By Frank Santoroski, Staff Writer
This coming weekend the Verizon IndyCar Series will continue their 2017 season with one of their crown jewel events, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
About the Race
This is round two of seventeen for the Series in 2017. The event is held on a temporary street circuit, one of five such races on the schedule. The race weekend is scheduled April 7-9, 2017.
The defending race champion is Simon Pagenaud, who drives the No. 1 Penske Chevrolet. This will be the 34th race for IndyCars in Long Beach.
The race will consist of 85 laps for a total race distance of 167.28 miles. Standard road course qualifying procedures will apply.
Support races include action from the the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Series, the Can-Am Challenge, Pirelli World Challenge, Motegi Racing Super Drift and the SPEED Energy Stadium Super Trucks.
About the Track
The Long Beach street circuit has undergone a number of changes since its introduction in 1975. The current version measures 1.968 miles around and features twelve turns. The circuit features two long straightaways with the front stretch being a long sweeping run down East Shoreline drive. The back stretch runs down Seaside Way heading into a three turn complex that culminates in a first gear hairpin.
The nature of the circuit provides a number of overtaking opportunities, however, the narrow racing line and concrete barriers requires discipline, patience and precision to make a pass stick. In its long history, Long Beach has produced some of the finest drives in racing.
The city of Long Beach is located on the Pacific Coast of Southern California, on the border of Los Angeles County and Orange county. Located within the grounds is the Long Beach Convention Center that holds a number of racing-related displays and a family fun zone for the weekend. The event is held with a street-festival like atmosphere, and you will see a number of Hollywood celebrities, well-known athletes and other notable personalities milling about all weekend.
The Grand Prix of Long Beach was the brainchild of race promoter Chris Pook. He designed the event with the goal of bringing Formula One to the USA’s West coast. California hosted the Grand Prix cars at Riverside in 1960, and the Ontario Motor Speedway had hosted a non-championship exhibition race in 1971, but Pook dreamt of giving it a permanent home.
The inaugural race at Long Beach was a Formula 5000 race, sanctioned by the SCCA, as an audition for Formula One in 1975. Six months later, Formula One arrived and the United States Grand Prix West was born.
Clay Regazzoni took the win for Ferrari in 1976, but it was the following year that really cemented Long Beach’s place in motorsports. Driving a Lotus, Mario Andretti, battled with both Niki Lauda and Jody Scheckter, becoming the first, and only, American driver to win a Formula One event on U.S. soil.
News of Andretti’s win spread coast-to-coast, appearing on the front page of everything from the New York Times to Sports Illustrated.
Formula One remained at the Beach through 1983, when escalating costs prompted the promoters to move it to the CART Series. Some speculated that the event would lose its luster with the fans. Fueled by another Mario Andretti win in the first CART race, the event didn’t miss a beat.
With 42 Long Beach GP’s in the books, the race is the longest continuously running street race in the United States.
Some notable moments in Long Beach history include John Watson taking his McLaren through the field from the 22nd starting spot to take the win in 1983.
In 1989, Mario Andretti was leading in the late stages when Al Unser Jr. made an aggressive pass for the lead, snapping off his own front wing, and spinning Mario around. As Unser celebrated in victory circle, an angry Andretti stormed in, mid-interview, to express his displeasure.
In 1995, Al Unser Jr. took his Penske car to victory. It was his sixth race win at Long Beach, solidly giving him the title of ‘King of the Beach’
In 2002, Michael Andretti book-ended his CART career with a Long Beach win. The younger Andretti had taken his first series win at the Beach in 1986, so it was fitting that he took his 42nd, and final, win on the same track before he retired from competitive driving.
Long Beach also represented the beginning and the end for the OWRS/ChampCar series. The series that was created when CART went into bankruptcy held its first sanctioned race at Long Beach in 2004, with Paul Tracy taking the win. In 2008, with the merger with IndyCar announced, Will Power won on the street circuit in the final ChampCar event, closing the chapter on the open wheel split.
In 2013, Japan’s Takuma Sato became the first Asian-born driver to win in a top-tier racing series, confidently taking his A.J. Foyt car to a convincing victory.
About the Field
The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series Field represents one of the strongest, talent-packed, top-to-bottom lineups in all of racing.
21 drivers will take the green flag in Long Beach. Of those, seven are former winners at at the venue. Sebastien Bourdais has won three times, Will Power twice, while Helio Castroneves, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Takuma Sato, Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud have one win apiece.
The reigning Series Champion is Simon Pagenaud, who drives the No. 1 PPG Industries Chevrolet for Team Penske. Pagenaud, who hails from Poitiers, France, is in his third season with Team Penske, and 2016 marked his first series title.
Fifteen of the entered drivers are IndyCar race winners, six have won championships in IndyCar or CART/Champcar, and five are Indy 500 winners. There will be one true rookie in the field, with Ed Jones behind the wheel of the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Dale Coyne Racing Honda.
Drivers finding a new home this year include Josef Newgarden, who is now with with Team Penske. Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly both move to the ABC Supply A.J. Foyt Racing Team, which is also making a switch from Honda to Chevrolet Power. Takuma Sato replaces Munoz at Andretti Autosport, while Sebastien Bourdais will take over Daly’s old seat at Dale Coyne Racing.
JR Hildebrand returns to the series, taking the spot at Ed Carpenter Racing that was vacated by Newgarden. Hildebrand’s last full season in the IndyCar Series was in 2012. Chip Ganassi Racing retains its 2016 driver lineup, but is making a transition to Honda power from Chevrolet.
Drivers in the series represent twelve different countries around the globe, making it a truly international field.
About the Series
The current Verizon IndyCar Series was born out of the Indy Racing League, which absorbed the rival ChampCar World Series in 2008. In the years since the reunification, the series has seen steady growth in attendance and television ratings.
The positive growth in recent years bodes well for the Series that is owned by Hulman and Company. The centerpiece of the series is the Indianapolis 500, which will run for the 101st time in May. Mark Miles is the Chief Executive of Hulman and Company, and Jay Frye is the President of Competition and Operations for the Verizon Indycar Series.
Teams in the series use a common chassis, the Dallara DW-12, named in honor of the late Dan Wheldon, who did much of the development testing of the car. The chassis has aerodynamic components that differ according to the engine manufacturer. The 2017 rules called for a freeze on aero-kit development, in anticipation of a common aero package for 2018.
Chevrolet and Honda are the engine partners for the Series with each supplying a 2.2 Liter V-6 turbocharged engine to the teams that are capable of producing over 700 hp at 12200 rpm. All cars in the series run Firestone Firehawk tires.
Where and When to Watch
Tickets for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach can be purchased here. Ticket prices range from $32 for a single-day general admission up to $142.00 for a three-day upper level grandstand seat with plenty of options in between.
Television coverage of practice, qualifying and the race will be provided by NBC-SN. Race coverage will begin at 4:00 PM EDT on Sunday April 9. Coverage can also be found streaming on the Verizon IndyCar Series You Tube Channel, Facebook Page or at http://racecontrol.indycar.com/
Other coverage options include Sirius XM radio (Sirius:209, XM:212). Fans can also keep up with all of the action on the IndyCar Mobile app provided by Verizon Communications.