It’s April 15th and while many Yankees are slaving away on their income tax forms due Monday, the North American racing world is converging on sunny Southern California for its annual rite of spring – the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. This year the granddaddy of all American street races turns 42; and it still has the same sponsor – the longest corporate sponsorship in motorsports history, we’re told. And the good news from Jim Michaelian, grand poobah of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, the contract, currently through 2017, has been resigned in a multi-year deal. His words: “It will be around for a long time to come.”
This year the schedule calls for the Verizon IndyCar Series-the headliner race, WeatherTech IMSA Series Bubba Burger Sportscar Grand Prix of Long Beach, Pirelli World Challenge, Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race, SPEED Energy Stadium Trucks Presented by Traxxas, and the Motegi Racing Super Drifting Challenge. This year there is no IndyLights race – it was too expensive for them. The schedule starts each morning on or before 8am and goes into the evening with the Drifting. Sunday Stadium Trucks end the show after the IndyCar race.
This is the 40th and last year for the Pro/Celebrity race-the longest running corporate-sponsored charity race. Toyota is moving its headquarters from nearby Torrance CA to Plano TX. So the finale will be a blowout – bringing back many former drivers including Al Unser Jr, Jimmy Vasser, Adam Carolla, Eddie Lawson, Max Papis, Mike Skinner, Rod Millen, and MS Dara Torres who won the Celebrity races in 2002.
Thursday afternoon all the drivers took to the track for a Walk-Around, which also included various forms of two and four wheel vehicles.
The paddock was busy Thursday getting set up, with cars going through Tech, getting tires, fueling the cars, various systems checks, circuit inspections being completed, and people getting back into the swing of things.
Friday calls for practice for all groups and qualifying for Pro/Celebs, IMSA and Drift. The day started at 7:40am with IMSA practice and will end with Drifting, finishing at 9pm. How would you like to be a corner worker with that schedule? Let’s hear it for those hardy volunteers in White!
The weather forecast is for warm and sunny, increasingly so each day, with ocean breezes. History says it’s never rained on race day.