Long Beach Diary:|
Days One and Two
Meet the New Boss…Same as the Old Boss
Long Beach, CA, April 8 — A chill has hit the air in our favorite race city. It’s not quite cold enough for a heavy jacket, but not warm enough to bring out the expansive displays of feminine flesh that makes this event such a visual treat for some race fans. And, yet, we march on, always with the hope for another great day of racing. Up and down the pits we go, in search of driver interviews, great shots, and a truly interesting story.
Last year, there was worry that the IRL would steal this race right out from underneath us. Oh, how we love to spend Kevin Kalkhoven’s money!
Once again, the entrepreneur and now racing powerhouse—who so few of us even knew three years ago—managed to out maneuver the racing establishment by purchasing the Long Beach Grand Prix lock, stock, and premier racing event. Finally secure with this race, and after pouring millions of dollars into Champ Car, Cosworth, and an amazing Atlantic Championship sponsorship prize, we dreamt of larger competitive fields, new sponsors and maybe an American driver or two. Dashing headlong into these dreams came the news that a merger is being discussed with one Anton Hulman George. We know how this guy operates—and it has us worried.
What has made the Kalkhoven era interesting so far is the fact that he’s not part of the racing establishment and hence not prone to the kinds of bone headed decisions that have plagued racing to one extent or other for the past few decades. By insisting that Champ Car conform to a profitable business model, he has undoubtedly made his share of enemies. However, he has excelled in turning around failing companies and it appears that Champ Car will be yet one more of his success stories. Except, we hear he is considering going into business with the man nearly everyone feels is most responsible for the dismal overall state of open wheel racing today. In every other confrontation with George, Kalkhoven has come out the winner and achieved his objectives. One hopes that he does this time, and that those objectives mean the continued prosperity of Champ Car.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Jeff Davidson and I had the chance to see the event coming together during a visit to the track on Thursday. We see Tonis Kasemets, going around the paddock, presumably looking for a ride. On Friday, Julie and I see Ryan Hunter-Reay with girlfriend Becky Gordon. Now, if we could really spend Kevin’s money, we would buy RHR a really good ride. Maybe Kevin can talk partner Gerald Forsythe down in price for one? Because, a prime audience for growing this series means getting young boys and girls interested in racing, and nothing would drive them to the track faster than an American Racing Hero. If they don’t have an A.J. Allmendinger or a Jimmy Vasser to fill that role, you can buy all the series, races, and engine manufacturers you want, and it will still not sell tickets or fill seats.
I got to see one young boy on Saturday, sitting in the pit suites above A.J. Allmendinger’s pit. The child could not take his eyes off Dinger. He even called out, hey A.J., and you have to know that for this kid, Allmendinger is the man. That’s not to say there isn’t a place in Champ Car for talented foreign born drivers, because there is. But, better writers than me, including Robin Miller, have been pointing out for years that we have to get more than one or two Americans in the field. Look, there are three Canadians racing—Tracy, Tagliani, and Ranger. There are three English drivers in Champ Car—Wilson, Legge, and Clark. Is it asking too much for there to be more than one full time American driver? Apparently so.
Speaking of American drivers, Mi-Jack Conquest has put together a great story for the present and the future by signing Graham Rahal and Al “Just Al” Unser to their Atlantic team. Graham is surprisingly tall for a race car driver, by the way, but appears to be completely at ease at the track, in or out of the car. Unser apparently has not had as much seat time as his teenaged team mate, but perhaps his racing experience will help even out this disparity in their qualifying times.
Final qualifying for Sunday’s race with this dizzying Atlantic field gave ultimate advantage to German Andreas Wirth, who took the pole this year after starting 2nd in 2005. Vying for the pole were Frenchman Simon Pagenaud, a thoroughly charming driver competing for Team Australia, and Brazil’s Raphael Matos, driving for the returning Sierra Sierra team and the 2005 Star Mazda champion. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that there is going to be significant competition in Atlantics this year—so much so, that it will be difficult for any one driver or team to dominate.
For Champ Car, the Boss turned out to be Sebastien Bourdais, taking the pole this year, his first at Long Beach. The reigning champion’s pole means the New Boss is the same as the Old Boss. Justin Wilson looks awfully strong for race day, and if the racing gods are not favoring Sebastien tomorrow, look for the very tall Englishman to win.
Don’t count out the returning Bruno Junqueira, who had to sit out much of 2005 due to his frightening crash at Indy, or Paul Tracy, who is one of the few drivers ever who could win this street race without starting at the front. The rookie field looks greener than ever, but expect decent performances from Katherine Legge and Will Power (who’s name alone should be inspiring!).
Is it time for Long Beach yet? Yes it is, even if one Boss is the same—and if a certain idiot grandson doesn’t get yet another chance to ruin one of our favorite races! Hold on to your hats, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!
Copyright © 2006 by Lisa Davidson and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.