TOYOTA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH: THE WHOLE STORY
This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Tue, May 11, 2010
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
(Fuhrmann) By John Grafman and Kurt Fuhrmann Plunking down a raceway in the middle of Long Beach is about as subtle as another major sports celebrity or politician admitting to a sex addiction. Wait, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is even more amazing than that. Where else in Southern California can you see cars drive at triple digit speeds all day long and not a hint of traffic? This isn’t a race, it’s a dream! The hardcore fans, the media, and a few random locals, have the chance to practice a week prior to the race weekend. This little known opportunity allows the celebrities to practice without the glare of paparazzi and looking like a fool who doesn’t know the difference between the brake and the clutch. So it’s basically the car version of “Dancing With The Stars.” During the opportunity the select few also get to soak up, or inhale as the case might be, the sights, sounds, and smells of drifting. Drifting really isn’t all out racing. It’s more like figure skating or ice dancing than circle track or speed skating. The art of sliding around the track, dodging the walls and other cars is just as important as crossing the finish line. Looking good scores points as does being fast. Although the action is not as quick, the visuals are more dramatic with cars going all over the track. The huge plumes of spewing smoke are reminiscent of a tornado, and the danger factor is only slightly less. It’s even more amazing that the wafting clouds of spent tires can float clear across the street high above the photo towers. Visually dynamic, yes. Environmentally friendly, probably not.
(Grafman) And just to thrill the media and the few who are scattered about in the bleachers are the earth shaking World Challenge cars. Sure, the Pro/Celebrity Scions, Toyota Camry Pace Cars, and various drifters are impressive, but the audible thrill from the WC cars is painfully loud. Even seasoned concertgoers will attest to just how shocking these cars are. But, the sound being emitted is only a teaser to just how swift these racers are. Fortunately, we have a chance to get an inside track on what’s like to get strapped in and take a few laps in one of the pace cars. The customary thought of a pace car is almost anything other than a Toyota Camry. Normally, the 3.5-Liter V6 DOHC 24-Valve Dual VVT- 268 hp @ 6200 rpm; 248 lb.-ft. @ 4700 rpm is rather impressive for a stock Camry. From that point the Camry is put in the specialty hands of Chuck Wade at Toyota Racing Development, builder of both Camry pace cars and the Scion tC for the Pro/Celebrity Race. The standard Camry is transformed into a fine tuned racing machine. In order to get a better feel for what this means, there was nothing left to do but go on a ride-a-long. After strapping on a helmet and sitting down in the passenger’s racing seat, a volunteer cranked down on the four-point restraint system so there was no chance to move. If you’re claustrophobic, the race car probably not the best place to be.
(Grafman) Once sufficiently mummified, pro driver Rocky Moran, Sr. took off chasing the Scion tC Celebrity practice race cars. The Camry had some major league race modifications which was obvious as we came out of turn six. The Scions seem to be standing still as each group is passed. The needle hit 118mph on the straightaway. Unfortunately, as with many pleasurable experiences, the exhilarating ride ends too quickly. The Camry may look slow comparing it to the actual race cars, but this looks a whole lot different going for a drive with Moran and experiencing this from the inside looking out. Lesson learned; don’t judge a book by its cover.
(Grafman) Friday is chock full of rehearsals for the real deal. The day begins at an early 7:15 a.m. in the morning with the earth shattering sounds of Tequila Patron American Le Mans Series practice. ALMS really isn’t one race, but four. The top dog LMP cars have a 600-700 horsepower engine and a minimum weight of 1,985 pounds. These custom bodied racers are able to go 0-100 mph in a staggering three seconds and on the other end of the scale can hit 200 mph. The LMP Challenge class is similar to the LMP cars, but the horsepower is limited to 430. All of these run on tires supplied by Michelin. Both of the LMP classes are prototypes and visually stand apart from the GT and GTC classes, which are based on production cars with a minimum weight of 2,480 pounds. The GT class is comprised of numerous manufacturers’ two-wheel drive cars that are slightly modified. Luckily for us, we are treated to the likes of BMW M3, Corvette C6R, Ferrari F430 GT, Ford GT-R, Jaguar XKRS, Panoz Abruzzi, and Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. These cars have a maximum 500 ponies that can push the familiar brands to speeds of 180 mph.
