Long Beach Diary

Derek Bell, Jacky Ickx, Mario Andretti, Bobby Rahal. [Eddie LePine photo]

Derek Bell, Jacky Ickx, Mario Andretti, Bobby Rahal. [Eddie LePine photo]

By Eddie LePine

I’m just back from my annual trek to Southern California for the Long Beach Grand Prix weekend. As usual, it was a whirlwind week with almost too much to see and do but I did my best to fit as much in as I possibly could.

For me, the race week started with my flight from Orlando to LA, arriving in time to attend the Road Racing Drivers Club dinner. This year the event honored Jacky Ickx and it was great to see old sports car racing (and Formula One) teammates Mario Andretti and Jacky Ickx together once again in front of the sellout crowd at the Long Beach Hilton. Also on hand was Derek Bell, who was Ickx’s co-driver on three of his six Le Mans wins. Ickx was obviously very pleased with the entire evening. Ickx: “First of all, I am touched, very touched. It is very emotional. But it’s even more emotional when you think that this honor is also honoring the people that make racing possible. They are part of it. Not only those who get the light on top of them.”

There is a reason this race event is called ‘America’s Monaco’ and that is because it has a feel like no other race that I go to. Combine an excellent IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race, the IMSA Porsche Deluxe Carrera Cup race, Stadium Super Trucks, Historic Formula One cars and finally the NTT IndyCars in the Acura Grand Prix on Sunday and you have a very full event indeed. There is just a special feel about being in Long Beach during race week.

It was great to see the Historic Formula One cars on the track at Long Beach, as they have such a storied history at this circuit, as they raced there from 1976 through 1983. The last driver to win a Formula One race at Long Beach was John Watson in 1983 while the first driver to win an IndyCar race at Long Beach was Mario Andretti in 1984. Seems fitting that Mario was on hand at Long Beach to watch one of his old JPS Lotus rides run in the F1 race. The historic F1 race was won by former Porsche factory driver Patrick Long, driving a Williams FW 08C.

In the IMSA WeatherTech race I got to see history being made as the Porsche Penske 963 won its first race. Mathieu Jaminet and Nick Tandy took a fine win with BMW taking second and the second Penske entry finished third. Once again, it was a terrible finish for the Wayne Taylor Racing (with Andretti Autosport) Acura, with Ricky Taylor crashing out with two laps to go while trying to put a pass on Jaminet in the Porsche. Jaminet’s Porsche ran the entire 100-minute race on just one set of Michelin tires and those fading tires were the reason Taylor thought he could make the pass for the lead and the win. Perhaps things would have turned out a bit differently if he had only waited for another corner or two to make his attempt. We will never know. Amazingly, the race only featured two yellow flags – one on lap one for Sebastien Bourdais’ spin at the start and the one at the finish due to Taylor’s crash.

Jaminet after the race: “The team did an amazing job. They put us in this position. We didn’t take tires and we overcut the 10. And we could pass the BMW which was on his out lap and leading the race. It was big pressure at the end because I wanted new tires but I was pretty much playing with minds. I saw the 10 sending it into one, and I thought, shoot that’s late! That looks late! I’m just super happy.” About that late race pass attempt by Taylor: “It was really a late launch from him. Luckily, I saw him. I was like, there is no way he’s making this stick and that’s exactly what happened. Luckily, we got through. Again, thanks for the team they did a great job. It’s been a long year and a half developing this car and putting the team together. Finally, the rewards are coming. Great day for us.”

Suffice to say, that after losing the Rolex 24 by 4 seconds, crashing out at Sebring and now crashing out at Long Beach, the WTR squad will be looking to regroup to get back into the championship hunt.

In the NTT IndyCar race, it was a very successful day for Michael Andretti’s team, as Kyle Kirkwood took his first win, followed closely by teammate Romain Grosjean. Marcus Ericsson finished third for Chip Ganassi Racing with Colton Herta in another Andretti entry finishing fourth.

Another Long Beach race week is now in the history books. I am already looking forward to coming back next year.

Until then, see you at the races.

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