Tommy Milner: The Long and Short of Long Beach
Corvette Racing New Guy’s Guide to the First Street Race of the Season
LONG BEACH, Calif. – Sebring and Long Beach are the yin and yang of the American Le Mans Series. Last month’s season-opening Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring is the longest event on the ALMS schedule; the upcoming two-hour American Le Mans Series at Long Beach on April 16 is the shortest. The distance between the former bomber base in central Florida that hosts the Sebring enduro and the glittering bayside circuit in Southern California is measured not only in miles but also in culture and style. Long Beach is a street race, a beach party, and a celebration of spring.
With only a single two-hour practice session before qualifying and the race, the Long Beach schedule is as compressed as a beachfront condo. The ALMS drivers will be first out on the green track on Friday morning, and will end the day with qualifying. They won’t see the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary course again until they take the green flag at 4:30 p.m. PT on Saturday.
So does Corvette Racing new guy Tommy Milner feel any pressure going into his second race with the series’ most successful sports car team? Hardly.
“I’m excited about going to Long Beach and getting back in the Corvette,” said Milner, who will share the No. 3 Compuware Corvette C6.R with co-driver Olivier Beretta, a two-time winner in the GT1 class at Long Beach. “Sure it’s a short weekend, but Corvette Racing was strong there last year and I’m looking forward to seeing how the C6.R works for me.”
Milner had an up-close view of the Corvette C6.R’s performance last year on the Long Beach circuit. His former team elected not to change tires during his pit stop, a move that vaulted Milner from fifth to first. But as his used tires lost their grip, Milner lost his grasp on victory. First he was passed by eventual race winner Patrick Long, and then by Corvette driver Jan Magnussen, who was on fresh rubber. Magnussen was also on a mission as he moved up from sixth to second in the closing laps, and Milner had to settle for his second consecutive third-place finish in Long Beach.
“Long Beach is all about track position,” Milner explained. “Obviously pace is important, but track position is crucial because it’s so difficult to pass there. By not changing tires, I ended up in front for quite a few laps. Pat Long gave me a little push and moved me out of the way, and by the time Jan got to me, I was done. Jan still had a hard time getting by me in a car that was a lot faster than mine. This time I think I’ll have the faster car and I won’t have to be defending!”
Although Milner professes his love for high-speed tracks, he appreciates the charms of America’s most celebrated street course. “There is something about really hustling a car in the narrow confines of a street track and pushing the envelope right up to the wall that is a lot of fun,” said the 25-year-old racer from Lake Mary, Fla. “One of my favorite corners in Long Beach is the Fountain Turn because you can almost trim the hedge around the fountain with the right fender.”
The scarcity of track time in Long Beach doesn’t daunt the determined young driver. “At Sebring you have all the time in the world to practice, and when you get to the race you still wish you had one more practice session,” he laughed. “It’s the same at Long Beach – I always wish I had another session, but I’ll go into the race feeling confident that I have a good car. That comes down to working with your team and engineers to get exactly what you want out of the car.”
“Since I joined Corvette Racing, we’ve always been able to get a car that’s comfortable to drive and quick early on, so I don’t have any concerns about the short schedule in Long Beach,” Milner noted. “The first hour is almost a throwaway because there’s not much grip and the way the car behaves changes dramatically throughout the session. We have to be methodical about how we make changes, and not get too carried away with how the car is handling initially. The track will come to us.”
While many of his contemporaries will be partying in Long Beach, Milner is going to be all business in his first street race with Corvette Racing.
The two-hour American Le Mans Series at Long Beach will be shown live on ESPN3.com starting at 7:15 p.m. ET/4:15 p.m. local time on Saturday, April 16. ESPN2 will provide television coverage from 5 to 7 p.m. ET on Sunday, April 17.
Release Date: April 11, 2011