained MSR one more position, then co-driver Andy Lally moved up one more position to run third in the highly competitive GTD class.
However, a miscommunication during the third of four caution periods in the race caused the team to miss the "wave around" call for Lally, which re-sets the field for the restart. That dropped the No.93 to 11th with just over 40 minutes remaining in the contest. Lally regained one position, to 10th, in the closing laps, but then was able to take advantage of a multi-car crash on the final lap to finish seventh.
"I know the result isn't what we wanted, but we've all made mistakes." said Lally "It happens. I actually came in [following the finish] with a smile on my face. We've shown huge improvement. Katherine [Legge] was flying in the first stint and set amazing lap times. We over-delivered in just our third race with this car. The Michael Shank Racing guys put the Acura in a really good position. We changed [only] one tire for the whole race, while other teams took two or four tires. We took a gamble for our strategy and it worked well for us. We were sitting pretty [before the wave-around error]. But miscues happen, and it's onto the next one."
Unfortunately, the No.86 NSX GT3 of Jeff Segal and Ozz Negri was one of the cars caught up in the last-lap crash, robbing that Acura of a sixth-place finish. Negri had started 12th, then moved to an alternative pit strategy due to the anticipated frequent caution flags on the unforgiving Long Beach street circuit.
That strategy appeared to be paying off, as Segal worked his way up the order to sixth in the second half of the race. However, on the last lap, a pursuing car made contact with Segal and another GTD car, sending all three into the outside wall and dropping the No.86 Acura to 10th at the checkers.
"I'm really disappointed." said Segal "We had a challenging practice and qualifying. But, like we've done so far this season, we executed really well in the race. We were just chipping away and picking off positions and were looking at a top-five [finish], and I was pretty content to take those [championship] points. I'm just gutted for the team. We have a torn-up race car and nothing to show for it. I don't understand the [other driver's] decision-making process, to wipe out three perfectly good cars for sixth place. Someone from the other team will have to explain that to me, but we'll focus forward on the next one."
The 2017 WeatherTech SportsCar Championship continues on Saturday, May 6, with the Advance Auto Parts Sportscar Showdown at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
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