Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach: Racing’s greatest ‘street party’


LONG BEACH, Calif. – The Long Beach Grand Prix may have a new official name, but it remains one of the highlights on the calendar for any race fans.

What began as the Long Beach Grand Prix in 1975, continued as the United States Grand Prix West from 1976-1983, to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach from 1980-2018, will now be known as the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

“That happens to be the exact message we have been using in all of our advertising – ‘New Race Name. Same Fast Game,’” Jim Michaelian, President and CEO of the Gran Prix Association of Long Beach told NBC Sports on Monday. “That captures the essence of what you will experience when you come to the 2019 Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.”

The week-long event brings Southern California’s glamour crowd to Long Beach to watch fast cars, soak up the sun, attend concerts and tour the exposition center. Only the Indianapolis 500 and the Grand Prix of Monaco would be seen as more prestigious races.

The weekend’s main attraction is the NTT IndyCar Series race (Sunday, 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app), while IMSA has its biggest street race of the season in Bubba Burger Sports Car Grand Prix of Long Beach (Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app).

But it’s more than just racing.

“Both days contain a significant number of what I call ‘non-hardcore racing fans,’” Michaelian said. “They are coming out, enjoying the atmosphere, participating in a lot of the activities here whether it is in the Lifestyle Expo, or the Kids Zone or the go-kart tracks or attending the concerts or Friday and Saturday night or Drifting on those two nights.

“The attraction for our guests all three days is to come out and enjoy themselves and take in some of the racing. Robby Gordon’s SST Trucks are always popular, and Drifting is always packed in the evening.

“And who doesn’t want to see Sports Cars in action like IMSA has, not only in DPI but also in the GTLM. Those are really aspirational type cars with Ford GT, Porsche, Corvette and BMW. Those are cars people would love to own and love to drive and they get to see them in action here.

“It’s the same mentality as far as approach that our customers and guests take when they attend here.”

In addition to a new sponsor, IMSA will help celebrate its 50thYear with an historic GTO race with 32 of the old GTO cars from 1990 and 1991. There will also be a display of GTP cars in the Prominade area of the Long Beach Convention Center. There are six events scheduled including NTT IndyCar, IMSA WeatherTech Series, the Pirelli GT4 America Series, Robby Gordon’s SST Trucks, Formula Drift and the IMSA Historic GTO Race as all part of the schedule.

Michaelian has been part of this event since its inception in 1975 when the event was created by England’s Chris Pook, who was running a travel agency in Long Beach at the time and hoped to turn the city into a destination.

“That first year was a real scramble,” Michaelian recalled. “We didn’t get approval from the State of California Corporation Commissioner to spend the funds we had raised until July. We had that race on September 28, 1975 so we were really hustling to put that event on. You can’t compare what we do now to what we did then.”

It ended up being a great event full of legendary racing names. As time went on and the promoter became more efficient at conducting the race, they were able to branch out with non-racing options to help attract more fans to the circuit.

The old Toyota Celebrity Race was a very popular addition that was held for 40 years with entertainment stars competing in a race around the circuit. When the Long Beach Convention Center was completed, that became a central zone for the non-racing portion of the event.

“As time has gone on, we’ve looked to add things,” Michaelian said. “We have created a Food Truck line on the backside. We have the Patron Club next to the IndyCar Paddock. We have been able to maintain and attract more of the non-track hardcore fans to give them reason to attend.

“We have 21 restaurants inside of our circuit. You can go to any number or restaurants. How many other restaurants have that? None, absolutely none.”

This year’s concert lineup includes Mexican Rock group El Tri for the third time. Saturday’s headliner is Cold War Kids with Moontower, an indie-electronic musical group as the opening act.

The real star of the show, however, is the racing on the track.

The race course is tight and difficult and has featured eight different configurations since that first race in 1975. When it comes to the NTT IndyCar Series, Long Beach is the biggest street race on the schedule. Only the legendary Indianapolis 500 is a bigger race on the 17-race schedule.

That is why any driver that wins at Long Beach feels the history and significance that comes with that victory.

“For sure, more so from the legacy of the track and not the size of the race or the people there,” last year’s winner, Alexander Rossi, told NBC “It’s how that city has hosted a race of some sort, whether it be Formula One or IndyCar or both for such a long period of time has made it such a historical and significant race. That’s the cool thing. It’s another race where my name is going to get to be among some pretty amazing racing drivers is pretty special.

