Photo: Tony DiZinno

Long Beach weekend, Thursday notes (round one)

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LONG BEACH, Calif. – The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach packs a lot into the weekend, often so much so that despite your best efforts to attempt to cover everything, you inevitably fail. But you try nonetheless, anyway.

Thursday at Long Beach is the calm before the storm, as final preparations for the track conclude and a number of events occur either at the Long Beach circuit or around the city. Basically it’s a case of packing as many things into an event that’s the street course equivalent of Indianapolis, but in a significantly compressed time frame.

Here’s some notes and other items of record before track activity begins tomorrow. NBCSN will have coverage throughout the weekend; the pertinent details of which are linked here.

TRACK WALK/VIEWS

It’s funny. I calculated this year is my 12th time coming to Long Beach for the race, over a stretch of nearly 20 years since 1998 (yes, I was alive then, cool your jokes because even though I’m young I know this place well). But in none of those times, either as a fan growing up or in my writing career have I actually walked the track.

That finally changed today. The Cliff notes version of the track – and this is nothing new to any driver who’s done this before – is that the adjustment from fresh pavement back to concrete is difficult and while bumpy at spots, this track isn’t that bad at all.

Some quick notes I found interesting:

  • The banking on Shoreline Drive is steeper than you realize, even though it does translate to TV.
  • There’s been a couple sections repaved, notably the entries into Turn 8 and Turn 9. That should make it faster in both places.
  • Here’s Josef Newgarden’s, driver of the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, take on Turn 8, which sees a wide entry and apex descend into a tighter, narrower exit: “You have to calculate for it – you have know the edge of the track is. You’ve gotta play the angles. You work the angles. You try not to get deceived by the wide approach. The guys that have been around many times are not be deceived. That’s not too big of a deal. If you use the wide entry, it really helps the angle.”

The IndyCar on NBCSN team took a quick video of the track, linked below, and a few of my still captures are below that:

LOKI THE WOLFDOG IS ALIVE AND WELL

Rising Star Racing’s Spencer Pigot, driver of the usual No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing, has a slightly different scheme this weekend and a partner-in-crime in the form of an Instagram celebrity dog. Yes, that sentence sounds weird but it’s accurate.

Loki the Wolfdog and his owner Kelly Lund have made it to Long Beach, where a quick photo-op took place on Thursday.

Will Loki actually live up to this Instagram fame of 1.4 million followers and post about IndyCar this weekend? That remains to be seen, but hey, at least the team is:

HINCH AND RHR’S BURGEONING COP BUDDY COMEDY

You’d have needed a cop to investigate the contact between Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe that occurred here three years ago, when they were teammates and also took out Newgarden in the process.

But the two are on good terms and on Wednesday, instead of there being so much drama in the LBC, it wasn’t hard for them to pay a visit to the LAPD.

Respective social posts from Hunter-Reay, driver of the No. 28 DHL Honda and Hinchcliffe, driver of the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, are below, and here’s a link to more from IndyCar.com.

SPEAKING OF HINCH AND L.A…. SHARNA’S BACK

Hinchcliffe’s partner on Season 23 of “Dancing with the Stars,” Sharna Burgess, paid a visit to the track on Thursday in the first of what could be several appearances at Verizon IndyCar Series races this season. She also taped an episode of Hinchcliffe’s “The Mayor on Air” podcast.

Burgess visited Hinchcliffe at the series’ other Californian race, Sonoma Raceway in September, in advance of a segment on the show and wound up taking a ridealong in the two-seater with Hinchcliffe driving.

ROSSI’S FLAT OUT STINT OF LATE AND A SPECIAL NHRA, NAPA GUEST

Alexander Rossi continues his flat out stretch this weekend. Rossi, who continues his whirlwind run of media and testing in-between races, will have NAPA Auto Parts teammate and 2016 NHRA Funny Car champion Ron Capps on site this weekend; it’ll be Capps’ first time to this race. See more from Capps below, and we’ll have more on this topic after the weekend.

DALY GETS TO LIVE OUT HIS FAST & THE FURIOUS FANTASY IN REALITY

Thanks to the NBC Sports crew, Conor Daly, driver of the No. 4 ABC Supply Co. Chevrolet, paid a visit Wednesday to check in with Fast & the Furious picture car coordinator Dennis McCarthy for a look behind the scenes at some of the whips from the series. The latest version of the Universal Pictures franchise, “The Fate of the Furious,” opens on April 14. A filming of this segment will air during pre-race coverage from Long Beach on Sunday, from 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

A DRIVER WHO DOESN’T SEEM TO AGE NOW HAS A WINE

Takuma Sato, driver of the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda, doesn’t look much past his late-20s or early-30s even though he turned 40 years old earlier this year. On Thursday, he released TS Sato Wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon made from grapes of California’s central coast dating the same year as his victory. A tasting took place at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Long Beach on Thursday.

