By Jan Wagner
Part one’s coverage (in AutoMatters #328) of the 40
thanniversary 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.
The race began from a standing start. From early on it looked like Ryan Hunter-Reay (Florida) was the class of the field, leading many laps. Meanwhile, other drivers had trouble. On lap 26, contender and former winner Sebastien Bourdais (France) caused a Full Course Yellow when he hit the tire barrier.
As Hunter-Reay continued to lead, lap 40 saw another Full Course Yellow for Bourdais, after he hit yet another tire barrier.
A big, race-changing wreck occurred on lap 56 when Hunter-Reay took out then-leader Josef Newgarden. Other drivers involved in the crash were James Hinchcliffe (Canada), Tony Kanaan (Brazil), last year’s winner Takuma Sato (Japan) and Helio Castroneves (Brazil) – of “Dancing with the Stars” fame. That set up an opportunity for road racing specialist Mike Conway (England) to come from behind to win, followed by Will Power (Australia) and rookie Carlos Munoz (Colombia).
Run in the long shadows of the late afternoon, the final race of the weekend was the Pirelli World Challenge – now in its 25
thseason. The field of 40 racecars included: Cadillac CTS-V.R, Camaro, McLaren 12C GT3, Ferrari 458 GT3 Italia, Audi R8 Ultra, Mustang Boss 302S, Porsche GT3R, Audi TT RS, Aston Martin GT4, Kia Optima, Mercedes-Benz AMG SLS GT3, SRT Viper GT3R, Porsche Cayman S and Nissan 370Z.
Class winners were Johnny O’Connell (GT – Cadillac CTS-V.R) and Nic Jonsson (GTS – Kia Optima).
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Copyright © 2014 by Jan Wagner – #330r1