LONG BEACH, Calif. – Here some additional news and notes from the Verizon IndyCar Series, IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Pirelli World Challenge championships at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend, from Wednesday through Friday:
- On Thursday, legendary team owner Roger Penske and longtime track announcer Bruce Flanders were immortalized in Grand Prix of Long Beach history April 14 when inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame. Flanders, a local institutition and at one point Champ Car’s full-time series announcer, said, “This is such an honor. You go down that row (of Walk of Fame inductees), there is some heavy names, not one announcer. I did the math and just at this venue I have talked to over five million people.”
- Two other big Thursday events took place, with the annual Road Racing Drivers Club dinner – which this year honored George Follmer – and the usual Thunder on Pine event. Here’s examples of them both from the same team: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Bobby Rahal, who also serves as RRDC President, emceed the RRDC dinner and spoke to Follmer, while one of the BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLMs was on display at Thunder on Pine. For good measure, RLL’s IndyCar team won the pit stop competition. I was at another event Thursday night (will get to that next week; a simulation run at CXC Simulations near LAX airport) but both of these are Long Beach staples.
- Past NFL wide receiver star Terrell Owens made the rounds today. We’ll have more on his day at the track to come later this weekend.
- Appears we have a pace car driver for this year’s 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil: “The Captain,” Roger Penske. More here per the Indianapolis Star‘s Curt Cavin.
- Josef Newgarden wasn’t the only driver throwing out a first pitch this week. So too did Charlie Kimball, driver of the No. 83 Tresiba Chevrolet. Here’s some lead up tweets (one, two and three) along with the pitch itself.
- Captain of Heartland Fire & Rescue La Mesa (just outside San Diego), Sonny Saghera has been announced as the next member of the ‘CK Crew’ the team of military veterans and first responders that will be PIRTEK Team Murray’s entry in this May’s Indy 500 Tag Heuer Pit Stop Challenge. Captain Saghera was announced at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach by PIRTEK Team Murray Ambassador, Taya Kyle, driver Matt Brabham and owner, Brett Murray.
- Livery updates this week: Simon Pagenaud has light blue and white car with PPG Automotive Refinishes branding. It joins the No. 3 (AAA), No. 11 (CBU) and No. 15 (PennGrade) cars with different liveries this race. Marco Andretti’s No. 27 car continues with United Fiber & Data as a co-primary sponsor on his No. 27 Snapple Honda for Andretti Autosport. King Taco is also adorning Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda entry, on the flow conditioners or “sponsor blockers.”
- While no deal is done for him yet for the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, Gabby Chaves told IndyCar Radio Friday he feels good about his chances to land one of the remaining seats. “I’m optimistic. I’m pretty close to making a deal… and that’s where I want to be,” Chaves told IndyCar Radio’s Nick Yeoman.
- Grace Autosport has a number of its key stakeholders on site this weekend – Beth Paretta and Katherine Legge are both here, with Legge here driving the DeltaWing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship – but no imminent announcements as to where it will land for the Indianapolis 500. Per multiple reports, Grace will not partner with KVSH Racing as was circulated a few weeks back. A Grace announcement was initially listed for Saturday morning, but has since been canceled.
- During Wednesday night’s Night with Legends event at the Petersen Automotive Museum, Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, the head of INDYCAR’s parent company, said this year’s 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil will have a sellout crowd. “This Indy 500 is gonna be sold out. It hasn’t happened since 1995,” he told the room gathered, following the conclusion of the panel discussion.
- Beyond the four winningest drivers in attendance, and A.J. Foyt’s video message, a group of past winners and series champions posed for a photo at the end of the evening. That group included the four honorees (Mario and Michael Andretti, Scott Dixon and Al Unser) along with Danny Sullivan, Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan, Al Unser Jr., Parnelli Jones and Bobby Rahal. In that photo alone are 14 Indianapolis 500 wins (Unser 4, Franchitti 3, Unser Jr. 2, Mario, Sullivan, Kanaan, Jones and Rahal all 1).
- The big concern coming from the IMSA paddock today is the speed differentiation and lap times between the PC and GTLM classes. Reason being, the GTLM cars are as quick if not quicker than PC cars when the PC Silver drivers are in, and only slightly behind when the PC cars put their pros in. Several GTLM drivers expressed concerns about the quality of racing if and when both classes get intermingled on Saturday, which could happen as soon as there’s a caution flag. Watch this space.
- One of the PC drivers to watch this weekend is Starworks Motorsport’s Renger van der Zande, who shares the No. 8 Oreca FLM09 with Alex Popow, a past Long Beach winner. Van der Zande makes his track debut and todl NBC Sports: “It’s a ballsy track. If you brake too late, it doesn’t end well. You have to be so confident to brake late.”
