Mazda SkyActiv-D Diesel LMP2 Prototype

Long Beach, CA – Every April, something magical happens in Long Beach – the streets of Shoreline Drive are closed off by barricades. The raucous sounds of monstrous engines can be heard reverberating through downtown. The smell of burnt rubber and race gas permeates the air. Huge crowds line up to get a glimpse of the action. Yup, it’s that time of year again – the annual Toyota Long Beach Grand Prix has begun.

IndyCars at Long Beach Grand Prix

IndyCars running through a turn at Long Beach

Over the course of a weekend, spectators are treated to a full gamut of cars in various states of racing evolution- from readily available but heavily modified cars set up for drift, Le Mans prototypes, open-wheel race cars, and even Stadium Super Trucks- I would argue that the Long Beach Grand Prix has enough to entertain even those not interested in cars, through pure spectacle and sensory overload (sometimes quite literally as earplugs are necessary).

Extreme Speed Motorsport HPD ARX-03b

Extreme Speed Motorsport HPD ARX-03b Le Mans Prototype

To summarize, a portion of the streets of Long Beach are closed off and turned into a road course, with which several races are run by different sanctioning bodies.  The major ones are the Verizon IndyCar Series (along with Indy Lights), the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race, the Motegi Racing Super Drift Challenge, and the Pirelli World Challenge.

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IndyCars at Long Beach

The IndyCar Series is perhaps the most recognized race at Long Beach- chances are you’ve heard of the Indy 500. Unlike F1, whose presence in the United States is relatively unknown due to most of its races being held internationally, the IndyCar series is America’s premiere form of open-wheel racing, utilizing many of the tracks available in the U.S. Because of this, the Long Beach event is one of the few times that locals are able to catch a glimpse of these cars in person.

IndyCar at Long Beach Grand Prix

IndyCar straightening out of an apex

IndyCar at Long Beach

IndyCar rounding the fountain at The Pike in Long Beach

One of the greatest things about the Long Beach Grand Prix is the unprecedented access afforded to some (rich) spectators and media. Due to the nature of the track layout, watching the teams working the pit lanes and doing post-race analysis in the paddock areas are merely a walk away.

IndyCar at Long Beach Grand Prix

IndyCars getting prepped for the preliminary races

IndyCar at Long Beach Grand Prix

5D3_7318-EditOne of the major and enjoyable highlights that I usually look forward to is the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race event. As the name suggests, every year Toyota asks several celebrities if they would like to participate in the race. The stars are led through rigorous training, which includes practicing at the Streets of Willow, before they are thrown into the main race here in Long Beach. Toyota provides a field of their modified compact sports cars – naturally, this year the Scion FR-S was the car of choice. And yes, every driver is forced to use a manual transmission. Combining this with mostly non-professional racers, and a rear-wheel drive layout, one can expect that the races would be extremely entertaining (i.e. crash fests and major upsets)- and for the most part, this year’s race lived up to expectations.  Some of the celebrities involved this year were Adrian Brody (a regular), Rutledge Wood, Kyle Petty, Al Unser Jr., Sam Witwer, Corbin Bleu, and my personal favorite, Vanessa Marcil. Brett Davern was this year’s winner, outdriving even the seasoned pros.

Celebrity Race Scion FR-S at Long Beach

Celebrity Race Scion FR-S at Long Beach

The IMSA-sanctioned TUDOR United SportsCar Championship is perhaps the most technologically advanced and entertaining race; combining Le Mans class prototype cars with GT (grand touring) class production cars. If you ever wanted to watch a heavily modified Ferrari 458 race alongside a wildly designed Le Mans car, this is the series to watch.

Risi Competizione GTLM class Ferrari F458 Italia

Risi Competizione GTLM class Ferrari F458 Italia apexing

Le Mans Prototypes at Long Beach Grand Prix

Mazda SkyActiv-D LMP2 being chased by a Corvette DP

The Pirelli World Challenge is the most relatable race to showgoers- sanctioned by the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America), this class consists of touring and grand touring class cars.  Essentially, these are all modified versions of readily available production cars. From affordable Nissan 370Zs, Ford Mustangs, and KIA Optimas, to the more luxurious Mercedes AMG SLS, Cadillac CTS-Vs, and Audi R8s, one can almost imagine themselves becoming professional racers with a bit of time and effort (and money).

Pirelli World Challenge car at Long Beach

Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R at Long Beach

Pirelli World Challenge cars at Long Beach

GT-A class Mercedes AMG SLS leading a GT-A class Audi R8 Ultra

In addition to the races, the event is strewn with numerous activities to keep spectators occupied during race intermissions. Ever wanted to take a ride through the track with Mario Andretti in a specially modified IndyCar for two people? Yours, for the low price of $500! The convention center was filled with various manufacturers and companies advertising their wares- as usual this means freebies, in the form of baseball caps, lanyards, and even free yogurt.

Ride Along at Long Beach Grand Prix

Take a ride with Mario Andretti

The final races took place on Sunday, with Friday and Saturday used for practice and qualifying. The IndyCar ended in spectacular fashion, as nerves rattled, causing numerous crashes in the last few laps. A risky fuel strategy ended up costing Scott Dixon the race, with Mike Conway heading into first in the final laps to secure the win, even with broken aero.

Mike Conway at Long Beach Grand Prix

Mike Conway celebrating his win

Mike Conway at Long Beach Grand Prix

Poppin’ bottles

Despite the ridiculous amounts of walking and pain endured to cover the event, we couldn’t have been happier. The last time we’ve been able to cover the Long Beach Grand Prix was back in 2006. The amount of adrenaline from watching race cars go head to head, and the roars of engines and tires being pushed to the limit is an experience that shouldn’t be ignored. Some people only visit Long Beach to get their Roscoe’s fix- let the Grand Prix be another. In the meantime, check out the rest of our gallery for more visual candy!

IndyCar pitting at Long Beach

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