Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Preview

Will Power speeds through turn 10 during practice for the IndyCar Series Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. [Joe Jennings Photo]

Will Power speeds through turn 10 in the IndyCar Series Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. [Joe Jennings Photo]

Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach
Verizon IndyCar Race Series – Race 2 of 17

Long Beach Facts: The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is said to be the longest running street race in North America, having been around continuously for 43 years. The 1.96-mile temporary street course has changed somewhat since the early days, but the palm trees still line much of the waterfront course. Simon Pagenaud won here in 2016; his first win for Roger Penske. This year’s Sunday, April 9th race will be for 85 laps (167.28 miles); five laps more than last year. Sebastien Bourdais comes to California having won the St. Petersburg event on March 12th for Dale Coyne Honda when a controversial full-course yellow allowed him to take the lead and stay in front for 69 of the final 84 laps after having started last due to a crash in qualifying. Bourdais has won three times at Long Beach (2005,’06 and ‘07) and is in search of his fifth Indy car title. Penske Chevrolets have been on the pole in six of the last eight LB races, while the Captain’s cars have won here six times. Helio Castroneves holds the qualifying record on the abrasive Long Beach streets at 106.331 mph, while Pagenaud’s 2016 win was the quickest race at 100.592 mph.

A Bit of History: Begun in 1975 with a Formula 5000 event, Long Beach quickly switched to Formula 1 for eight years with the likes of Mario Andretti, Niki Lauda and Gilles Villeneuve on the top step of the podium. CART came along in 1984 with Mario capturing three of the first four (and son Michael the other). Champ Car (2004), IRL (2008) and finally Indy Car (2011) followed with 2017 being the 34th Indy car race at Long Beach.  Al Unser Jr. won here six times including four-in-a-row from 1988-1991, while Takuma Sato had his only Indy Car win here in 2013.

The Field: The same 21 entries that contested St. Pete will form the grid for Long Beach. Ed Jones is again the lone rookie as he and Spencer Pigot are the only two in the field who have never raced Indy Cars here.

Notes: Bourdais leads the Verizon Indy Car standings with 53 points followed by Pagenaud (-12), Scott Dixon (-18), Ryan Hunter-Reay (-21), Sato (-22) and Castroneves (-25)…Indy Car has a contract with Long Beach through the 2018 race, but with U. S.-based Liberty Media now running F1, rumors have persisted that they may try to out-bid Indy Car for the prestigious Long Beach date. Liberty would like to have multiple F1 dates in the states and a return of F1 to Long beach would be a feather in their cap. Most observers seem to feel that Indy Car will continue here after 2018, but stranger things have happened. We’ll find out more next year…New images of the 2018 Indy car have surfaced recently showing greater design detail of the new car. Indy Car president of competition and operations, Jay Frye, says the target date for getting the new vehicle on the track for testing is mid-summer. There will be two designs: A Super Speedway model and a street/road course/short oval model.

Our Take: Honda has certainly caught up somewhat with Chevy given Bourdais’ win at St. Pete despite some calling the victory a fluke of the full-course yellow. Chevrolet placed three in the top five while Honda had six of the top 10. As stated, Penske has won here six times while Honda’s Bourdais has three wins. Pagenaud will likely finish up front, but Bourdais and James Hinchcliffe could surprise for Honda. Marco Andretti (Honda) needs a win desperately and Andrettis of various decades have won here a total of six times; perhaps this Andretti will join Mario and Michael. He’d better do it soon.

The Final Word: Scott Dixon (No. 9 NTT Data Ganassi Honda) “Long Beach has such an amazing history. It’s a truly iconic American event that started gaining a lot of popularity with Formula 1 back in the day.  With the layout of the track, it’s truly one of the best street circuits anywhere around, and more importantly, you actually get to race there. It took me forever to get to victory lane there, but we managed to accomplish that a few years ago, and I hope we can return to that form again this year.”

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Paul Gohde heard the sound of race cars early in his life.

Growing up in suburban Milwaukee, just north of Wisconsin State Fair Park in the 1950’s, Paul had no idea what “that noise” was all about that he heard several times a year. Finally, through prodding by friends of his parents, he was taken to several Thursday night modified stock car races on the old quarter-mile dirt track that was in the infield of the one-mile oval -and he was hooked.

The first Milwaukee Mile event that he attended was the 1959 Rex Mays Classic won by Johnny Thomson in the pink Racing Associates lay-down Offy built by the legendary Lujie Lesovsky. After the 100-miler Gohde got the winner’s autograph in the pits, something he couldn’t do when he saw Hank Aaron hit a home run at County Stadium, and, again, he was hooked.

Paul began attending the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, and saw A. J. Foyt’s first Indy win. He began covering races in 1965 for Racing Wheels newspaper in Vancouver, WA as a reporter/photographer and his first credentialed race was Jim Clark’s historic Indy win.Paul has also done reporting, columns and photography for Midwest Racing News since the mid-sixties, with the 1967 Hoosier 100 being his first big race to report for them.

He is a retired middle-grade teacher, an avid collector of vintage racing memorabilia, and a tour guide at Miller Park. Paul loves to explore abandoned race tracks both here and in Europe, with the Brooklands track in Weybridge England being his favorite. Married to Paula, they have three adult children and two cats.

Paul loves the diversity of all types of racing, “a factor that got me hooked in the first place.”