NHRA legend John Force had a busy weekend at Long Beach

Photo: John Force Racing
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This year’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach had seven series in action: the Verizon IndyCar Series, IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Pirelli World Challenge, Formula Drift, Stadium SUPER Trucks presented by Traxxas and the final Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race.

And it had an NHRA legend making the rounds too in John Force, visiting the event as daughter Courtney Force and her new husband Graham Rahal were both there – Rahal competing and Courtney there to support.

Here’s the team release:

John Force spent his last free weekend before a grueling stretch of NHRA national events kicks off at a race track meeting with sponsors, chatting up racing legends and spending time with hundreds of fans. The 16-time Funny Car champion was easy to spot in his ever present PEAK uniform shirt and white PEAK baseball hat as he cruised the paddock area on Saturday and Sunday.

“I wanted to come out to the Long Beach Grand Prix for a couple of reasons. It is almost a hometown race for me since we live just up the road in Yorba Linda plus this is a great chance to see a lot of my sponsors and get caught up with them,” he said. “When I am with my PEAK Chevrolet Funny Car I get pretty wound up, but at the Grand Prix I was able to relax a little bit and have some good talks with a lot of people like Jim Campbell from Chevrolet and Traxxas owners Mike and Keli Jenkins. Mike and Keli even got me in the winner’s circle since Traxxas won the off-road truck race.”

Force-with-Traxxas-truck

In addition to spending some time with sponsors Force spent a few minutes with some of the legends of IndyCar including Mario Andretti and Chip Ganassi. The 143-time Funny Car winner also got to congratulate fellow Auto Club of Southern California sponsored driver Helio Castroneves on winning the pole for Sunday’s event.

“When you see the stars of Indy Car like Helio, Mario and Chip Ganassi you have to stop and pay respect. I have so much respect for these guys. I want my son-in-law Grahaam Rahal to do well of course but it was great to see Helio get that pole position in a Chevy,” added Force.

Force also worked the media while he was at the track participating in a number of interviews talking about both his NHRA season as well as the differences between being a driver and a spectator.

“I have been to more IndyCar races in the past couple of years now that Courtney and Graham are together. I like to watch them but I am not a good spectator,” said Force.

IndyCar’s ‘Phoenix’ flying into 2023 season: Romain Grosjean enjoying the pilot’s life

IndyCar Romain Grosjean pilot
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – The IndyCar driver known as “The Phoenix” already has taken flight before the 2023 season, and newly licensed pilot Romain Grosjean also got a head start on the opener.

Fulfilling a dream several years in the making, the Andretti Autosport plunged into aviation training over the offseason. Since beginning with online studying last August, Grosjean quickly progressed to earning his licenses for multiengine planes and instrument ratings while completing 115 hours of flight time.

He has landed twice at Albert Whitted Airport, whose primary runway also doubles as the front straightaway on the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg street course.

“Just to land on the start-finish line, that was pretty cool,” Grosjean said during IndyCar Preseason Content Days ahead of the Feb. 2-3 test at The Thermal Club. “The air traffic control guy was like, “Yeah, left on Acre Five, turn, and then back. I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s the last corner of the racetrack, I’ll take it and go back to the pit lane. He was like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s true.’ So it was quite funny.”

Grosjean, 36, said he had wanted to become a pilot since he was 30 but was discouraged by Europe’s complicated and time-consuming licensing process (“to go to ground school twice a week, and with our life, it’s impossible”). He was inspired again last year by (now former) teammate Alexander Rossi, who flew to some 2022 races after earning his license a couple of years ago.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” said Grosjean, who had grown “bored of waiting in the airports.”

He plans to fly to nearly all the races this year (“if the weather is good enough, I’ll be flying”) and jokes about being “commercial by the end of the year, so then I can take Roger (Penske). Roger can pay me to fly him around to races if things go bad with racing.”

Grosjean’s social media has been filled with posts about his new hobby, which afforded him the opportunity recently to take his wife to Key West for lunch from their home in the Miami area. The trip took 37 minutes there and 41 minutes on return and highlighted why Grosjean loves flying: “Freedom. Freedom to go anywhere you want, anytime you want. It’s the beauty of it. We can go to the Bahamas for a day if we want to. Anywhere. I think that’s just great to know that you can do whatever you want.”

It’s reminiscent of the cross-country trip across the Midwest in an RV that Grosjean took with his family during the summer of his 2021 rookie season.

“There’s one thing that I told my kids, and I told my friend about America, and for me, that’s the biggest difference between Europe and here, is here everything is possible,” said Grosjean (whose “Phoenix” nickname was derived from a brush with death in his final Formula One start). “If you have the wish, if you give yourself the possibility of doing it, everything is possible. It is different in Europe. Much more boundaries on the way. Much more steps that you need to do in a certain order. But if you want to be extraordinary (in the United States), if you want to do something different, you don’t need to do those steps because you can work through.

“Yeah, I like doing things, and when I do them, I like doing them well. But here I think just the opportunity of driving the RV, flying planes, for my kids to do whatever they want to do, we love that here. Yeah, it’s been the best discovery for us.”

The Swiss-born Frenchman already has flown himself to a race this year, jetting up the Florida coast for his Rolex 24 at Daytona debut last month. It was his debut as a Lamborghini factory driver, and his new deal will continue with the Twelve Hours of Sebring and possibly the Petit Le Mans while he also helps develop the automaker’s new hybrid prototype (LMDh) for next year.

Grosjean, who finished a disappointing 13th in the 2022 points standings with one podium for Andretti in his first full season, said IndyCar will remain his priority in 2024.

But he hopes the IndyCar schedule will afford racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship endurance races and perhaps another his longest plane flight yet — a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed like that we get the weekend off from IndyCar,” said Grosjean, noting that 10 IndyCar drivers were in the Rolex 24. “I think it would make a lot of sense. I think for both series it’s amazing. If we can get Le Mans, it’s also amazing because it’s just cool.

“I remember Mario flying across the Atlantic doing Monaco and the Indy 500, and those guys, they were racing everywhere, Formula 3, Formula 2, Formula 1. They were doing the races in opening of the Formula 1 race, and I think that’s very cool for us. So yeah, looking forward to the project. There’s going to be a lot of development coming on. By the time we finish the IndyCar season, the LMDh will be here in the States, and that’s when I’m going to spend a lot of time on it.”