Long Beach Diary:|
Back to the Beach
Long Beach, Calif., April 18 ó I knew there would come a time today when I wished Champ Car was still here. It arrived at 2:35 P.M. I was busy working on my Indy Lights qualifying story when a change in the starting grid came into the press room. There were no explanations, no statements of "Sorry folks, you're going to have to redo your stories." Just suddenly a different starting grid replacing the original starting grid in the folders, and here I am forced to guess along with colleagues here and virtually as to what the heck happened. Shouldn't this have been sorted out before the press conference and before grids and quotes were distributed? One would think...
I still don't know exactly what happened, but will have to have it figured out in time to file my story! Itís quite a contrast between the super professionals who run the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, which is celebrating its 35th year in 2009. I'm not saying that Champ Car was perfect -- if they were, wouldn't they still be around? -- but this kind of stuff did not happen on their watch. Their news managers, Eric Mauk and others, constantly patrolled the press rooms, answering questions and explaining rules and decisions. They made their series easy to cover. And in Long Beach, Chris Esslinger is available all weekend to answer questions and help smooth our way.
Saturday is always our longest day of the weekend, and it starts very early with the ALMS Warm Up at 7:30 A.M. Not many spectators are here, which is understandable, but drivers? There are 21 cars scheduled to start this afternoonís race, but only 8 of them showed up for warm up. Is it now optional? Did everyone go out and party last night? Did they forget? The mind boggles!
Then on to FIL qualifying, or the Gang Who Couldn't Shoot Straight Returns to the Beach. Someone will start tomorrow's race. Hopefully 25 cars (one of the largest grids all weekend) will start, and JR Hildebrand will be on pole. Maybe. Unless it changes. Again.
Our favorite lunchtime treat on Saturday isn't the free grub, it's watching the Pro Celebrity Race. Walking up to the line, I tell Jeff, "Let me make this easy for you. Al is going to win. End of story. Even if they make him start in Seal Beach." As we get our food, we notice actress Raven Symone stuffing it a couple of times. Since her TV show features her playing a psychic, shouldn't she have foreseen this?
Of course, Al Unser, Jr. does win, and he goes around the track in a pickup truck with Keanu Reeves, who is surprisingly humble and genuinely excited to have shared the moment with King Al. According to fellow celebrity racer Carlos Mencia, Al always smiles at you, but as heís passing you, he has "the eyes of an assassin."
Our lunchtime is also punctuated with the return to the Beach of almost jailbird Helio Castroneves. He shares the conference with team boss Roger Penske, but no one asks what I would have. "Mr. Penske, you have more money than God. You have sponsorship from Marlboro, can you please explain to us why on earth you won't run Will Power full time?" Inquiring minds want to know.
ICS qualifying is basically a big snore. The good part is that Danica qualified next to last, just ahead of first Indy stepson Ed Carpenter, my choice of driver who least deserves to be here. Road racers dominate with about-to-lose-his-ride Will Power on the pole, the returning Dario Franchitti second, and Raphael Matos third, and not an oval track specialist in sight at the front of the grid.
The day is capped off with an exciting ALMS race. While I am used to seeing them run in a longer format race, there is a dramatic pass for the lead by Scott Sharp, but the race itself is actually decided in the pits, where the front running Sharp/Brabham Patron car is wrongly assessed a critical penalty, allowing the de Ferran team to grab the win. Towards the end of the race, road racing veteran Boris Saidís car catches fire and fortunately he is able to roll out of it, apparently unhurt.
It's great to have so much of the racing family back at the beach, and tomorrow's racing will hopefully be as interesting.
Copyright © 2009 by Lisa Davidson and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.