Stars Return To Long Beach Grand Prix

Finally, all the biggest names in racing are back in Long Beach.

The ugly dozen-year split between the Champ Car World Series and the Indy Racing League not only nearly killed open-wheel racing in the United States, it robbed the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach of the biggest names in the sport. To keep things going, the organizers of the annual race through the streets of Long Beach focused on the party and not the race — music concerts (this year it’s Puddle of Mudd), the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race (Keanu Reeves headlines this year) and the side-shows got the heavy promotion. The race was an afterthought.

No more.

Danica Patrick, Scott Dixon, Marco Andretti, Graham Rahal, Dario Franchitti and all the biggest names of IndyCar are back in Long Beach. Qualifying is Friday and Saturday, with the big race on Sunday at 1 pm.

And people are excited — ticket sales are up 7% this year despite the economy being down, said Jim Michaelian, CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach.

“It seems to be a preponderance of casual fans,” buying tickets this year, Michaelian said. There are the names — like Danica Patrick and Scott Dixon and a new generation of Rahal and Andretti — that the fans know. That is really an important part of our selling the race.”

This is a true street course race set up in downtown Long Beach — Shoreline Drive and Pine Avenue that are normally filled with tourists and partiers are now filled with speeding cars. Those cars fly past the high-rise condominiums, the bars and shops, and the crowds that line the course. It is a race with a beach feel ala Monte Carlo, and the excitement and setting has long been a draw on its own.

While the race can be exciting it also can be won on Saturday during qualifying. Passing is notoriously difficult in Long Beach and someone in the pole position with a good car on race day can be very difficult to catch.

Although it can happen. Tell Franchitti you can’t pass in Long Beach and he’ll quickly tell you about how Alex Zanardi passed him to take the 1998 race. He also has an excuse ready.

“My mirrors had been knocked off so I didn’t know he was there, Franchitti said.

Franchitti is another of the stars back racing this year, with his side mirrors, and he is part of the reason they are putting the focus in Long Beach back on the racing. Where it belongs.

Copyright FREEL - NBC Local Media
Contact Us