2023 Long Beach Grand Prix - Part One
Rain Or Shine - It's Race Time
Reporting from the long weekend of racing at the 2023 Long Beach Grand Prix
By Brian Kennedy
Fri, Apr 14, 2023 01:46 PM PST
Featured image by Albert Wong
Nobody was expecting the Acura Grand Prix weekend of April 14-16 to dawn cold and rainy, but here we were, interviewing drivers at the press lunch on Thursday, the 13th, having had to activate the windshield wipers to get here.
Conor Daly knew better than to be pessimistic about the weather. “I woke up in North Hollywood . . . and we drove down this morning, and the weather progressively got worse. Honestly, I think we have looked ahead and it’s probably not going to rain, but at least it’s going to be nice and cool for us. These cars right now, they are hotter than the surface of the sun, so any time we can get a nice and cool week, we’ll love it.”
And the fact is, cooler weather is better for performance. “The cooler it is, the faster we go. The cooler it is helps. Cold tires will be a little bit tougher for sure, but if it’s nice and cool all weekend, then you could see some really quick lap times.”
He said that this track is way less forgiving than other tracks, but credited the weekend as a lot of fun. “Last year, we just happened to scrape the wall, and we bent something on the car, but I love it. We notice the crowd and the excitement. We definitely notice it and appreciate it at a really high level.”
He would later elaborate on the hit-the-wall theme, saying, “You’ll see guys hitting the wall, clipping the wall, because you’ve got to get everything out of it, but that’s what we do. No fear is the way we’ve lived since we were kids in go karts. If you happen to get half a tenth through one of the exits but maybe scrub the wall on exit, that’s totally worth it, as long as it doesn’t break. You can hit the wall as much as you want until it breaks, but every wall impact is detrimental, but you’d be surprised. Our cars are tough. Our cars are really tough."
Colton Herta had similar thoughts about the conditions. “I’ve been here for a little bit, and I’m from Santa Clarita, and I know how it’s been the last few months. It’s been crazy how much rain there’s been in Los Angeles.” He did credit the rain for greening up the lawns and roadsides like is normally not the case as late as April.
Turning to the race, Herta said, “I think it tends to be on average one of the cooler races we go to, 70-80 degrees around there normally. But for us, it won’t change the balance too much [no matter the ambient temperature].” He said they’ll race, even if it’s raining, to a point.
He won the event in 2021, but went out of the race after leading 28 laps early last year after a self-inflicted mistake took him out on turn nine of the 11-turn circuit which measures just short of two miles. The race distance is 85 laps, and the IndyCars aim for a start just past 12:30 local time.
The weekend features more than just the IndyCar race. There’s also a historic F1 group of around twenty cars, many of which raced at Long Beach as far back as the 1970s. There’s also drifting, Stadium Super Trucks, Porsche Carrera Cup, and IMSA WeatherTech SporsCar Championship action. If that latter sounds like little MGs dueling it out with race-equipped Minis, you’re way off. This is serious, high-tech, high-speed dueling in three classes over a field of more than two dozen cars.
On that note, LACar managed to get a chat with co-drivers Katherine Legge and Sheena Monk, who will pilot the Gradient Racing Acura NSX GT3 entry. Legge has raced IndyCar before, including in the Indy 500, and will race that event again this year. Monk is here to learn. “Katherine was my coach for my actual first wheel-to-wheel race, and so it’s easy to give her credit for my ability to climb through the rankings in a very short period of time—just a matter of five years. I can credit a lot of those milestones I’ve had to her.”
“To be working alongside her and driving the same car is a new experience, and a welcomed one, because we have a very similar driving style. I don’t think that’s through coaching or anything that she taught me. It’s through the natural feel of the car as a driver.” Finding the middle ground can be hard if co-drivers have different styles, she added. “At this point, it feels like I’m going racing with my friend. I couldn’t ask for a better mentor.”
Both women commented on the physical nature of the racing they do. “Just to hold yourself in place in the corners so that you can actually understand what the car is doing and get a proper feel when you’re driving, you’re bracing yourself and adjusting your position in the seat. You’re under such load in the G’s,” said Monk.
Legge was anxious to credit the younger Monk. “Sheena’s probably the smartest driver I’ve ever worked with, which I appreciate. She takes chunks out of it on the way to the limit, whereas other people go over the limit and then bring it back. By the end of the year, she’ll be nipping at my heels, I have no doubt.”
“She’s a fighter; she’s scrappy. She had to do everything for herself and claw her way up just like I did, so she gets it. I can tell her something and it doesn’t fall on deaf ears. But if she doesn’t get it, she’ll say it, too.”
The SportsCar race is the feature event of Saturday afternoon. The race will last 100 minutes. That’s a long, long time to keep your car off the wall, but hey - if they couldn’t do that, they wouldn’t be here.
About The Author
Brian Kennedy always wanted a ’66 Mustang. 10 years ago, he bought one – and he’s been restoring it ever since. Brian extended his passion for cars by covering events for magazines like Grassroots Motorsports, Sportscar, and Victory Lane – e.g., events in Cart, Pro Rally, Formula Atlantic, the SCCA Runoffs, Trans Am, SVRA, VSCDA, and VARA. He’s also profiled a number of cars and interviewed a number of personalities – among them: Gene Felton (IMSA), Hurley Haywood, Jerry Seinfeld, and Nigel Olsson.