Brian Redman on 1975 Long Beach win: “Everything worked out fantastically”

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Although the actual date anniversary occurs later this year (September 28), 2015 still marks the 40-year anniversary of the birth of a classic.

The winning driver was Brian Redman. The car was a Lola T332-Chevrolet entered by Haas Racing.

The race? A then first-time Formula 5000 event in what was then a dumpy, rundown, city called Long Beach, Calif., and known as the Long Beach Grand Prix.

Forty years later, Long Beach is the undisputed gold standard of street racing in North America, and second or third in the world. It revs up again this weekend for the 41st running, now featuring the Verizon IndyCar Series on a shorter course.

But some 40 years after the original, Redman’s still around to relive the memories, and the Englishman was all too happy to do so when I spoke to him at Sebring last month chatting with him about another of his past wins – the 1975 12 Hours of Sebring – that had happened earlier that year.

Redman today, reunited with his Sebring-winning BMW. Photo: BMW

The Long Beach field was grand – names such as Mario Andretti, Al Unser, Tony Brise, Tom Pryce, Jody Scheckter, David Hobbs and Gordon Johncock were among the luminaries in the 44-car field – but the area itself was far from it.

“As you probably know, Long Beach was an enormous entry,” Redman recalled, in an exclusive interview with MotorSportsTalk. “World Champions from all over the place were in it.”

“Yet the track and surrounding area were really decrepit, terrible! It was mostly old people’s homes and brothels!

“I remember in practice one day I was standing, watching the cars go past, and a little old lady from one of the homes was watching with me, turned to me and said, ‘Tell me sonny, are those real men in those cars?’ I said, “I don’t really know, I think so!’”

Redman recalled the track itself. Elements from the original 2.02-mile, 13-turn track are still in play today, notably Shoreline Drive and what is now the Turns 9-10-11 complex.

Practice nearly broke Redman’s car before he even had the chance to race.

Redman’s winning F5000 car on display last year. Photo: Tony DiZinno

“The track was very rough,” he said. “Going up to the pit straight, uphill, was very bumpy. And then after the pit straight, into Turn 1, I don’t think you came completely off the ground, but the car went very light. It was in second gear. For a fraction of a second, once it landed, you could open the throttle wide before you had to got back on the brakes for the next left-hander.

“Well towards the end of practice, I did as usual … I went up a little bit, down, flat in second and it turned sharp right! Fortunately I didn’t hit anything. I came into the pits and told Jim Hall, ‘I think something’s broken in the differential.’ He said, ‘Well we’ll take a look at it, but I sure hate to change anything the night before the race.’ Anyway they opened the gearbox, and the Wiseman limited slip had broken. So they changed it.”

Brise had the pole and Redman set off with the repaired car, hoping it would stick for the race, even with Hall – the noted Chaparral design wizard that he is – skeptical it would work.

Then the drivers in front of him started falling like dominos.

“The race started, I think Mario was leading, Tony Brise, Graham Hill’s protégé, was second and Al Unser was third. I was fourth,” Redman said. “But I was OK. I was fairly happy. I knew it would be a long, hard race.

“Anyway the first thing I see, Mario is out with a broken gearbox. Then Tony Brise is out with a broken driveshaft. Then Al Unser’s in the wall, so I’m leading! Unbelievable!”

The twinkle in his eye emerged, a smile appeared… and then Redman immediately shifted gears to remembering how he had to keep his own car in shape to avoid falling victim to the same fate as the others in front of him.

“Jody Scheckter was second and closing a bit. But so what happened, my differential broke again on the 10th lap, so I had to take it easy. There was nothing else I could do.

“Instead of going flat out in second gear up the hill to the pit straight, and flat out down into Turn 1, I’d have to go in gently and open the throttle without going flat out.

“And that’s how I drove the race, and we finished, and won it!”

What happened next only adds to the legend.

“Of course they couldn’t find the ‘race queen’ after the race, and we had Boraxo sponsorship for the first time,” Redman said. “It wound up the wife of our sponsor became the ‘race queen!’

“After I get out of the car, I see the victory podium was a back of a truck! I remember saying on the podium, I was so lucky that it kept going. Everything worked out fantastically.

“And because of that, we got the Boraxo sponsorship for 1976.”

Long Beach, of course, got Formula 1 for 1976, as Chris Pook’s grand master plan of the city’s emergence on the world stage came to life following the successful F5000 race. F1 ran through 1983 and while rumors of its return have endured, the race is firmly an IndyCar stronghold now – as it’s been since 1984.

But Redman endures in history as the track’s only F5000 race winner, but more importantly, the inaugural winner of one of North America’s grandest car races.

It’s an honor he distinctly appreciates, and one we do as well as Long Beach adds more to the history books this weekend.

Strong rebounds for Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi amid some disappointments in the Indy 500


INDIANAPOLIS – Alex Palou had not turned a wheel wrong the entire Month of May at the Indy 500 until Rinus VeeKay turned a wheel into the Chip Ganassi Racing pole-sitter leaving pit road on Lap 94.

“There is nothing I could have done there,” Palou told NBC Sports. “It’s OK, when it is my fault or the team’s fault because everybody makes mistakes. But when there is nothing, you could have done differently there, it feels bad and feels bad for the team.”

Marcus Ericsson was a master at utilizing the “Tail of the Dragon” move that breaks the draft of the car behind him in the closing laps to win last year’s Indianapolis 500. On Sunday, however, the last of three red flags in the final 16 laps of the race had the popular driver from Sweden breathing fire after Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden beat him at his own game on the final lap to win the Indianapolis 500.