(Grafman) The GT Challenge class is comprised of just Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars. Based on the 911 GT RS, these top out at 150 mph. The Cup cars vary in weight based on model year, but roughly speaking these weigh in at 2,655 pounds. What really sets the American Le Mans Series apart from most other races, besides four classes all running concurrently, is that these cars run on alternative fuels. Thank Dr. Don Panoz, as in Panoz sports cars, for his foresight in creating the ALMS to buildawareness that not everything needs to run on straight gasoline. The approved alternative energy/fuels include diesel, ethanol blend E10, cellulosic E85, gas-electric hybrid, and iso-butanol. After the shake down practice earlier in the day, the qualifying is held at 5 p.m. This not only determines the starting order, but it also allows the drivers to get comfortable with the changing, and sometimes challenging conditions of late afternoon, which are similar to those they will face on race day. The 100 minute timed race is set for 4:40 p.m. on Saturday. This afternoon pursuit allows for a greater variety of track and natural conditions such as the track cooling off, or getting nailed in the eyes with the sun hanging lower on the horizon. As this event continues into the early twilight, the race takes on a hint of the extended racing durations that Le Mans is known for, although it never actual goes until dusk.
(Fuhrmann) The prototype class is the fastest of the four, and it sure gets its fair share of attention as a result. But this year the division gets the bonus plan with a finish that is as close as it gets. The team of Barbham/Pagenaud (1) in the HPD car came from behind to edge out the Lola/Aston Martin (007) driven by Primat/Fernandez by a remarkably close .353 seconds. Having a race that runs over an hour and a half boil down to about a third of a second is extraordinary. The LMPC class had a far greater separation with Julian/Jeannette (99) taking the checkered flag with almost 14 seconds to spare. Bergmeister/Long (45) in a Porsche 911 RSR pulled out a first in the GT, and Gonzalez/Leitzinger (81) captured their division with slightly more than a second and a half before the second place GTC car. While the classes are all exciting, the numbers really show how different these cars are. The first place LMP car crosses the finish over a minute and five seconds and four laps ahead of the car piloted by Gonzalez and Leitzinger. What ALMS offers fans is something they can relate to, constant passing as the faster divisions overtake the slower ones. And who doesn’t appreciate this in their day-to-day commutes.
(Grafman) The World Challenge race is an adrenalin rush, putting all energy drinks to shame. Indeed, the title of World Challenge has the tone of a smack-down wresting match for the world champion belt. When the competition boasts massive horsepower, the World Challenge becomes a war of race machines battling for position around a 1.97 mile, 11 turn street course to see who will cross the finish-line first. The defending champion and Newport Beach local, James Sofronas, is again driving his company GMG911 GT3 (14), a GT class Porsche. Fighting James’ Porsche for the 2010 championship are other GT class powerhouses such as: the Aston Martin DB9, the Corvette C6 with a similar 520bhp, and a Dodge Viper with a hefty 525 bhp and 565 lb-ft of torque. Ford gets into the mix with Mustang muscle reaching 500 bhp. And of course other 911 GT3 cup Porsches are GT class contenders. Another rival for the GT class is the Volvo S60 with a turbocharged engine as powerful as the Mustang. The Nissan GT-R rounds out the GT class by way of a turbo-charged V6 reaching 550bhp.
(Grafman) A separate class challenging for their own checkered flag first place win is the GTS class. Some of the cars in this challenge are the Acura RSX Type, an Acura TSX, and the BMW 328i equals the Acuras with 300 bhp, the Chevrolet Z51 flaunts 450bhp, the Lotus Exige S260bhp, a Mazda 3 with 275bhp, and a Mazda 6 with 300bhp. The touring class along with the GTS class of the World Challenge appear at Long Beach for the first time this year. The Touring Class comprised of a Chevrolet Cobalt SS, a dodge SRT-4, a Mazda RX-8, a Scion tC, and even a Honda Civic. These all range from 250-275 horsepower which even humble fans can relate to.
(Grafman) Some of the modifications unique to the classes of the World Cup wars are of course engine modifications with some huge horsepower noted earlier. However, the GTS class and the Touring Class must limit noise to 110dba. Brake system modifications are also designed different in the GT and GTS/touring class cars. In the GT class, the stock brake systems may be replaced with alterations, such as improving brake size calipers from 4-piston to 6-piston and thicker rotors. In the GTs and Touring Class brake pads, proportioning valves, and fluids, may even be removed or the ABS system deactivated. One modification all classes must adhere to is the driver safety modifications, including adding a roll cage, fuel cells, moving the fuel tank to a safer area, between frame rails, netted windows, neck and right side head restraints, plus a three zone fire system. No, the Indy Light race cars do not weight less than the Indy race cars. And no, the Indy Light race cars do not sound less intense than the Indy race cars. Both have an ear piercing high pitched shriek. So if nothing so far is light about the Indy light race cars what are the major differences?
