Event Preview: The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

By Frank Santoroski, Staff Writer

This coming weekend the Verizon IndyCar Series will return to the streets of Long Beach, as they continue their 2016 season. The race weekend is slated for April 15-17, 2016.

About the Race

The 42nd Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is round three of sixteen for the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2016. The event is held on a temporary street circuit, one of six such races on the calendar.

The defending race winner is Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon. The New Zealand-born driver is a four-time series champion.

The race will consist of 80 laps for a total race distance of 157.4 miles.

Support races include action from the Pirelli World Challenge, the IMSA Weathertech Sports Car Series, Motegi Racing Super Drift Challenge, the SPEED Energy Super Trucks, as well as the popular Toyota Pro/Celebrity race.

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 and has produced some of the finest street racing in its long history.

Event History

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 41 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 eminent, 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 2016 Verizon IndyCar Field represents one of the strongest, talent-packed top-to-bottom lineups we have seen in years.

21 drivers will take the green at Long Beach. Among them are seven previous winners at Long Beach. Sebastien Bourdais leads the field having taken three consecutive Long Beach wins between 2005 and 2007. Penske Racing’s Will Power has found victory lane twice, while Juan Pablo Monyoya, Helio Castroneves, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Takuma Sato and Scott Dixon each have one win on the circuit.

Fifteen of the entered drivers are IndyCar race winners, six have won championships in IndyCar or CART/Champcar, and five are Indy 500 winners.

Drivers in the series represent eleven 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 slow, but steady growth.

Over the past several seasons the racing produced by the series has been second to none, and the Championship battle has gone down to the final race.

Without the benefit of a gimmick like the Chase, the Verizon IndyCar Series has produced enough close racing and drama to satisfy the racing fan.

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 have its historic 100th running this coming May.

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.

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 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. Pricing ranges from $30.00 up to $142.00.

Television coverage will be provided through NBC-SN beginning at 4:00 pm EST on Sunday April 17.

Other coverage options include Sirius XM radio (Sirius:209, XM:212). Timing and scoring can be found at www.indycar.com and fans can keep up with all of the action on the IndyCar 16 app provided by Verizon Communications.

Image: John Cote/INDYCAR

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A life-long racing enthusiast, Santoroski attended his first live race in 1978, the Formula One Grand Prix of the United States at Watkins Glen. Following graduation from Averett College, Santoroski covered the CART series through the 1990s and 2000s for CART Pages and Race Family Motorsports in addition to freelance writing for various print and web sources. He produces a variety of current and historical content for Motorsports Tribune and serves as the host for the weekly radio broadcast,Drafting the Circuits,

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