In terms of jumping head first into the deep end, it doesn't get much deeper than what Michael Marsal took on this weekend in the 38th running of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Joining a new racing series, racing a high-horsepower, high downforce Prototype machine for the first time on a demanding and unforgiving concrete-lined temporary street circuit is a tall order for any driver. Add in the fact that inclement weather on Friday meant that the first time Marsal did laps at speed on a dry track came just moments before the drop of the green, and you might have a recipe for disaster.
But the young Marsal showed his maturity, speed, and quick adaptability as he impressed in his first-ever American Le Mans Series race start, driving the No. 20 Dyson Racing Mazda B11/66 Lola with Eric Lux to a third place finish on Saturday in round 2 of the 2012 ALMS season.
"Long Beach is certainly a difficult place to make your first start," said Marsal after driving just under half of the race distance before turning the controls over to Lux. "There is a lot of room for error when you first start driving them--getting used to the aero, getting used to the car and the power. And doing it on a track with walls all around it is not ideal as there is no room for error here whatsoever. But it was the first race that we were able to do, and you have to start somewhere!"
Marsal started the race from third on the overall grid after Friday's rain set the starting order by championship points. While looking to avoid any issues with the new car, the walls, and the four other classes of competition, Marsal was introduced to another instant variable as there was an incident that happened directly in front of him, causing him to have to take evasive action.
The move lost him a lot of track position, but kept the car clean before he was able to return to race pace and settle into a grove.
"There was debris all over the track in some of the early laps--I saw a hood out there, and then the car got hit by something else a few laps later," said Marsal. "But I just wanted to try and save fuel for Eric, and keep the car in one piece. There was a lot more to lose than to gain today so I was pretty happy with my stint."
A caution flag just shy of the halfway point in the race set into motion a stop for fuel, tires and driver change as Lux took over the driving duties