The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is one of the classic events in all of racing, starting out as a Formula 5000 test event before hosting Formula 1 for eight years. With Bernie’s ever increasing fees – and this was in the early ’80s! – the race organisers decided to switch to the nascent CART series which had recently split away from USAC. There was something of a drop-off in popularity for a short while before Long Beach found itself as one of the crown jewels of American motorsport and a level of prestige within Indycar racing second only to Indianapolis itself, with massive crowds and a party atmosphere.
This continued for many successful years until the damage from ‘The Split’ eventually found its way even to this event with the fall of CART. The re-formed Champ Car and the Long Beach GP stuck together until the death of Champ Car over the winter of 2007/08, and it was entirely fitting that the final send-off of the CART/Champ Car era was held at Long Beach one year ago, shortly following the unification announcement.
To the present then, and the IndyCar Series takes on the mantle of racing around these prestigious streets as the headline act and ensuring a long future for the Grand Prix of Long Beach. Toyota continues its long tradition as title sponsor (and the sponsor of the Pro/Celebrity race), and for the 3rd year running the ALMS is on the card and will be racing on the Saturday evening. The beginning of the IRL era at Long Beach also brings the Indy Lights to the streets for the first time in that series’ current incarnation.
Long Beach is the all time classic American street race circuit, the one format all other US street tracks follow, and yet due to developments it has changed many times over the years.
The current lap begins with a long flat-out blast along Shoreline Drive, which is a dual-carriageway with the pitlane taking up the other side of the road. The cars then take a 90-degree left turn, one of the best passing places on the circuit, before passing the fountain and working back in a short loop to very briefly rejoin Shoreline Drive again. From here there is a 90-left into a short downhill section and then into the long back straight under the bridges. After that is the slippery run through to the hairpin, and back on to Shoreline Drive.
Here is Justin Wilson describing a lap of the track in 2007:
I’m not sure why he wasn’t flat out along the backstraight, it could be the audio was out of sync.
This track is one of the first I ever saw in American racing, late one night here in the UK, and is one of the reasons I fell in love with it.
Justin Wilson always runs extremely well at Long Beach and given his performance at St Pete you have to think he’s looking very strong despite being with an unfancied team. Other ex-CCWS teams/drivers ought to fare well too including Will Power, and Ryan Briscoe knows the place well from his ALMS runs, but we’ll see if Helio Castroneves’ return will be disruptive to Penske’s efforts as they are said to be running 3 cars.
You can’t rule out the Ganassi team despite neither driver nor the team having run here for several years, the same is true of the likes of Kanaan. Marco Andretti also raced here in the ALMS.
ALMS, SPEED Challenge, Indy Lights, Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race
UK TV: LIVE on Sky Sports 3 at 9pm BST!
US TV: LIVE on VERSUS at 3.30pm EDT! (and catch the all new qualifying show at 6pm Saturday)
Don’t forget the race replay on Monday night if you miss it live or want to catch it again. Versus also carry the Indy Lights race highlights on Monday night.
Finally, be sure to check out their YouTube channel! Go there now to see highlights from St Petersburg and remember to check back later next week for Long Beach clips.
I’m not sure if I’ll be watching live as I may have double-booked myself with Sidepodcast.com’s Panel. If I don’t catch it live I’ll see be watching it as soon as I can on Monday!