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Long Beach Diary:
Day Two
It Never Rains in California

Long Beach, CA, April 17 —Back in the day, so the story goes, one Christopher Pook sold his soul to the devil so that every Long Beach Grand Prix race day will be without rain. However, this does not mean that it doesn’t rain the rest of the weekend, and this year, it rained nearly all Saturday morning.

Of course, this held attendance down and made me wonder if there would be any improvement in qualifying speeds from Friday. There were also rumors that Tony George was at the Beach to steal the race away, and Bobby Rahal had returned from Twin Ring Motegi, where the IRL race had been run the previous evening, at least by Pacific Time.

All that rain meant that I stayed in the Media Center for a good portion of Saturday morning. It gave me little chance to check out those rumors. But, on the way into the MC, I walked by Toyota’s exhibit in the Lifestyle Expo and was surprised to see IRL footage playing. The talk is Toyota, who has been the title sponsor of the Long Beach race since back in the day, wants the IRL to run there instead of Champ Car.

I tend to discount these rumors. I cannot imagine that Tony George would be credentialed for a Champ Car race any more than I would be credentialed for an IRL race. (Not that my editor, Russell, would even let me go to an IRL race.) But, more importantly, it’s different Toyotas who are involved with, respectively, the TGPLB and the IRL. The racing arm of Toyota may want the general corporation to make this dubious move, but it is by no means certain that they would do so. At this point, I am going to go out on a limb and say that Toyota won’t do it. After all, they supported the GPLB even before Toyota got involved with auto racing. But, if TG succeeds in stealing yet another race I love, I may have to start an "I Hate Tony George" website.

Our lunch time entertainment was the Toyota Pro-Celebrity Race, known in the Press Room as the demolition derby. This year’s was actually not that bad. Max Papis, who said several years ago that he didn’t need Champ Car, but that Champ Car needed him, was easily able to overcome the 30 second head start given to the celebrities to win the overall race.

The big problem with this race in recent years has been the lack of recognizable celebrities (I have no idea who the winning celebrity is, career-wise) and the race using non-racecar drivers as "Pros." So, it was good to see Max at least partially overcome the latter, and there wasn’t so much demolition amongst this year’s participants.

The afternoon brought Atlantic and Champ Car qualifying. Ryan Daziel remained pole sitter and the fastest Saturday qualifier was Alex Figge’s teammate, Jon Fogarty. We were sorry to see that "Just Al" Unser did not qualify better, but perhaps it’s a matter of being on an underfunded team. Personally, I would not write "Mini Al" off just yet; his pedigree is just too good. Also, I have seen nothing all weekend of Danica Patrick off the track – which is most unusual – and nothing at all of Bobby Rahal. If he’s here, he certainly is not visible to the press.

Deep Throttle’s Julie Andre and I spend Champ Car qualifying in the pits, setting up driver interviews and talking to team members. I feel for Jules in trying to set up those interviews – the PR people change nearly every year for every team and the first race is especially hard in trying to figure out who is with whom this year.

I am asked what I think of the newer drivers. Okay, I think that Alex Sperafico and Roberto Gonzalez have no business being in Champ Car. I don’t think they have the talent or the potential to ever be competitive in our series.

I think Nelson Philippe’s mother must be a wimp. I know lots of other moms of teenagers, and to a woman, we would all have that kid in school, with a haircut, and not rushing into adulthood by having him be a professional race car driver at 17. None of this would be negotiable. Since Nelson – who seems to be a nice kid, by the way – is not in school, has the long hair and is racing, we all think his mom has got to be spineless, but who knows? I have no idea about his talent, I think it’s way to soon to tell.

I am moderately impressed with A. J. Allmendinger – "Dinger" – and significantly more impressed with Justin Wilson. Dinger has the obligatory blonde girlfriend and an aggressive driving style. But, it remains to be seen if he can harness that aggression into winning races in Champ Car.

Julie, Jeff, and I run into Justin Wilson and Eric Bachelart in the paddock and make an appointment for Jules for Sunday morning after warm-up. Justin Wilson is a friendly young driver, and he seems to be adapting well to the series.

We end the day at a Ford reception courtesy of Forsythe VP of Operations Neil Micklewright. I would much rather talk to Neil than a driver, so I do. He tells me he is very impressed with Rodolfo Lavin, and I have to agree that he seems to be able to hold his own with Patrick and PT. We talk about the challenges of suddenly running a three-car team.

We three leave fairly early because tomorrow is RACEDAY.

Copyright © 2004 by Lisa Davidson and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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