- Another driver to watch is Performance Tech Motorsports’ James French, whose co-driver Kyle Marcelli is pulling double duty between IMSA and PWC this weekend. French, the Detroit polesitter last year, said he loves the circuit and was surprised with the early pace.
- It’s a short drive from the Scuderia Corsa race shop in Los Angeles, as well as the team’s affiliated dealerships in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, and South Bay, to the seaside city of Long Beach. So at this weekend’s Grand Prix of Long Beach, the drivers and crew of Scuderia Corsa will enjoy an overwhelming amount of support for the trio of Ferraris that will compete on the temporary circuit of Long Beach. In IMSA, Alessandro Balzan and Daniel Serra share the team’s No. 68 Ferrari 488 GTE.
- Two big stories emerged from the morning practice: one, Mazda’s pace is legitimate and two, the No. 67 Ford GT had a fire, although the cause is unknown. A potential fuel pressure issue arose before Richard Westbrook stopped the car driver’s right exiting Turn 3.
- Meanwhile here’s what Jonathan Bomarito had to say after Mazda’s Prototype program led its first ever session in the No. 55 car: “They’ve changed a few things on the track that have helped us. Some of the big curbing they had last year, we just couldn’t use while the DPs could. That really hurt us, especially in Turn 8 coming onto the back straightaway. They eliminated the big curbs there, so now we can carry more speed and run right to the [inside] wall. It’s smoother and helps launch our car down that straight. So, just on track conditions versus last year, we’ve really closed the gap on the handling. That’s good. The car’s running good. The team’s doing good. Everybody’s doing their job.”
- The Panoz DeltaWing Racing team is continuing to send its best wishes to its senior race engineer Catherine Crawford, who is recovering following emergency surgery for a brain tumor. These two signs are on the back of the team’s transporter for folks to sign.
- Local driver Tomy Drissi is back with BAR1 Motorsports this weekend. The No. 20 Oreca FLM09 he shares with Johnny Mowlem is adorned in Drissi’s latest movie production: X-Men Apocalypse, with the tagline Only the Strong will Survive. Matt McMurry is set to share the car with Mowlem for five of the remaining six sprint races this season (not Detroit).
- A fairly interesting, and long, drivers meeting took place Friday afternoon, ahead of World Challenge’s first track time. Without giving away too much, the thing to watch this weekend will be the initial start and restarts (if any) in terms of when the pace car pulls off and when the leader accelerates.
- World Challenge will have a bit of a time oddity for its Sunday air times, for the taped-as-live but not-exactly-airing-as-live broadcast on the CBS Sports Network. The race runs starting at 10 a.m. PT and local time, but there’s the slight problem of the race not airing until 11 a.m. PT/2 p.m. ET. Live timing will be available at livetiming.net/PWC. The full race preview from earlier this week is linked here.
- Besides Tim Pappas, who makes his series return this weekend in the Roscoe’s Dodge Viper GT3-R, Bill Sweedler and Brent Holden also make their first starts of the year.
- Also of note, Alex Gurney will rejoin the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing team at Long Beach, visiting the team this weekend. Gurney hasn’t spent a weekend with the group since the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona, a race when Gurney qualified on the overall pole but Memo Gidley had his savage accident in the race. Jon Fogarty, driver of the No. 99 McLaren 650S GT3, makes his return to Long Beach for the first time since 2004, when he raced with Tyler Tadevic’s Pacific Coast Motorsports team in Formula Atlantic.
- Andrew Davis makes his track debut this weekend, somewhat surprisingly. Davis didn’t drive American Le Mans Series’ GTC class in 2013 with Dempsey Del Piero that weekend because it conflicted with the GRAND-AM Rolex Series at Road Atlanta, where he drove in Brumos Racing’s last race.
- It’s a short drive from the Scuderia Corsa race shop in Los Angeles, as well as the team’s affiliated dealerships in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, and South Bay, to the seaside city of Long Beach. So at this weekend’s Grand Prix of Long Beach, the drivers and crew of Scuderia Corsa will enjoy an overwhelming amount of support for the trio of Ferraris that will compete on the temporary circuit of Long Beach. In PWC, Bill Sweedler and Martin Fuentes race the team’s Nos. 11 and 07 Ferrari 458 Italia GT3.
Van der Zande didn’t just reflect on the track, but en route to Los Angeles, he also bumped into one of the world’s hottest DJs in Martin Garrix. Garrix is playing at the Snake Pit this year at the Indianapolis 500.
Will Power has never hid his love for rap and with the domed skid drama entering the L-B-C, Power dropped some rhymes Thursday on Twitter to pay homage and tribute to Snoop Dogg’s legendary hit “Gin and Juice.”
We still have a couple more sessions today, with World Challenge first practice ongoing now and IMSA second practice and qualifying from 5 to 6:30 p.m.