California Boy Makes Good: Long Beach Grand Prix
It had been 10 years since I last attended the Long Beach Grand Prix, this weekend would mark my second time shooting as media at the track. Of course, the bonus this day was that I was doing so for this site, The Loud Pedal. Being able to return this track representing THE LOUD PEDAL community (yes, both of you) and my partner-in-crime, who wasn't able to attend, was incredibly fulfilling! Creating words and pictures for our audience is why we get up in the morning to do TLP.
Long Beach gave raceday the weather it needed to give both fans and photographers some needed relief from the previous days temperatures. Actually, it was so good that more than 185,000 fans attended the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach during its three-day run this year, the largest crowd in at least 18 years.
Arriving at the gate fans were confronted with street preachers outside the gate calling into question the morals and religious beliefs of people as they entered the track. It had never occurred to me that auto racing was a such a sinful sport. If these street proselytizers don’t think faith is it work in a race clearly haven’t seen open wheel race cars running over 150mph on city streets.
Northern California boy makes good: Alexander Rossi of Nevada City, California and 2016 Indy 500 winner, claimed the Verizon P1 award on Saturday (that's pole position for the unindoctrinated). On Sunday he led 71 of the 85 laps to claim his first win of the 2018 season putting himself in the series championship lead.
Hammer & Tongs: Racing on a street circuit is always a chaotic affair. Battling at ludicrous speeds between narrow concrete barriers and fencing is the stuff of lifelong grudges. The Grand Prix of Long Beach delivered this anticipated chaos as multiple drivers made contact throughout the race. On the first lap, right before reaching the braking zone for turn 1, Graham Rahal plowed into the back of Simon Pagenaud. The contact broke the suspension on Pagenaud’s car and ended his race before it even started. Ryan Hunter-Reay would suffer wing damage in the carnage and pit on the next lap. On lap 47, Hunter-Reay would suffer further bad luck when he suffered a flat left rear tire after making contact with Jordan King. With 8 laps to go, he would reach his trifecta for unfortunate events when he hit the wall causing a broken wing and suspension damage.
Former DTM driver and IndyCar series rookie, Robert Wickens pitted twice to make repairs, putting him out of contention. He had spent the first two races of the season fighting for potential wins. Though he shows great promise, he has yet to put together the stuff of a win. This kid has grit and isn't afraid to show the old dogs his new tricks....it won't be long till he tops a podium.
IndyCar series win leader (40 over his career) and 4 time series champion Scott Dixon worked his way up to second place, but was forced to serve a drive-through penalty for stopping on pit road for service before he was allowed to do so under under a caution. As a side note, in July 2013 Autosport magazine named Dixon one of the 50 greatest drivers to never have raced in Formula 1. We have no reason to disagree.
On Lap 71, Sebastien Bourdais, Hunter-Reay, King and Wickens were involved in the fourth caution of the race. Rookie King tried the squeeze play around Bourdais on the inside of the hairpin that leads to the main straight. #Sadface....Bourdais spun around and collected Hunter-Reay and Wickens in the process.
While both experienced and rookie drivers were involved in on-track incidents, Rossi maintained his cool for the entire 85 laps. He never placed a wheel wrong, and demonstrated skill and cool that one would expect from a veteran. Luck didn’t bring the victory on Sunday, but rather cold calculated nerves as the both the walls and other drivers reached out to slow him down. He became the 7th different winner in the last 7 races at Long Beach.
This year was the 44th Grand Prix of Long Beach and the first without the legend Dan Gurney. Gurney joined forces with promoter Chris Pook to convince Long Beach officials to hold a race on its city streets beginning in 1975. The Long Beach Grand Prix is a jewel in the crown of the IndyCar schedule and second in popularity to the Indianapolis 500.
In a touching tribute to the legendary racer, team owner and designer his son Alex Gurney would, prior to the race, do an installation lap in his fathers Jorgensen Eagle 5000. It was the first car to race on the Long Beach streets at the opening event in 1975 as driver Vern Schuppan drove it in a practice run prior to the race.
The Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend is a great reminder that California is on the map every year with some of the best automotive events on offer. On Sunday, California native Rossi would be the California King. Rossi leads the championship as the series leaves California. Rossi's team, Andretti Autosport, after several lean years, is ahead of the powerful Team Penske in the early championship power rankings. When they return to Sonoma in August for the season finale (We intend to be there) will Rossi be in contention for the title?