PATRICK HEALY

Toyota Grand Prix: Roar Returns to the Shore

It's a southland springtime ritual. Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, the race cars return to Long Beach for a festival of speed and sound on city streets near the waterfront.

It's the 42nd weekend for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach — and though Indy cars replaced Grand Prix cars years ago, there's no quibble that this is the "Great Prize" for Southland motor racing.

They also call it the roar by the shore, and the high-pitched wail of the engines takes on a special timbre as it reverberates off the walls lining the track, and as well off the higher walls of the downtown skyscrapers.

"The cacophony of sound that emanates ... can be very thrilling," said Jim Michaelian, a former racer who's been involved with the race since the beginning, and serves as CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach.

"It's the whole atmosphere," said race-fan and Porsche devotee Dave Asbury of Fountain Valley.

And it's not just spectators and organizers who wax poetic — even the working racers talk about how much they enjoy coming here.

"I love this place," said Jack Hawskworth, a young Englishman who drives the legendary AJ Foyt's Indy car. "The track's got a really good flow to it, you really get your rhythm 'round there. Threading the needle between the walls is always fun and the event is just great as well. You couldn't ask for a better setting."

"Long Beach just has an atmosphere that nowhere else has," said Katherine Legge, who's racing her DeltaWing Panoz in a supporting event, the memorably named Bubba Burger Sports Car Grand Prix.

Click here for a full schedule of events during race weekend. Click here to download the official fan guide.

Legge is fighting off a headcold, but won't let that keep her out of the cockpit this weekend.

The 1.3 mile course is mostly tight and twisty as it winds around the Long Beach Convention Center, but also includes a Shoreline Drive "straightaway" with a gentle dogleg bend that even the fastest cars take flat out.

The Convention Center hosts an expo, and other non-racing entertainment includes a concert Saturday night by the classic rock band Cheap Trick.

Speaking of music — more than one fan noted parallels with the weekend's other big gathering with a booming soundtrack, the Coachella Festival. 

"I have friends that go to Coachella," said Redlands race fan Mary Kim Clay. "But this is my thing."

One aspect of the ritual will come to an end this weekend with the final running of the pro-celebrity race, again featuring an invitation-only field competing in identically prepared Scions.

Among the former winners returning for the final edition is tireless Olympian Dara Torres, the legendary swimmer who collected 12 medals over the course of five Olympiads. 

"I think it's the adrenaline rush," said Torres before takingthe track for a practice session on her 49th birthday.

She allows as how there's not much carry-over trading in a racing uniform of Spandex for Nomex, except for the element of competition.

Will the mother of a 10 year old go for the win?

"You know what? Now that I have a kid, it's not as important to be as crazy out there," said Torres.

Of course, that's what they all say before the green flag waves.

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