Long Beach Diary:|
Long Beach, Calif., April 14 — Yesterday, I mentioned how it was personally significant that my first Long Beach Grand Prix happened to be the 33rd running of the event. I provided a brief history of the event leading up to this year's race. Now, I will tell you about my impressions as a first timer of the best event in Champ Car.
The first thing that struck me as I arrived Friday morning was how organized everything was. Obviously, coming from an inaugural event at Las Vegas, even though Vegas did a great job, the contrast is quite evident. All the vendors were in place ready to go, everything started right on time, and access was well planned.
Speaking of vendors, I was stunned by how many there are. Even after two days, I keep finding more and more, both food and souvenir stands. They are all over the place, and they all seemed to be doing great business. A large crowd certainly is key, but LBGP attendees also seem more than willing to spend money. The best part is with so many vendors, there are so many choices to eat. Thus, the boring trackside burger is a minority.
The Lifestyle Expo is massive. I thought Toronto's Expo during the peak of the Molson Indy was huge. That pales in comparison to the going-ons in the Long Beach Convention Center. There are booths of all varieties, though mostly concentrating on racing and car related topics. And, of course, there are some occupied by booth babes to catch your attention. It works very well...
The Tecate girls helped lure people into the Lifestyle Expo.
Then, there is the crowd itself. Wow! I know the attendance at this event has dipped recently, but it certainly has rebounded the past couple of years. Though I haven't heard any official numbers, Friday's attendance absolutely floored me. By the afternoon's qualifying sessions, many of the best grandstands were nearly full while the others had a good sized population occupying them. There was also a decent crowd watching from the fences, and even during qualifying sessions, there were still many, many people walking around the midways and Expo booths. It put Toronto's Friday attendance to shame, and Toronto has nothing to be ashamed of. Considering this was on a workday (though many kids had the week off for Spring Break), it's simply mindboggling.
Huge crowds populated the first two days of the LBGP.
Granted, free tickets for Friday were readily available through various local business promotions (a tradition I believe every street circuit should implement), but when I saw Saturday's attendance, I knew Friday was no fluke based solely on freebies.
Saturday seemed like a race day at any other event I've been to; that's how crowded it was. The stands for qualifying were full (though not squeezed in like Sunday will be) and people along the fence were two to three deep in some spots. Even more impressive is most of the fans stayed around for the American Le Mans race and only started filing out when the weather suddenly turned chilly halfway through the race. The fans definitely enjoyed the race more than last year's Grand Am support event from what I heard from my West Coast correspondents.
The American Le Mans Series was a big hit for the LBGP fans.
That's what impresses me the most about the fans at Long Beach -- they love this event. I saw people of all races, sexes, and ages. Much more of a variety than any other event I've been to. The majority of the fans, no matter what their background, were quite enthusiastic during the ALMS race. Many of them were quite knowledgeable about the sport s a whole (probably the main reason they preferred the ALMS over the Grand Am).
I have always said that Toronto is the Long Beach of the East. I still stand by that, but Long Beach is King. In that regard, there isn't a comparison.
As for the track itself, it certainly ranks up there, even after experiencing the great Las Vegas circuit. Access is a breeze (again, thanks to many, many years of doing this), sight lines are fantastic for a street course, and the cars can open up here really nice.
I always like to make driver observations at tracks, and I found a particular section at Long Beach which shows off the fine technique of using the whole track for maximum speed. It is just before the turn-in for Turn 8.
The cars come out of Turn 6, a 90-degree left hander, accelerate through Turn 7, a slight left kink, and then the drivers have to move their car over to the left to prepare for the right hand 90-degree Turn 8. It is this moving over to the left where you can learn a lot.
This year, there happened to be a black line of tar near the wall on the left side. If you want to get really close to the wall, you put both wheels over the line. If you weren't quite that confident, the driver would touch the line. Those not willing to use the whole track would not touch the line at all.
Needless to say, the faster drivers, such as Tracy, Bourdais, Power, Pagenaud, Junqueira, Wilson, and Tagliani went well over the line. Those in the middle of the pack, Legge and Doornbos, touched the line. And those at the back of the pack, such as Figge and Dalziel, stayed away from it. In fact, Dalziel initially stayed away from it, then ran on it, then slightly went over it. It is no coincidence that he was faster than his teammate, Figge, and the margin grew during the course of the practice session I observed.
What makes this observation more significant is this year the cars are more equal than ever before. A series like American Le Mans (which I regretfully did not observe from this particular vantage point) has the car's performance play a much more significant role and thus sometimes masks bad driving habits. A driver not using all the road may still go fast simply because he has a very strong machine under his butt. However, in Champ Car, this is not the case. Driving talent and the technique of using every inch of the road plays a significant role.
Which is certainly a positive sign for Champ Car. That, and a fantastic event like the Long Beach Grand Prix.
Copyright © 2007 by Russell Jaslow and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.