IndyCar: Scott Pruett named Grand Marshal of Long Beach Grand Prix

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Scott Pruett may be done racing a race car, but he’s not done with racing by any means.

The Hall of Fame driver will serve as grand marshal for the 44th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday, April 15. He’ll cap off a weekend of activities by giving the command for drivers to start engines prior to the Verizon IndyCar Series race.

There’s a unique connection between Pruett and Long Beach. It was on the famous street circuit 36 years ago that Pruett won the 1982 Bridgestone Pro/Kart Challenge, one of the first wins in his racing career (he’d also win the same race a second time).

From there, the rest became history as Pruett went on to win countless races and championships, and was enshrined in the World Karting Association Hall of Fame, the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame and the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.

Pruett, who turns 58 on March 24, competed in his last race in January’s Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, leaving behind an outstanding legacy.

He earned more than 75 race wins in his career, including five Rolex 24 overall victories. Other wins include the 12 Hours of Sebring and a class win in the 24 Hours of LeMans.

His other wins or career highpoints included:

  • CART: Michigan 1995, Australia 1997.
  • IROC: Riverside 1988, Daytona 1991.
  • NASCAR: Three top-4 finishes.
  • TRANS AM: 24 wins and three championships (1987, 1994 and 2003).
  • GRAND AM: 41 wins and five championships (2004, 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2012).

“We are absolutely delighted to have Scott serve as Grand Marshal this year,” Jim Michaelian, President and CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, said in a media release. “His racing career has been intertwined with the events here in Long Beach over the years, and it is entirely appropriate that we recognize his contributions to our success here as well as to the entire world of motor sports.”

Along with his career kick-off win 36 years ago at Long Beach, Pruett has won several other races there in his career, including the 1987 Trans-Am race, the 2001 Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race and the 2006 Grand-Am race.

In addition, he competed in nine IndyCar races there, with best finishes of second in 1995 and third in 1997.

“Long Beach has always been a very special place for me,” said Pruett, who continues as a goodwill ambassador for Lexus in retirement. “I remember, for my 16th birthday, some dear friends gave me tickets and brought me down.

“Watching those F1 cars and meeting Niki Lauda was a dream come true. Little did I know at the time, what an impact this great track would have on me. I am truly honored to be the 2018 Grand Marshal.”

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IndyCar drivers say Thermal Club could host race after successful opening day to test

IndyCar Thermal race
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THERMAL, Calif. – The “motorsports country club” passed the first test (figuratively and literally) with NTT IndyCar Series drivers pleased enough to proclaim The Thermal Club as race-eligible after its debut.

Though there were a few minor incidents on the 17-turn, 3.067-mile permanent road course east of Palm Springs in Southern California’s Coachella Valley, there was no significant damage for the 27 full-time cars that turned 1,119 laps Thursday.

Perhaps more importantly, drivers seemed to enjoy the ride around the track, which is unlike anything on the current circuit.

“I would love to race here,” said Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Marcus Armstrong, who posted the 10th-quickest time (1 minute, 39.9077 seconds) in the No. 11 Dallara-Honda that he will race on street and road courses after coming from the F2 Series. “I think it’s awesome. Would have to do a lot of neck training prior to the race because it’s much like a European circuit, quite demanding on the neck, towards the end of the lap anyway.

PRACTICE SPEEDS: First session l Second session l Combined

‘AN AMAZING PLACE’: IndyCar and its big plans for Thermal

“I think it’s cool. Very flowing, banked corners, banked high-speed corners. In terms of racing, it could be potentially not a lot of overtaking. You’d have to commit hard (in) maybe Turn 1. It wouldn’t be the easiest place to overtake. As a whole facility and circuit, it’s very enjoyable.”

Juncos Hollinger Racing No. 77 Chevrolet driver Callum Ilott, another F2 veteran who is entering his second year in IndyCar, was seventh fastest. Ilott said Thermal would “set a standard really of what we want to be doing with this series.

“It’s really, really high level, high tech,” said Ilott, whose rookie teammate Agustin Canapino went off course twice but incurred no major trouble. “As a circuit, yeah, it’s got a little bit different corners. I think the overtaking — we’ll find a way, we’re IndyCar — someone always sends it down the inside. I think if we can extend the straight and get some overtaking between Turn 6 and 7. It’s definitely a great circuit to drive and good fun and a bit different to the normal winter training we get in Florida. So I like the circuit.

“I think if we could, it would be good to race here once.”

Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta, who turned the fastest lap (1:39.3721) in his No. 26, also was optimistic despite the passing challenges.

“I think it really comes down to tire deg, what people are showing with that,” Herta said. “It will be tough to pass, right? A lot of the good braking zones, you’re coming off of high-speed corners, so it will be hard to follow.

“But you never know. I would say some of the tracks we go to would be terrible for racing, and IndyCar still puts on a great show. You never know until it’s tested and proven right or wrong.”

The possibility of adding an IndyCar race at The Thermal Club has been floated, but there would be some challenges. It likely would be a made-for-TV event given it’s a private club (and filled with multimillion-dollar homes filled with vintage cars). The test is closed to the public and open only to members and VIPs.

There also are some areas that would need to be improved, namely the galvanized steel Armco barriers that ring the track and generally are considered antiquated in motorsports.

“I think the Armco might propose a little bit of an issue,” Ilott said. “Again, it depends on what angle you’re hitting them obviously. It’s a pretty straightforward process to make it a bit safer and a bit more cushiony. I’m not in charge of that stuff. I just drive and try not to hit those things.

“I think it’s a straightforward process. To be fair, everyone has had a little moment today, spun and carried on. That’s a good start. Obviously there are anomalies, these things happen. So far, so good.”

Said Herta: For sure. It probably needs a little bit of work. They’ve already done a lot for us to come here already. It seems like if they do want to have a race here, they’re willing to put the work in and money in to upgrade the facility to make it a little bit safer for us.”

Christian Lundgaard of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was second fastest (1:39.3767), followed by Alex Palou (1:39.3970) and Romain Grosjean (1:39.4826). Will Power was the top Chevrolet driver in fifth (1:39.5690).

Though Andretti had two of the top four times, Herta downplayed the significance other than getting reacclimated to his team.

“Just a lot of knocking the rust off,” he said. “It’s quite a long offseason without being in the car. I don’t know how much we’re really going to learn from running here. It’s really good to get the team back into it, get all the boys working again. Yeah, just get everybody back into the flow of it.

“It could be a huge shake-up when we go to St. Pete and who’s up front and who’s at the back. It is too early to tell. It’s nice just to be back in the car and get lap times down, get everybody working again.

“The track surface is very strange, very different to anything I’ve really felt in IndyCar. It’s seven first-gear corners. We don’t really have that many anywhere we go on a street course. It is quite a bit slower than our natural terrain courses. But I don’t want to be in here and dig it the whole time. It’s a fun track to drive, especially the back section. It keeps you on your toes. It doesn’t really replicate anything else that we go (race).”

The test will continue with another six-hour session Friday.