Long Beach Notes – A Weekend to Remember

Mario Andretti’s Lotus 77 that won the 1976 Japan Grand Prix on display at the RRDC diner for Mario Andretti.  [Eddie LePine photo]

Mario Andretti and Bobby Rahal at the RRDC Diner for Mario.  [Eddie LePine photo]

Mario Andretti and Bobby Rahal at the RRDC Diner for Mario. [Eddie LePine photo]

RRDC reception party honoring Mario Andretti.  [Eddie LePine photo]

RRDC reception party honoring Mario Andretti. [Eddie LePine photo]

It is that time of year again, spring is in the air and the Toyota Long Beach Grand Prix was held this past weekend in California.

It was the 40th running of the classic race through the streets of Long Beach – which has seen everything from Formula One, to Formula 5000 to IndyCars and this year’s race was one of the best in the history of the event.

Mike Conway took his second Long Beach victory, driving for Ed Carpenter’s small team and they came out on top by beating all the giants of the Verizon IndyCar series – Penske and Ganassi included. Immediately after the race I was getting calls and emails from friends all over the country telling me it was one of the best IndyCar races they ever saw, and I cannot disagree with them. It was spectacular.

Not only was the IndyCar race hard fought and exciting, the Tudor United Sportscar Championship race on Saturday was a great event as well, going a long way to make up for the unfortunate mistakes (both by officials and drivers) at the first two rounds of the new series at Daytona and Sebring. Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas gave Ford and Ganassi Racing their second overall victory in a row in the new series and Corvette won the GTLM class in fine style. Of note, in particular after all the yellow caution periods at Sebring, this race was run without a single full course yellow. Perhaps IMSA should consider running the P cars and GTLM together more often, while having the LMPC cars and GTD cars compete in their own, separate race.

As usual, the atmosphere at Long Beach was electric and the crowds were huge. It was one of the best turnouts I have seen in my many years of coming here, and the organizers did a superb job as usual. Even the traffic was bearable.

Mario Andretti was the Grand Marshall for this 40th anniversary event and I had the privilege of attending the RRDC dinner where Mario was honored. It was great hearing Mario up on the dais with Bobby Rahal, sharing stories about the old days in racing. One could listen to Mario tell his stories for hours, and the one that stands out to me from the dinner was him talking about getting the call from Enzo Ferrari to drive in the Formula One race at Monza for Ferrari, taking the place of the deceased Gilles Villeneuve and subbing for the injured Didier Pironi. Mario, in typical style, put the Ferrari on the pole and would have won the race had it not been for a turbo problem. He finished third in his last race for Ferrari.

It was a great race meeting – great competition, close racing, well organized. Throw in the RRDC dinner with Mario and all the other racing legends in attendance and it was certainly an event to remember.

I will be looking forward to the 41st Toyota Long Beach Grand Prix weekend next year.


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