Part one’s coverage (in AutoMatters #328) of the 40
anniversary of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach ended with exciting drifting competition on Saturday night, April 12
Now let’s move on to Sunday’s racing action with Indy Lights, SPEED Energy Formula Off-Road trucks (not only spectacular racing, but also insane jumping and crashing into the tire barriers!), Verizon IndyCars and, to wrap up a very full weekend of seven different race series, Pirelli World Challenge cars – all on the famous 1.968 mile, 11-turn course through the streets of Long Beach, California.
Sunday began with the Indy Lights Series “Long Beach 100” race, presented by Cooper Tires. Racing in this spec series provides excellent experience for drivers hoping to move up the ladder to the IndyCar Series. Past Indy Lights champions and racers include many familiar names, including current IndyCar racers James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden and Charlie Kimball. Dallara makes the chassis, fitted with 450 hp engines (even more powerful when “push-to-pass” is activated).
Twelve drivers took the green flag for what would become a caution-free race. Gabby Chaves led all 45 laps, winning with an average speed of 92.885 mph. Rounding out the top three were Zach Veach, followed by rookie Matthew Brabham.
Spectators’ adrenaline levels were about to increase big time, because next up was Robby Gordon’s Speed Energy Formula Off-Road truck racing Presented by Traxxas (www.StadiumSuperTrucks.com). With their extreme suspension travel and huge tires, these identically prepared, 600hp trucks almost seemed alive as they reared back, leaned and clawed their way through the corners. Metal jump ramps launched the racing trucks more than 20 feet into the air. It was truly a spectacle to behold.
Since I had already seen the trucks jump outside Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas (AutoMatters #307), this time I chose a camera position just past Turn 8, which followed a long straight section. I thought that I might get some good action photos there, too. Boy, did I ever. Lap after lap, drivers kept over-cooking the sharp turn and then they slammed into the tire barrier. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, over and over again – and I was the only photographer there! Later, Robby asked me to send him photos.
From a field that ranged from teenagers to veteran IndyCar driver E.J. Viso, and famous off-road racer and former NASCAR driver Robby Gordon, experience and patience would prove to be the way to the checkered flag. Robby emerged as the somewhat unlikely winner over E.J. Viso and Sheldon Creed, after they crashed ahead of Robby on the final lap.
Not to be outdone, the Verizon IndyCar Series race was one of the best at Long Beach in years, ending with another surprise winner. After multi-time Long Beach champion Al Unser Jr. gave the command to start engines, an international field of 23 drivers drove what was anything but a routine pace lap, when the driver of the special two-seater IndyCar used for giving rides around the track lost control and needed assistance.