RAHAL’S PHOENIX MEDIA DAY, AND DIAMONDBACKS APPEARANCE

Graham Rahal arrived in Long Beach on Thursday after a full day of running around in Phoenix on Wednesday, promoting the series’ upcoming Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix on April 29.

You can view the @PhoenixRaceway Twitter account for the full breakdown of his tweets from the day yesterday, but one of the things Rahal announced was a special ticket deal, details of which are linked below.

Rahal is in the No. 15 PennGrade Motor Oil Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing this weekend. Rahal and the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team are making more mention of the World of Hyatt branding on the car this weekend; the Hyatt Regency hotel, as noted above, is inside the track.

Rahal paid a visit to Wednesday night’s Arizona Diamondbacks and San Francisco Giants game, and bumped into Dick Vitale of all people:

AND RAHAL, A NOTED HOCKEY BUFF, IS GETTING THE “WILD WING” MASCOT TREATMENT

With the Anaheim Ducks not far up the road and Rahal, a noted Columbus Blue Jackets fan, the Ducks’ mascot was on site today at Long Beach. And an IndyCar show car was mocked up today in Ducks’ orange and white colors.

DAVISON, VEACH POUNDING THE PAVEMENT

Two drivers hopeful and/or optimistic of being in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, two-time Indianapolis 500 starter James Davison and would-be rookie Zach Veach, are among those notable drivers here even though they’re not racing this weekend. Veach was scheduled to be on hand anyway with IndyCar Radio commitments; Davison made a late call to arrive in Long Beach after being in Melbourne, where his late grandfather Lex Davison was honored during the Australian Grand Prix weekend. The Davisons are one of Australia’s iconic racing families.

Veach, meanwhile, continues to rack up the frequent flier miles to California as both he and Gabby Chaves were in town last week giving rides in the IndyCar two-seater for the Long Beach media day.

KENDALL, FITTIPALDI HONORED, AS IS PAGENAUD IN LONG BEACH LORE

Tommy Kendall and Emerson Fittipaldi were honored Thursday with their inductions into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame, at a circuit and city special to both of them.

So too was last year’s IndyCar race winner Simon Pagenaud, who had his winner’s plaque revealed.

AND ABOUT TONIGHT…

Fittipaldi will be honored at tonight’s Road Racing Driver’s Club dinner at the Hilton in downtown Long Beach, along with A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney, some 50 years on after their victory in the Ford GT40 Mk. IV at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This promises to be a special night and a trip down memory lane.

If today’s cars are your thing, parts of IndyCar, IMSA, PWC and more are occurring at the Thunder Thursday event taking place at the Pike Outlets.

There’s undoubtedly other events going on as well – Rahal’s Ducks game appearance among them.

SPORTS CAR DIGEST

We haven’t even scratched the surface of all the activities yet because all the above copy is IndyCar-related. But a few other sports car things of note between the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Pirelli World Challenge paddocks:

-Two good reads from Ryan Myrehn of Sportscar365, first on how IMSA organizes the paddock logistics for its 35 cars racing here this weekend, and then a fun look at Sage Karam and Jack Hawksworth, two IndyCar veterans now racing for the 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 program who are now roommates in Michigan.

-GMG Racing and Euroworld Motorsports driver Alec Udell steps up from GTA to GT in PWC, and while he’s 21 and has been in PWC for nearly a decade, he’s only raced once before at Long Beach, in an Ford Mustang Boss 302 in GTS in 2014. The reasoning? Udell wasn’t old enough to compete prior to 2014, then missed the 2015 race even though he was in GT Cup after an accident at St. Petersburg, and then missed last year because GT Cup didn’t compete.

-Jonathan Summerton makes his PWC return with the DIME Racing team in a new Lamborghini Huracán GT3, supposedly No. 111 (decals weren’t on the car yet on Thursday). The Floridian raced here in Atlantic and Indy Lights in 2008 and 2009, finishing fourth both races.