“Outside of the Indianapolis 500, Long Beach is one of the ones you want to win. I have to agree with that.”

Among the unique aspects of the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach is the event continues to thrive and has helped transform the city of Long Beach into a destination area. There has been tremendous commercial development near the street course since it first staged the Grand Prix back in 1975.

Times were far different then and despite changes in political culture, the event is able to continue as one of the major sporting events of the season in Southern California.

It’s auto racing’s version of the Rose Bowl, the New Year’s Classic college football game played in nearby Pasadena, California.

“It is something that would never happen in 2019 if it didn’t have a special place in the city’s heart and legacy that went along with it.,” Rossi said. “I think we are very fortunate to continue to race there and should appreciate every year and opportunity that we have to go there and compete and have a show for what is an awesome fan base.”

With its luxurious hotels across the street from the race course, and one major hotel actually inside the race course, the drivers and teams enjoy the amenities and convenience at Long Beach.

“It’s awesome,” Rossi said. “If I have an 8:15 a.m. meeting, I set my alarm for 7:55 a.m. It makes our lives pretty easy, it’s great and convenient. The general vibe and atmosphere that goes along with that race is great. Along that same strip are all the restaurants and night life and people there and the music. The weather is always sunny and 75 in Southern California. It’s an amazing weekend and something we look forward to every year.

“The best thing about it is the convenience to be so close to good food and good people being so close to the race track.”

Winning the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach is big to an IndyCar driver, and it’s just as important for the drivers in IMSA.

“Long Beach has always been a unique event for us,” IMSA GTLM Corvette Racing driver Tommy Milner told NBC “I can remember the first time I went there in 2007, the atmosphere there was different than any other event I had ever experienced. You have casual fans that attend the race and people that may not follow Sports Car racing like a diehard racing fans. It’s fun to talk to people from all different walks of life.

“Maybe it’s the first time they see our race and we explain what we do or to see young kids and their eyes light up when they see these cars for the first time run on the city streets.

“It’s unique and something we don’t experience any place out.

“The history of Long Beach, it’s LA. All of it together – the crowd, the atmosphere, the history and the great races we have – makes it a lot of fun. The streets after the race are alive with fans. It’s a fun event to go to and even better to win. It’s definitely a highlight of the season.”


Schedule (All Times Pacific Daylight Time)

Gates open at 7 a.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Some of the highlights of each day include:


  • 10 a.m. Friday: IndyCar practice;
  • 11:40 a.m. Friday: Historic IMSA GTO practice;
  • 12:20 p.m. Friday: Stadium Super Trucks practice;
  • 2 p.m. Friday: IndyCar practice;
  • 3 p.m. Friday: Historic IMSA GTO qualifying;
  • 3:30 p.m. Friday: Pirelli GT4 America practice and IndyCar autograph session;
  • 4:45 p.m. Friday: BUBBA burger SportsCar qualifying;
  • 6:45 p.m. Friday: Super Drift Challenge practice and the Fiesta Friday concert with El Tri;
  • 7:30 p.m. Friday: Motegi Racing Super Drift Challenge.


  • 9 a.m. Saturday: IndyCar practice;
  • 9:30 a.m. Saturday: IMSA Weather Tech SportsCar autograph session;
  • 10 a.m. Saturday: Pirelli GT4 America practice;
  • 10:45 a.m. Saturday: Pirelli GT4 America qualifying;
  • 12:10 p.m. Saturday: IndyCar qualifying and Firestone Fast 6;
  • 1:30 p.m. Saturday: BUBBA burger SportsCar pre-race;
  • 2:06 p.m. Saturday: BUBBA burger SportsCar Grand Prix;
  • 4:15 p.m. Saturday: Stadium Super Trucks Race No.1;
  • 5 p.m. Saturday: Historic IMSA GTO Race;
  • 6 p.m. Saturday: Motegi Racing Super Drift Challenge and Rock-N-Roar concert with Moontower opening for Cold War Kids.


  • 9 a.m. Sunday: NTT IndyCar Series warm-up;
  • 9:35 a.m. Sunday: Pirelli GT4 America pre-race;
  • 9:53 a.m. Sunday: “Drivers Start Your Engines”;
  • 10 a.m. Sunday: Pirelli GT4 America race;
  • 11:50 a.m. Sunday: Mothers Exotic Car Parade;
  • 12:15 p.m. Sunday: NTT IndyCar Series pre-race;
  • 12:30 p.m. Sunday: Indy Cars to grid;
  • 1:23 p.m. Sunday: “Drivers Start Your Engines”;
  • 1:42 p.m. Sunday: Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach (Race no. 4 of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series);
  • 4:05 p.m. Sunday: Stadium SUPER Trucks Race No. 2.