(Grafman) The Firestone Indy Light Series is sponsored by Firestone, hence the cars competing are only equipped with Firestone Tires. This proved to be a great combination for driver James Hinchcliffe who managed his No. 2 TMR Indy light race car to first place at Long Beach. The Indy Light race car began its origin as Cart auto racing teams and developed though the years and finally morphed into Firestone Indy lights. The design essentially stayed the same and is slightly differentiated from the Indy cars. The front nose is lower, there is no air box with a prominent roll over bar (as in the Indy pro cars). Pop off valve limiting turbo boost protrudes from the back. There are variable wing designs which are dependent on the type of track, and there is a visible air inlet/underwing beneath the car. The engine is usually a 2.65 L V8 turbo topping out at 850 hp, depending on the specific engines leased. The wheelbase is 124in, overall length is 195 inches, and overall width is 79 inches, and the minimum weight is 1550lbs. The fuel used is methanol, a safer fuel than high octane gasoline (petrol), but worse mileage, and the smaller tanks necessitates fueling pit stops more often. The other races are just opening acts, albeit entertaining in their own right. The main event, the big enchilada, is Indy. The history, the cars, and the drivers come together and give the people what they want.
(Fuhrmann) The IndyCar series is keen on promoting the human side of the sport. And similar to any other sport, the promotion of the athletes create a strong bond with the fan base. Marco Andretti, Ryan Briscoe, Helio Castroneves, Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan, Danica Patrick, Dan Wheldon are all hot commodities. The fans love them and so do the sponsors. The 85 laps of the race provide close to 170 miles of high-speed action along this coastal course. The race lasts for just under two hours. Unlike driving on the local freeways in Southern California, this race is delayed just once for 5 laps (10 miles). But, even under yellow flags for about half-dozen minutes or so, the cars are far from slow poking it around the track. Under green flags the lead changes five times, but only among three drivers. The race results shouldn’t be too surprising. The top five finishers began the race in the top 10 starting positions that those teams earned during qualifying. Fortunately, the only crash is in turn one, at the end of the straight, between rookie Mario Romancini (34) and Graham Rahal (67).
(Grafman) Will Power (12)driving for Verizon / Team Penske did have the advantage of getting pole position with a time of 1:09.3185, at an average speed of 102.206 mpg. The first place starting position allowed Will to hold onto the lead for a total of 19 laps. Not good enough. Scott Dixon (9) in the Target / Chip Ganassi Racing car started in eighth place and managed to briefly hold onto first place on laps 57 and 58. Justin Wilson (22) in the Team Z-Line Designs/DRR car’s performance was nothing short of world class, but still was just shy of the mark. At the end of the day Justin scored a respectable second place against tough competition.
(Fuhrmann) Taking the checkered flag in the Team Izod car is Ryan Hunter-Reay (37) by a noticeable margin of 5.6031 seconds. Even to the untrained eye it appears that the Team Izod car is getting into a winning rhythm as the race progresses. Ryan is diving into the corners faster, exiting quicker, and building up distance between his car and those trailing him. The stats prove this out as Ryan garners the honors for having thefastest lap at 100.417 mph (1:10.5537 seconds) on lap 82, nearly seven mph faster than the average lap speed. Out of the 85 laps, Ryan captured the lead three times for a total of 64 blazingly quick laps. As race weekend plays out we find that all of the action isn’t all on the track. IndyCar Series stars Danica Patrick and Ryan Hunter-Reay highlight Tecate’s “Thursday Thunder” on Pine Avenue in downtown Long Beach. Patrick and Hunter-Reay plus their pit crewsshow-off their lightning-quick pit stops followed afterwards by a pit stop competition featuring the cars and drivers of the Tequila Patron American Le Mans Series. Now that sounds like a rivalry in the making. In addition to live music, car displays, driver interviews and autographs, the evening also features freestyle motorcycle shows and stunt demos by “Mob Syndicate FMX” and a special roller derby demo too. The Grand Prix Foundation of Long Beach again hosts the Toyota Grand Prix Charity Ball evening gala on Friday. Drivers from the various series are on hand to meet the Charity Ball guests. The guests, typically race enthusiasts, savor the stories, music, food, and experiences that the Ball delivers.
(Grafman) Cheap Trick, one of the most popular bands over the years and currently celebrating their 35th year together, headlines the Tecate Light Rock-N-Roar Concert Presented by KLOS, on Saturday night. The Lifestyle Expo, free with race ticket, includes Team Soil BMX Freestyle Demonstrations. New to race weekend, Arena Jamm will feature a virtual "who's who" of the best local rock bands performing almost non-stop all weekend in the Long Beach Convention Center Arena as part of the race's Lifestyle Expo. The Arena Jamm bands each perform half-hour sets. "Green Power Prix-View," also part of the expanded Lifestyle Expo, continues the race's innovative focus on alternative energy as it applies not only to everyday life, but also to the world of fast cars. The list of after-hours events runs the gambit from lowbrow affairs like wrestling to polished private events put on by the event sponsors. But, Long Beach is very accommodating for the 170,000 or so that flood the city for the race. The restaurants and bars are packed to capacity, once again proving that hosting a race isn’t just fun and games, its business!