-Since 2002, Ryan Dalziel has raced here in Atlantics, Champ Cars, Daytona Prototypes, GT (Jaguar), PC and P2 (HPD) cars, but he’s never had a weekend here like this. Dalziel missed this race last year because of his FIA World Endurance Championship commitments at Silverstone. Now, he makes up for it by racing here twice – both in his No. 2 CRP Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 in Pirelli World Challenge and his No. 2 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi in IMSA. Dalziel is as yet unsure who his PWC SprintX co-driver will be; that portion of the season starts at VIR later this month.

-Jeff Segal has won Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans… and yet never driven at Long Beach. The co-driver of the No. 86 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 and incredible connoisseur of sunglasses makes his debut on these mean streets this weekend.

-At Porsche’s Experience Center L.A. (in Carson) on Wednesday, a gathering of all the Porsche 911s racing this weekend was present. There are nine of the GT3-spec Porsche 911 GT3 Rs; campaigned by GMG Racing (Nos. 14, 17), Wright Motorsports (Nos. 16, 58), GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing (No. 99) in PWC and Alegra Motorsports (No.28), CORE autosport (No. 54), Park Place Motorsports (No. 73) and TRG (No. 991) in IMSA this weekend. Black Swan Racing also had its No. 540 Porsche, which ran a partial IMSA season last year, present for the event. A pic below comes from Radio Show Limited’s John Hindhaugh; IMSA Radio will have all live session coverage on site this weekend.

-So here’s something to monitor: there are a combined 39 GT3-spec cars racing this weekend. In IMSA, there’s 16 of the GT Daytona cars, the series’ slowest (but still bloody fast) class racing here for the first time. They have Continental Tires. In PWC, there’s 23, which run on Pirelli.

These cars will run in both races:

  • 9-Porsche 911 GT3 R (Nos. 14, 17, 16, 58, 99 in PWC; Nos. 28, 54, 73, 991 in IMSA)
  • 6-Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Nos. 2, 54, 69 in PWC; Nos. 33, 50, 75 in IMSA)
  • 4-Acura NSX GT3 (Nos. 43, 93 in PWC; Nos. 86, 93 in IMSA)
  • 3-Audi R8 LMS (Nos. 4, 44 in PWC; No. 57 in IMSA)
  • 3-Ferrari 488 GT3 (Nos. 31, 61 in PWC; No. 63 in IMSA)
  • 3-Lamborghini Huracán GT3 (No. 111 in PWC; Nos. 16, 48 in IMSA)

The Cadillac ATS-V.R GT3 (2), McLaren 650S GT3 (3), Bentley Continental GT3 (2) and Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 (1) will run only in PWC this weekend, with the Lexus RC F GT3s (2) and BMW M6 GT3 (1) running only in IMSA.

ANOTHER GOOD RACE PREVIEW

From Mobil 1 The Grid, a look ahead to the overall landscape of this weekend’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach festivities:

Hamilton tops second Abu Dhabi F1 practice with new track record

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Lewis Hamilton swept to the top of the timesheets in second Formula 1 practice for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Friday evening, beating Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel by one-tenth of a second.

Hamilton trailed Vettel through the daytime-run opening practice session, but managed to strike back by recording a new track record at the Yas Marina Circuit for Mercedes.

Hamilton recorded a fastest lap time of 1:37.877 to finish one-tenth of a second clear of Vettel at the checkered flag, appearing to have an edge across a single lap on the ultra-soft tire.

Red Bull threw its hat into the ring as a possible rival for pole through Daniel Ricciardo, who finished the session third-fastest, three-tenths of a second back from Hamilton at the head of the field.

Kimi Raikkonen ended FP2 in fourth place in the sister Ferrari, finishing within half a second of Hamilton, and managed to edge out fellow Finn Valtteri Bottas, who was a further two-tenths back in P5.

Max Verstappen failed to get in a quick flying lap during FP2, ending the session one second down in P6 for Red Bull.

Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon’s tight intra-team fight at Force India continued through FP2 as the pair were separated by just 0.01 seconds, taking seventh and eighth respectively to finish as the leading midfield drivers.

Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso completed the top 10 for Renault and McLaren, with Felipe Massa following in 11th for Williams on his final Friday appearance in F1.

Massa was fortunate to avoid an accident with Ricciardo during the final 15 minutes of the session after a mix up at the hairpin when the Brazilian tried to get a wider line for the back straight.

Running in Abu Dhabi continues with final practice at Yas Marina on Saturday morning from 5am ET on the NBC Sports app, followed by qualifying at 8am ET on NBCSN.