AutoMatters: 2013 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach
By Jan Wagner
The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is a unique event on the IZOD IndyCar Series calendar, offering world-class auto racing plus the opportunity for fans to experience the best of what this vibrant, Southern California beach city has to offer. In the background is the majestic Queen Mary ocean liner, the beach and pleasure boats docked alongside the restaurants and shops of Shoreline Village, the lighthouse and the Aquarium of the Pacific.
Since this is a temporary street circuit, two months before the racing began construction crews – led by Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster, Grand Prix Association of Long Beach President & CEO Jim Michaelian and other dignitaries, began what would become more than 30,000 hours of work to convert the normally bustling city streets into a challenging, concrete-lined road course with several high-speed sections and the IndyCar series’ tightest turn, which leads onto Shoreline Drive. By the time of the April 19 – 21 race weekend, more than 14 million pounds of concrete blocks were moved into place, along with three miles of fencing, 16,000 bolted-together tires, 16 spectator grandstands, seven pedestrian bridges and gigantic TV screens.
Several series raced on the weekend, including Firestone Indy Lights, American Le Mans, Pirelli World Challenge, Motegi Racing Super Drift Challenge (the first night race in the 39-year history of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach) and Robby Gordon’s high-flying, OFF-Road Stadium SUPER Trucks. Also featured was the ever-entertaining Toyota Pro/Celebrity race where celebrities and pros raced each other, each in their identically race-prepared Scion FR-S (see AutoMatters #271 for a review).
But there was much more to see and do. There were several major concerts and the annual Lifestyle Expo with row after row of displays, exhibits, automotive-themed merchandise and artwork for sale, food, freebees and contests to enter. Outside, in addition to the vendor trailers, fans had fantastic access to the race teams as they worked on and prepared their racecars, as well as opportunities to meet their favorite drivers and get their autographs.
The weather and the racing could not have been better. The biggest problem faced by spectators was deciding what to do, since it was impossible to be everywhere and to see everything. For me, I decided on a mixture of watching the racing and doing some sightseeing. Late one afternoon I strolled along the shoreline and even took a harbor tour – for the first time in the many years that I’ve been coming to this event.
I rarely interview drivers, choosing instead to spend my time over however many days I’m at the track trying to absorb as much as possible and taking numerous photos. However, at the pre-race Media Luncheon an opportunity presented itself for me to talk with Takuma Sato, a former Formula One driver now racing for the legendary AJ Foyt. Although the forecast for the upcoming racing indicated that the weather would be great, I was especially curious to learn from a race driver about the challenges of racing between the concrete barriers of a street circuit in the rain, so I asked him.
Takuma told me that racing between concrete walls is not the problem; it’s the spray from the cars ahead, which would be a problem no matter where he was racing. He explained that the spray makes it very difficult for the drivers to see. I asked him how he is able to race in that situation. He told me that he looks up and tries to see signs or something else. Those become his reference points for where he is on the racetrack.
By the way, can you guess who won the IndyCar race with an absolutely dominant performance behind the wheel? It was none other than Takuma Sato, for the first time ever in his IndyCar Series career and also the first time for a Japanese IndyCar driver. I think he might owe me one for bringing him good luck! Call it the AutoMatters bump. Perhaps I’ll mention that if I ever have another opportunity to speak with him. He might even remember me because I doubt that anyone else asked him about racing in the rain at the 2013 Long Beach race.
Well, that’s about it for now. I’ll let my photos speak for the racing action.
Please write to me with your comments and suggestions at AutoMatters@gmail.com.
Copyright © 2013 by Jan Wagner – #278 AutoMatters
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