After 24- and 12-hour races to open the season, the third round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, a two-driver, 100-minute sprint race at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, seems relatively straightforward. A single pit stop for fuel and driver change, and perhaps tires. But with a fuel stint lasting about an hour under green-flag conditions, there is a 20-minute or so window in which to insert that stop if there are no cautions, so there is certainly room to play with strategy.

“The one negative about is it’s a short distance; so if you make a mistake, it’s very difficult to recover,” explains Porsche Penske Motorsport’s managing director, Jonathan Diuguid.

“I think the positive about that is that fuel and energy window is quite large. So there are opportunities for people to stop and miss traffic and do different things like that, or for partial tire changes, and you’ll have some warm-up differences, because the one thing that’s always been at the top of the strategy list for Long Beach is track position. We used that to our advantage last year, at least our two-car team, to put both cars in one-two position to sort of control the race. So I think you’ll be seeing some drivers looking at all the opportunities they have in managing traffic and track position. I think that’s where the tire strategy is going to come.”

Last year, PPM chose not to take tires during its pit stop to save itself the warm-up window where the pace is quite slow, giving the Porsche 963 its first win in Grand Touring Prototype (GTP). However, Michelin is bringing a softer tire to Long Beach this year, and drivers expect tire degradation to be higher. Running the full race on a single set seems an unlikely proposition – even last year, at the end of the 100 minutes, the Porsches were well off the pace, but track position and an unsuccessful lunge for the lead by Ricky Taylor left Mathieu Jaminet and Nick Tandy with the victory.

“I think there’s going to be a lot more deg,” says Ricky Taylor, driver of the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Acura ARX-06. “Out laps are going to be really strong. I’m not a strategist, but obviously the drivers are always throwing around ideas of, ‘Oh, we should undercut them,’ but everybody’s going to try undercut. So there’s going to be a lot of people defending and then, who goes long… I think there’s definitely going to be people trying different stuff. And it’s not a full two stints, so there’s quite a bit of room to play. And for one stop, it’s going to be pretty exciting, what people do.”

His brother and teammate in the No. 40 WTRAndretti Acura, Jordan Taylor, points to one example of how a team might use a different strategy to gain track position.

“Last year the 31 pitted early, off sequence,” Jordan says. “If you have a bad qualifying and you’re at the back, it’s so hard to pass that there’s no point running that simple strategy. So we saw them do that early stop. When you’re at the back you get take those chances and sometimes it pays off, and sometimes it doesn’t.

“Hopefully we have a good qualifying and it’s a simple strategy for us to keep it up front, but you never know. And like we saw with the 10 car last year, they had a little issue in their pit stop, so it’s still on execution – drivers, tires, fuel… everything can make or break in that race. So I think everyone’s been doing their homework ahead of time for this one.”

The other class in the race, GTD, faces a different situation regarding tires. Michelin’s GT tires this year have gone toward more durability, and that’s likely to give the GTD teams some options.

“We have a different tire, we have less sets,” explains Jack Hawksworth, normally partnered with Ben Barnicoat in GTD PRO, but for Long Beach pairing with Frankie Montecalvo in the No. 12 Vasser Sullivan Racing Lexus RC F GT3 as the team rearranges its driver lineup to have two GTD cars.

“I think last year, we had five sets for the weekend. This year, we have four sets for the weekend. The tire is more durable. It’ll definitely be a one-stop race, but what we do with tires and whether we take four, whether we take two, whether we take none, is going to depend on the level of degradation we see in practice.”

For a one-stop race, there is still a range of strategies teams have at their disposal. Saturday will reveal just how wide that arc of options can be.