As any driver or athlete can attest, getting the chance to compete in front of your home crowd in your home state is a dream come true, and that's exactly what I'll get to do this weekend at the Grand Prix of Long Beach with the SRT Viper team.
I've raced on the streets of Long Beach many times before, which I'll touch on later, but this is my first visit to California to as a full-fledged factory driver with the SRT Viper American Le Mans Series program, and for me, the energy and expectations are quite high.
We've had a month between the opening race of the season at the 12 Hours of Sebring, and I think everybody was very happy with the overall pace that we showed there. We ultimately were disappointed with the end result from Sebring, because we had two cars that potentially could have been on the podium.
Of course we wanted to win at Sebring, but in a sport where you're always looking for something to build on from one race to the next, we came away with plenty to be proud of and plenty to work on for Long Beach.
Having a month between races might sound like a lot of time for everyone at the SRT Viper team to work at a relaxed pace, but believe me, there has been no complacency with Long Beach on the horizon. Our mechanics have been working nonstop. The engineers have been working nonstop. Long Beach is by far the most prestigious street race in America, and everyone wants to win it. We just want to be the ones to win it on Saturday.
This isn't the first time the SRT Vipers have run on a street course; the team ran at Baltimore last year (RIGHT), but no two street courses are the same. The different surface conditions are the biggest factor to account for, but at least the team gained some general knowledge from Baltimore and hopefully we can make use of some of that to start at Long Beach.
If there's one area that has use hopeful with the SRT Vipers at Long Beach, it's how much progress the team made with handling and dealing with bumpy track surfaces. That proved to be one of our strong suits at Sebring, and Long Beach definitely has its bumpy sections, so we're planning on putting this advantage to good use this weekend.
There's one downside to being a new team at Long Beach, and it's the limited track time that's available to all competitors. We're in the same boat as the rest of the teams, but while most of them will be working from setup information they've gathered from years of racing on the 1.9-mile circuit, we'll be learning what our cars need to go fast around those 11 turns for the very first time.
One thing that we can play from is quite a few of us drivers and engineers and people within the SRT Viper team have raced Long Beach before. We still need to test and document what the cars require there, but the team is loaded with veterans and we'll move forward quickly through the process. We'll make it work. I do think the cars are going to be quick; it's just really important that they're quick right out of the box.
As I mentioned earlier, racing at Long Beach has been a great part of my career – especially in the early years, and as a Californian, returning with SRT and the Viper and American Le Mans at one of the sport's premier events is going to be really special. It's easily my favorite street course, and I've raced there I about five times so far in open-wheel.
That experience came in Formula Atlantic and I've done one Indy Lights race there as well. I have always run quite a bit toward the front, had a few podiums and almost a win in Formula Atlantic, so naturally I'm hoping my past experience will translate into good things with the SRT Viper team. I'm going to have quite a few family and friends and neighbors that are making the drive down, so there will be a “Bomarito section” in the stands cheering me on. It never hurts to have your own private support team in the crowd!
The same is true for what I've experienced so far with the massive support that comes from SRT Viper owners and fans of the brand. They are like a second family wherever we go. They love their cars, they love their racing and they are just awesome fans. It's pretty motivating having that and seeing just how many people there are following us that are passionate for these cars and what we do. It almost makes you feel bad for the other manufacturers in the ALMS that don't have the same level of fan support. Well, almost.
Long Beach is like no other race that we go to. It is definitely a party from the first lap of action Friday morning to the final lap on Sunday. The weather's supposed to be nice – typical Southern California sunshine – so if you're in the area, be sure to stop by and come say hello to the SRT Viper team. We always have room for more supporters!
Follow the SRT Viper GTS-R team on Twitter at @teamSRT. And check out all SRT street and race news at @teamSRT. Follow Jonathan Bomarito at @JBomarito.
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