‘It’s gnarly, bro’: IndyCar drivers face new challenge on streets of downtown Detroit

IndyCar Detroit downtown
James Black/Penske Entertainment

DETROIT – It was the 1968 motion picture, “Winning” when actress Joanne Woodward asked Paul Newman if he were going to Milwaukee in the days after he won the Indianapolis 500 as driver Frank Capua.

“Everybody goes to Milwaukee after Indianapolis,” Newman responded near the end of the film.

Milwaukee was a mainstay as the race on the weekend after the Indianapolis 500 for decades, but since 2012, the first race after the Indy 500 has been Detroit at Belle Isle Park.

This year, there is a twist.

Instead of IndyCar racing at the Belle Isle State Park, it’s the streets of downtown Detroit on a race course that is quite reminiscent of the old Formula One and CART race course that was used from 1982 to 1991.

Formula One competed in the United States Grand Prix from 1982 to 1988. Beginning in 1989, CART took over the famed street race through 1991. In 1992, the race was moved to Belle Isle, where it was held through last year (with a 2009-2011 hiatus after the Great Recession).

The Penske Corp. is the promoter of this race, and they did a lot of good at Belle Isle, including saving the Scott Fountain, modernizing the Belle Isle Casino, and basically cleaning up the park for Detroit citizens to enjoy.

The race, however, had outgrown the venue. Roger Penske had big ideas to create an even bigger event and moving it back to downtown Detroit benefitted race sponsor Chevrolet. The footprint of the race course goes around General Motors world headquarters in the GM Renaissance Center – the centerpiece building of Detroit’s modernized skyline.

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Motor City is about to roar with the sound of Chevrolet and Honda engines this weekend as the NTT IndyCar Series is the featured race on the nine-turn, 1.7-mile temporary street course.

It’s perhaps the most unique street course on the IndyCar schedule because of the bumps on the streets and the only split pit lane in the series.

The pit lanes has stalls on opposing sides and four lanes across an unusual rectangular pit area (but still only one entry and exit).

Combine that, with the bumps and the NTT IndyCar Series drivers look forward to a wild ride in Motor City.

“It’s gnarly, bro,” Arrow McLaren driver Pato O’Ward said before posting the fastest time in Friday’s first practice. “It will be very interesting because the closest thing that I can see it being like is Toronto-like surfaces with more of a Long Beach-esque layout.

“There’s less room for error than Long Beach. There’s no curbs. You’ve got walls. I think very unique to this place.

PRACTICE RESULTS: Speeds from the first session

“Then it’s a bit of Nashville built into it. The braking zones look really very bumpy. Certain pavements don’t look bumpy but with how the asphalt and concrete is laid out, there’s undulation with it. So, you can imagine the cars are going to be smashing on every single undulation because we’re going to go through those sections fairly fast, and obviously the cars are pretty low. I don’t know.

“It looks fun, man. It’s definitely going to be a challenge. It’s going to be learning through every single session, not just for drivers and teams but for race control. For everyone.

“Everybody has to go into it knowing not every call is going to be smooth. It’s a tall task to ask from such a demanding racetrack. I think it’ll ask a lot from the race cars as well.”

The track is bumpy, but O’Ward indicated he would be surprised if it is bumper than Nashville. By comparison to Toronto, driving at slow speed is quite smooth, but fast speed is very bumpy.

“This is a mix of Nashville high-speed characteristics and Toronto slow speed in significant areas,” O’Ward said. “I think it’ll be a mix of a lot of street courses we go to, and the layout looks like more space than Nashville, which is really tight from Turn 4 to 8. It looks to be a bit more spacious as a whole track, but it’ll get tight in multiple areas.”

The concept of having four-wide pit stops is something that excites the 24-year-old driver from Monterey, Mexico.

“I think it’s innovation, bro,” O’Ward said. “If it works out, we’ll look like heroes.

“If it doesn’t, we tried.”

Because of the four lanes on pit road, there is a blend line the drivers will have to adhere to. Otherwise, it would be chaos leaving the pits compared to a normal two-lane pit road.