(Grafman) RACE RESULTS Top places for all class races at Toyota Gran Prix at Long Beach
(Grafman) Izod Indy Car Series: 1st Place – Car #37 Driven by Ryan Hunter- Reay with Team IZOD 2nd Place – Car #22 Driven by Justin Wilson with Team Z-Line Designs/DRR 3rd Place – Car #12 Driven by Will Power with Verizon Team Penske 4th Place – Car #9 Driven by Scott Dixon with Team Target Chip Ganassi Racing 5th Place – Car #11 Driven by Tony Kanaan with Team 7-Eleven FIRESTONE Indy Lights Series: 1st Place – Car #2 Driven by James Hinchcliffe with TMR-Extreme Coll Drilling 2nd Place – Car #26 Driven by Charlie Kimball with Levemir FlexPen 3rd Place – Car #7 Driven by J.K. Vernay (R) with Lucas/w/Sam Schmidt Motorsports 4th Place – Car #29 Driven by Sebastian Saavedra with Willam Rast/Bryan Herta Autosports 5th Place – Car #27 Driven by Martin Plowman with Automatic Fire Sprinklers/Kep Printing
(Grafman) TOYO TIRES World Challenge: 1st Place (GT) – Car #13 Driven by Kuno Wittmer with Dodge Motorsports/ Dodge Viper 2nd Place (GT) – Car #4 Driven by Dino Crescentini with Centric Parts/Stoptech/GMG/Poesche 911 GT3 3rd Place (GT) – Car #1 Driven by Brandon Davis with Applied Comp Solutions/Ford Mustang GT 4th Place (GT) – Car #3 Driven by Boris Said with Applied Comp Solutions/ Ford Mustang GT 5th Place (GT) – Car #14 Driven by James Sofronas with GMG Porsche 911 GT3 1st Place (GTS) – Car #19 Driven by Tyler McQuarrie with LPL/DRS/Switcars/LCS/Dayco/M&T/Lotus Exige S 2nd Place (GTS) – Car #34 Driven by Nick Esayian with Acura/Real Time Racing/ Acura TSX 3rd Place (GTS) – Car #41 Driven byMichael Pettiford with Go41t Racing Schools/Hawk/ Chevrolet Corvette 1st Place (TC) – Car #18 Driven by Robert Stout with DG-Spec/Scion tC 2nd Place (TC) – Car #32 Driven by Eric Meyer with XOWii/Samaritan’s Feet/Delvira/Mazda RX-8 3rd Place (TC) – Car #93 Driven by Nick Whittmer with Honda Racing/ HPD Honda Civic Si
(Fuhrmann) 34th Annual TOYOTA Pro/Celebrity 1st Place – Car #25 Driven By Jimmy Vassen 2nd Place – Car #23 Driven by Tanner Foust 3rd Place – Car #7 Driven by Brian Austin Green 4th Place – Car #21 Driven by Marty Nothstein 5th Place – Car #14 Driven by Adrien Brody TEQUILA PATRON AMERICAN Le Mans Series LMP Class: 1st Place Car #1 driver (Brabham) Pagenaud in an HPD ARX-O1c 2nd Place Car #007 driver (Primat) Frenandez in a Lola BO9 60 Aston Martin 3rd Place Car #6 Driver (Pickett) Graf in a Porsche RS Spyder LMPC Class: 1st Place Car #99 Driver (Julian) Jeannette in an Oreca FLM09 2nd Place Car #55 Driver (Tucker) Bouchut in an Oreca FLM09 3rd Place Car #36 Driver (Hildebrand) Sutherland in an Oreca FLM09
(Grafman) GT Class: 1st Place Car #45 Driver (Bergmeister) Long in a Porsche 911 RSR 2nd Place Car #3 Driver Magnussen (O’Connell) in a Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 3rd Place Car #92 Driver (Auberlen) Milner in a BMW M3 GT GTC Class: 1st Place Car #81 Driver (Gonzalez) Leitzinger in a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup 2nd Place Car #32 Driver (Curtis) Sofronas in a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup 3rs Place Car #23 Driver (Sweedler) Kapudija in a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup To see more photographs from the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, go to the LA Car Gallery