As much a part of Southern California’s rich motorsports history that’s seen the foundation of the NHRA, the SCTA, and famous race tracks like the former Lion’s and the active NASCAR oval in Fontana, for 40 years race fans have come to the streets of Long Beach for the Toyota Grand Prix. Racing legends Mario and Michael Andretti, Al Unser Jr and Niki Lauda have all taken the checkered flag alongside the marina on Shoreline Drive. A major stop early in the IndyCar season and the oldest major street race in North America, the Long Beach Grand Prix is 80 laps around a 1.9 mile circuit carved out of the city streets, featuring a tight hairpin turn leading to a slightly curved front straightaway where drivers reach speeds over 180 mph.
The Verizon IndyCar Series is the headline event these days, though the race has seen action from Grand Am Prototypes, Formula One and since 1977, the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race. Toyota has supplied a range of automobiles over the years, and this year a number of noted historic celebrity cars were on display at the Lifestyle Expo inside the Long Beach Convention Center.
While Sunday plays host to the main event, the action is spread throughout the weekend. Cars are on track before 8am all weekend for practice sessions and qualifying, and the excitement continues past sunset on Friday and Saturday with the Motegi Super Drift Challenge. Running alongside the IndyCar and Indy Lights series are the Pirelli World Challenge and IMSA Tudor Championship. These sports car series bring with them cars you may recognize on the road, such as Aston Martin’s, Ferrari’s, Porsche’s, Corvette’s, and the more advanced Audi, Ford, Chevy and Mazda prototypes.
Although Friday only features practice and qualifying sessions, it’s an excellent opportunity to bask in the sights and sounds of the races as the crowds haven’t completely descended upon the circuit. It’s rare that cars are not on track, running at full throttle, and the circuit is short enough that it’s even rarer to not see a car in your field of view. If you need a break from the sun, the Lifestyle Expo is host to exhibits and cars from Toyota, Mazda, Cadillac and Chevrolet, as well as local motorsports vendors.
Any day we can get to a race is a good day, but any time that race is seaside with a breeze coming off the coast line and the cars are running hard is a truly special experience. Forget Disneyland and Hollywood, plan your next Southern California vacation around the Long Beach Grand Prix.
Words & Photos by Adam Bendig