“If it wasn’t there, there’d be guys fighting for real estate where there’s one car that fits, and there’d be cars crashing in pit lane,” O’Ward said. “I get why they did that. It’s the same for everybody. I don’t think there’s a lot of room to play with. That’s the problem.

“But it looks freaking gnarly for sure. Oh my God, that’s going to be crazy.”

Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing believes the best passing areas will be on the long straights because of the bumps in the turns. That is where much of the action will be in terms of gaining or losing a position in the race.

“It will also be really easy to defend in my opinion,” Palou said. “Being a 180-degree corner, you just have to go on the inside and that’s it. There’s going to be passes for sure but its’ going to be risky.

“Turn 1, if someone dives in, you end up in the wall. They’re not going to be able to pass you on the exit, so maybe with the straight being so long you can actually pass before you end up on the braking zone.”

Palou’s teammate, Marcus Ericsson, was at the Honda simulator in Brownsburg, Indiana, before coming to Detroit and said he was shocked by the amount of bumps on the simulator.

Race promoter Bud Denker, the President of Penske Corporation, and Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix President Michael Montri, sent the track crews onto the streets with grinders to smooth out the bumps on the race course several weeks ago.

“They’ve done a decent amount of work, and even doing the track walk, it looked a lot better than what we expected,” Ericsson said. “I don’t think it’ll be too bad. I hope not. That’ll be something to take into account.

“I think the track layout doesn’t look like the most fun. Maybe not the most challenging. But I love these types of tracks with rules everywhere. It’s a big challenge, and you have to build up to it. That’s the types of tracks that I love to drive. It’s a very much Marcus Ericsson type of track. I like it.”

Scott Dixon, who was second fastest in the opening session, has competed on many new street circuits throughout his legendary racing career. The six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion for Chip Ganassi Racing likes the track layout, even with the unusual pit lane.

I don’t think that’s going to be something that catches on where every track becomes a double barrel,” Dixon said. “It’s new and interesting.

“As far as pit exit, I think Toronto exit is worse with how the wall sticks out. I think in both lanes, you’ve got enough lead time to make it and most guys will make a good decision.”

It wasn’t until shortly after 3 p.m. ET on Friday that the IndyCar drivers began the extended 90-minute practice session to try out the race course for the first time in real life.

As expected, there were several sketchy moments, but no major crashes during the first session despite 19 local yellow flags for incidents and two red flags.

Rookie Agustin Canapino had to cut his practice short after some damage to his No. 78 Dallara-Chevrolet, but he was among many who emerged mostly unscathed from scrapes with the wall.

“It was honestly less carnage than I expected,” said Andretti Autosport’s Kyle Kirkwood, who was third fastest in the practice after coming off his first career IndyCar victory in the most recent street race at Long Beach in April. “I think a lot of people went off in the runoffs, but no one actually hit the wall (too hard), which actually surprised me. Hats off to them for keeping it clean, including myself.

“It was quite a bit less grip than I think everyone expected. Maybe a little bit more bumpy down into Turn 3 than everyone expected. But overall they did a good job between the two manufacturers. I’m sure everyone had pretty much the same we were able to base everything off of. We felt pretty close to maximum right away.”

Most of the preparation for this event was done either on the General Motors Simulator in Huntersville, North Carolina, or the Honda Performance Development simulator in Brownsburg, Indiana.

“Now, we have simulators that can scan the track, so we have done plenty of laps already,” Power told NBC Sports. “They have ground and resurfaced a lot of the track, so it should be smoother.

“But nothing beats real-world experience. It’s going to be a learning experience in the first session.”

As a Team Penske driver, Power and his teammates were consulted about the progress and layout of the Detroit street course. They were shown what was possible with the streets that were available.

“We gave some input back after we were on the similar what might be ground and things like that,” Power said.

Racing on the streets of Belle Isle was a fairly pleasant experience for the fans and corporate sponsor that compete in the race.

But the vibe at the new location gives this a “big event” feel.

“The atmosphere is a lot better,” Power said. “The location, the accessibility for the fans, the crowd that will be here, it’s much easier. I think it will be a much better event.

“It feels like a Long Beach, only in a much bigger city. That is what street course racing is all about.”

Because the track promoter is also the team owner, Power and teammates Scott McLaughlin and Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden will have a very busy weekend on the track, and with sponsor and personal appearances.

“That’s what pays the bills and allows us to do this,” Power said.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500