Despite the two disappointments, team owner Chip Ganassi was seen on pit road fist-bumping a member on his four-car team in this year’s Indianapolis 500 after his drivers finished second, fourth, sixth and seventh in the tightly contested race.

Those are pretty good results, but at the Indianapolis 500, there is just one winner and 32 losers.

“There is only one winner, but it was a hell of a show,” three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and Chip Ganassi Racing consultant Dario Franchitti told NBC Sports. “Alex was very fast, and he got absolutely caught out in somebody else’s wreck. There was nothing he could have done, but he and the 10 car, great recovery.

“Great recovery by all four cars because at half distance, we were not looking very good.”

After 92 laps, the first caution flew for Sting Ray Robb of Dale Coyne Racing hitting the Turn 1 wall.

During pit stops on Lap 94, Palou had left his stall when the second-place car driven by VeeKay ran into him, putting Palou’s Honda into the wall. The car sustained a damaged front wing, but the Chip Ganassi crew was able to get him back in the race on the lead lap but in 28th position.

Palou ultimately would fight his way to a fourth-place finish in a race the popular Spaniard could have won. His displeasure with VeeKay, whom he sarcastically called “a legend” on his team radio after the incident, was evident.

“The benefit of being on pole is you can drive straight and avoid crashes, and he was able to crash us on the side on pit lane, which is pretty tough to do, but he managed it,” Palou told NBC Sports. “Hopefully next year we are not beside him. Hopefully, next year we have a little better luck.”

Palou started on the pole and led 36 laps, just three fewer than race leader Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren Racing.

“We started really well, was managing the fuel as we wanted, our car was pretty good,” Palou said. “Our car wasn’t great, we dropped to P4 or P5, but we still had some good stuff.

“On the pit stop, the 21 (VeeKay) managed to clip us. Nothing we could have done there. It was not my team’s fault or my fault.

“We had to drop to the end. I’m happy we made it back to P4. We needed 50 more laps to make it happen, but it could have been a lot worse after that contact.

“I learned a lot, running up front at the beginning and in mid-pack and then the back. I learned a lot.

“It feels amazing when you win it and not so good when things go wrong. We were a bit lucky with so many restarts at the end to make it back to P4 so I’m happy with that.”

Palou said the front wing had to be changed and the toe-in was a bit off, but he still had a fast car.

In fact, his Honda was the best car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway all month. His pole-winning four lap average speed of 234.217 miles per hour around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a record for this fabled race.

Palou looked good throughout the race, before he had to scratch and claw and race his way back to the top-five after he restarted 28th.

In the Indianapolis 500, however, the best car doesn’t always win.

“It’s two years in a row that we were leading the race at the beginning and had to drop to last,” Palou said. “Maybe next year, we will start in the middle of the field and go on to win the race.

“I know he didn’t do it on purpose. It’s better to let that pass someday.”

Palou said the wild racing at the end was because the downforce package used in Sunday’s race means the drivers have to be aggressive. The front two cars can battle for the victory, but cars back in fourth or fifth place can’t help determine the outcome of the race.

That is when the “Tail of the Dragon” comes into the play.

Franchitti helped celebrate Ericsson’s win in 2022 with his “Tail of the Dragon” zigzag move – something he never had to do in any of his three Indianapolis 500 victories because they all finished under caution.

In 2023, however, IndyCar Race Control wants to make every attempt to finish the race under green, without going past the scheduled distance like NASCAR’s overtime rule.

Instead of extra laps, they stop the race with a red flag, to create a potential green-flag finish condition.

“You do what you have to do to win within the rules, and it’s within the rules, so you do it,” Franchitti said. “The race is 200 laps and there is a balance.

“Marcus did a great job on that restart and so did Josef. It was just the timing of who was where and that was it.

“If you knew it was going to go red, you would have hung back on the lap before.

“Brilliant job by the whole Ganassi organization because it wasn’t looking very good at half-distance.

“Full marks to Josef Newgarden and Team Penske.”

Franchitti is highly impressed by how well Ericsson works with CGR engineer Brad Goldberg and how close this combination came to winning the Indianapolis 500 two-years-in-a-row.

It would have been the first back-to-back Indy 500 winner since Helio Castroneves in 2001 and 2002.

“Oh, he’s a badass,” Franchitti said Ericsson. “He proved it last year. He is so calm all day. What more do you need? As a driver, he’s fast and so calm.”

Ericsson is typically in good spirits and jovial.

He was stern and direct on pit road after the race.

“I did everything right, I did an awesome restart, caught Josef off-guard and pulled away,” Ericsson said on pit lane. “It’s hard to pull away a full lap and he got me back.

“I’m mostly disappointed with the way he ended. I don’t think it was fair and safe to do that restart straight out of the pits on cold tires for everyone.

“To me, it was not a good way to end that race.

“Congrats to Josef. He didn’t do anything wrong. He is a worthy champion, but it shouldn’t have ended like that.”

Palou also didn’t understand the last restart, which was a one-start showdown.

“I know that we want to finish under green,” Palou said. “Maybe the last restart I did, I didn’t understand. It didn’t benefit the CGR team.

“I’m not very supportive of the last one, but anyway.”

Dixon called the red flags “a bit sketchy.”

“The Red Flags have become a theme to the end of the race, but sometimes they can catch you out,” Dixon said. “I know Marcus is frustrated with it.

“All we ask for is consistency. I think they will do better next time.

“It’s a tough race. People will do anything they can to win it and with how these reds fall, you have to be in the right place at the right time. The problem is when they throw a Red or don’t throw a Red dictates how the race will end.

“It’s a bloody hard race to win. Congrats to Josef Newgarden and to Team Penske.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500