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Samantha Tan claims podium at Long Beach in GT America

Samantha Tan made huge progress over the GT America weekend at the Long Beach Grand Prix and, on her first ever race in the new-gen BMW M4 GT4, she scored a brilliant second place finish at the iconic street circuit.

Samantha Tan, ST Racing BMW M4 GT4, 2024 GT America, Grand Prix of Long Beach
Photo credits: Fabian Lagunas / SRO

The Long Beach Grand Prix is one of the most iconic events in car racing, hosting open wheel as well as sports car competitions since 1975. Eight F1 GPs were held at the Californian venue, which has since become one of the top events for IndyCar and IMSA.

Drivers from all over the world pride themselves of having raced on the streets of Long Beach, as support series' entry lists thrive.

GT3 racer Samantha Tan - currently competing full time in the GT World Challenge America championship with her own ST Racing outfit - thus decided to make a one-off appearance at this year's edition of the Acura GP of Long Beach, returning for the weekend to GT4 machinery in the GT America category.

It was Tan's second time at Long Beach, having first raced on the legendary street circuit in 2019, as part of the GT4 America Sprint series where she collected a P12. Tan moved to the SprintX series in 2020, before her first international campaign in the Creventic 24H Series where she claimed the overall and GT4 title. Since then, the Canadian stepped up to GT3 and has raced both in the SRO American championship as well as in Europe, winning in class in both. At the 2024 season opener in Sonoma, she secured two second place finishes in ProAm.

The practice sessions at Long Beach had plenty of track evolution as expected on temporary circuits; Tan spent the first session learning the car, as she approached her first race weekend in the new-gen BMW M4 GT4, vahing always raced the previous generation.

She set the eighth fastest time, before she improved by six tenths in the second session.

Tan then found 1.6 seconds in qualifying later in the day, significantly shortening the gap to the top; she would line up in P7 among the GT4 entries for the first race on Saturday.

Isaac Sherman took GT4 pole position by over 4 tenths over teammate Robb Holland, while Heart of Racing's Gray Newell led a 3-car train of Aston Martins.

Samantha Tan, ST Racing BMW M4 GT4, 2024 GT America, Grand Prix of Long Beach
Photo credits: Fabian Lagunas / SRO

Coming out of the iconic final hairpin, the GT4 field accelerated away with Newell having a great launch and immediately passing one of the Rotek Porsches, although Holland fought back a couple of corners later. Samantha Tan took the inside line at the first tricky corner and perfectly managed to avoid a contact between Sabo and Coleman just ahead of her. She had already leapfrogged Todd Parriott's Flying Lizard Aston Martin and found herself sixth after the first lap.

Glued to the back of Sabo's Vantage GT4, Samantha attempted a first attack on lap 3, but had to hold off. Swearingin meanwhile had moved up to third - with four cars effectively in the battle for the final step of the podium.

With 28 minutes to go, the GT3 cars caught GT4 traffic - and Tan tried to use that to her advantage, getting closer to her class rivals. Very late under braking, Samantha was again close to making another attempt with 24 minutes to go, when she tried on the inside and then on the outside of turn 1 on the following lap but had to settle back.

Samantha finally found a way past Sabo with 15 minutes to go and moved up into the top five; she immediately pulled away and then chased Swerington and Newell, as her duel had allowed the cars ahead to gain ground. Tan caught them in a matter of two laps and started to put pressure on Newell. Unfortunately, traffic from the overall leaders cost her momentum as she had to give way at turn 2 and lost three seconds.

While she did manage to gain back a few tenths over the final 7 minutes, Tan was never close enough again to challenge NEewell for fourth. With a strong first race, though, Tan had found her rhythm around the 3.167 km-long street circuit, laying the foundation for an even greater second race on Sunday.

"Wanted more but it just wasn’t in the cards", she wrote. "Made a lot of progress over the past couple days, I’ve never driven this car before and it’s definitely a big difference from the GT3! I’m proud of the learning curve I’ve had and I’m starting from P3 tomorrow, let’s get it."

Samantha Tan, ST Racing BMW M4 GT4, 2024 GT America, Grand Prix of Long Beach
Photo credits: Fabian Lagunas / SRO

The grid order for race 2 was in fact set by the fastest lap from race 1 and, having set the third fastest lap of the contest, Samantha Tan would start from P3, aiming for a podium.

Tan had a great getaway and entered turn 1 fighting for second place; she then slotted into third after turn 2, behind Sherman and Holland. By lap 3, Samantha continued to improve her times and was faster than the car ahead, while at the same time she retained a safe margin to the car behind - the #25 Heart of Racing Aston Martin of Gray Newell.

The two Rotek Racing Porsches ahead hit traffic and Tan gained over a second on lap 5, but gaps remained stable until 9, when she got ahead of Robb Holland in a crucial overtake. Now second, Tan could see Newell in her rearview mirrors, but the Canadian kept him at bay and set consistent times as the race reached its mid-way point.

While her pace wasn't quite enough to close in on Isaac Sherman, she could gain a few hundredths of a second per lap to Newell, thus stretching her legs in the final 15 minutes of the race.

The Aston Martin driver attempted a last charge with 3 minutes to go, as Samantha started to struggle for grip: Newell applied pressure but Tan used all her experience and defended masterfully to cross the finish line in second place. At only her second start in the new BMW G82 M4 GT4, Tan claimed a podium finish, and she did so at one of the biggest racing events in North America.

"Put it all together today and brought it home in second! Thank you to my team for giving me an awesome car to fight with and Neil Verhagen for spotting", Tan commented, mentioning her GT World Challenge America teammate and BMW factory driver who helped her in a spotting role on her sprint race weekend. "Was the only woman in the series and we represented today. It’s such an incredible experience to race at the Long Beach Grand Prix and I hope to come back again next year."

Tan will now return behind the wheel of her BMW M4 GT3 for the second round of the GTWC America season, which will be held at Sebring International Raceway on 4-5 May.

Samantha Tan, ST Racing BMW M4 GT4, 2024 GT America, Grand Prix of Long Beach
Photo credits: Fabian Lagunas / SRO



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