On The Road – Long Beach

With the 37th annual Toyota Long Beach Grand Prix in the books Englishman, Mike Conway showed everyone why he should be racing in the IZOD IndyCar Series. In his third race with Andretti AutoSport Conway overcame an early pit stop mistake to come from the twenty-second position to win the prestigious street race. Most excitedly too, it was done on the track. Perhaps, it was shades of Michael Andretti when he drove through the field. I spoke with him earlier in the weekend and said it has been a tough start to the season, but he said he has put the first two races behind him and this was going to be a fresh start. He said the team has been great and he really liked working with legendary pit strategist, Tom Anderson and it shows in his qualifying efforts. Michael Andretti seemed clairvoyant when he said earlier in the weekend if Mike Conway gets some confidence he could win some races.

The other ‘feel good’ story was Newman-Haas rookie James Hinchcliffe, Making only his second IndyCar Series start “Hinchtown” as he is known as Twitter, earned fourth place in the race after starting 11th for his Sprott sponsored team. After his car caught fire in practice, the team had to go the backup car and got limited practice.

I think everyone though it was going to be a Will Power show but after Helio Castroneves got into the back of him on the restart he was not a contender.

The Long Beach Grand Prix is more than just a race, it’s an event. As ever, had a lot of other things happening this weekend as it does every year. This event is the one I always look forward to. It’s the biggest race in the United States for road racing and the Long Beach community really welcomes the teams and the fans.

Thursday, team owner Chip Ganassi and 1996 LBGP winner Jimmy Vasser where inducted to the Long Beach Walk of Fame. Unfortunately I missed that ceremony because of a late flight. However, I did attend the Road Racing Drivers Club honoring Roger Penske. There are not many times you get to have the opportunity to hear Roger Penske talk about the past and about his racing career and recollect on the ‘good old days.’ The story that stood out was the one about how he purchased a 1961 Cooper T53 that was crashed by Walt Hansgen for $1500.00. Out of that, they built the famous Zerex Special that Penske blitzed the fields at Riverside and Laguna Seca to win the country’s premier sports car races of 1962. Penske coupled those with two more victories in Puerto Rico and Nassau. Then Roger said he cannot buy a wheel for $1500.00 these days. How times have changed.

The dinner also included the legendary Dan Gurney who spoke about Roger and what he has done for the sport and is still a big part of it today. It was nice to see Alma Hill, wife of the late Phil Hill and his son Derek who presented the Phil Hill award. This year’s winner was, Hall of Fame driver, Rick Mears. The dinner was sponsored by Firestone Racing, Sunoco Fuels and Penske Racing.

IndyCar President Randy Bernard remained a high profile over the weekend. He is really is making things happen, the biggest change I’ve seen is the atmosphere in the paddock. There seems to be a buzz starting again in IndyCar, not seen for many years. I think Bernard has the Series moving in the right direction and really are starting to see it in the also in the pits, paddock and with fans. With this year’s 100th year at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the $5Million dollar Vegas shoot out challenge, people are starting to talk about it.

I ran into former CART and IndyCar driver Patrick Carpentier in the paddock and chatted with him. He is attempting to put a deal together for Vegas. He also plans to do some NASCAR Nationwide races, but he really wanted to get back into an Indycar again and give it another shot. Also Ganassi Grand-Am star, Scott Pruett was seen wandering around the paddock all weekend. I asked him if was going to be back in an Indy car and he said, “You never know, but I’m very happy where I am at and with how we are running (in Grand-Am).”

The American LeMans Series (ALMS) had their second race of the season and what a race it was. The GT class is getting stronger every year and really shows there was a battle between BMW, Porsche, Corvette and Ferrari. It was BMW taking their second win of the year and the Muscle Milk Aston Martin with Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr taking the overall win. Can’t wait till next year.

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