Bigger Than A Race

Helio Castroneves and Rick Mears - both 4-TIme Indy winners. [Eddie LePine photo]

Helio Castroneves and Rick Mears – both 4-TIme Indy winners. [Eddie LePine photo]

By Eddie LePine

Once again, IndyCar and IMSA combined forces to put on one of the finest racing events held in the US – The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

It was nice to get back to a somewhat ‘normal’ Long Beach event, with large crowds of spectators able to take in the sights and sounds of what has become the ‘must see’ racing event of any season. Long Beach is literally America’s Monaco.

Grand Prix Association of Long Beach CEO Jim Michaelian did a fantastic job of putting the event together, complete with new title sponsor Acura (Toyota departed after 39 years). There was almost too much to see and do at the event, with Stadium Super Trucks, Super Drift, Porsche Carrera Cup, Historic GTP, concerts, lifestyle expo, not to mention the top races everyone came to see: The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship 100-minute sprint race on Saturday and the NTT IndyCar race on Sunday.

It was great seeing the Historic IMSA GTP cars in action, as the GTP name is being reborn next season as the new GTP class takes the track in IMSA competition. Zak Brown, CEO of McLaren even felt it was important enough to delay his trip to the Australian Grand Prix to show up at Long Beach and pilot his Jaguar GTP car. It was nice to see recently retired Porsche factory driver Patrick Long on hand as well, driving Tom Malloy’s Leyton House Porsche 962 around the streets of Long Beach. Zak commented to me how excited he was to be able to pilot his Jaguar around the Long Beach street circuit.

A personal highlight for me every year is the Road Racers Drivers Club annual dinner, and this year was no different. This year’s honoree was four-time Indianapolis 500 winning driver Rick Mears and it was a great evening of food, drink and wonderful racing stories. For Rick Mears, it was an overdue honor, as the dinner had been postponed three times due to Covid. For the packed crowd in attendance, the wait was worth it and it was nice to have everyone back together again after such a long absence. Congratulations to organizer Jeremy Shaw for putting together a fantastic evening.

Racing legends Alex Zanardi and Bill Auberlen were honored by Long Beach as the latest members of the ‘Walk of Fame’. Unfortunately, Alex couldn’t attend as he is still recovering from his serious injuries suffered in his racing bicycle accident a couple of years ago. Bill Auberlen was quite humbled and honored to be recognized, as he grew up just down the road from the Long Beach Grand Prix circuit. Ironman Auberlen is still going strong and I am the winningest IMSA driver of all time will continue to add to his victory totals before he is finished.

The races? Almost an afterthought with all that was going on, but on the IMSA side Chip Ganassi once again came out on top with his Cadillac DPi (the #01 car this time) after winning Sebring with his #02 car. Aston Martin took it’s first GTD PRO victory, while Paul Miller Racing took the top spot in GTD with their brand new BMW M4 GT3.

On Sunday in IndyCar, it was Josef Newgarden again taking the win for Penske Racing, after having just won in Texas. Fan favorite Romain Grosjean finished second for Andretti Autosports and Alex Palou rounded out the podium, taking third place for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Once again, it was a Long Beach to remember and I look forward to returning again next year.

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