Grand Prix Showcases Local, National Drivers

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Author: Chris Ellis

This weekend marked the 37th running of the annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The weekend was filled with races ranging from the Izod Indycar Series, American Le Mans Series and the SCCA pro Racing World Challenge.

The racers drove through the converted road course in downtown Long Beach that runs along the ocean. As is characteristic of the city, the weather was fabulous, with temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s throughout the weekend.

The track has 11 corners in total, each one providing its own difficulties. The tight hairpin, the roundabout around the aquarium and long sweeping bends of the Long Beach course create one of the most exciting road circuits in the country.

It started on Friday with qualifying races and practice laps for each series. There were also drifting demonstrations by some of the pre-eminent local drifting teams. Saturday included Indycar qualifying, and the running of the Patron American Le Mans Series race.

Sunday capped off the weekend with the Firestone Indy Lights Race and the Izod Indycar Series race, which featured drivers such as Danica Patrick, Will Power and Tony Kanaan.

The American Le Mans Series race featured a heated battle in the P1 class between Muscle Milk’s number 6 Aston Martin and the number 16 Mazda. Eventually, the Muscle Milk car driven by Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf was victorious, edging out the Dyson’s Mazda and finishing the race with a 24 second margin of victory.

“I had the plan in my head to get around Chris [Dyson] in the first corner but he did a good job staying ahead,” Luhr told ESPN3 after the race. “I could see I was quicker, and made my move a few turns later. The car was good. The car was running perfectly today. For me, this is very special.”

The team of Scott Tucker and Frenchman Christophe Bouchut won the P2 class, and BMW’s M3 GT team of drivers Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand won the GT class.

Bobby Rahal, Team principal for the BMW GT Team, said, “This was a big win for us as we didn’t want to come to Long Beach and lose the advantage we fought so hard for in Sebring. Back-to-back wins are tough to come by in any series, but especially here in the GT class of ALMS, and this is a big victory for our team.”

The Firestone Indy Lights Race on Sunday was won under caution by Conor Daly’s number 77 car, which took the lead after Josef Newgarden plowed his car into Turn eight’s tire barrier.

After the race Newgarden, who earned 13th place, said, “This is probably the toughest moment I have had in my career. It is not something you can plan for. It is certainly the first time this has happened to me and it isn’t a fun feeling to have. I think I just caught the drain ditch and it popped me up on the ground. I hadn’t hit it all weekend, so it caught me off-guard when it happened.”

The keynote race of the weekend was the Izod IndyCar Series. This year featured some of the best drivers in the world racing through the seaside road course. The field included renowned Helio Castroneves, Danica Patrick, Will Power, Ryan Briscoe, Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was defending his win at Long Beach in 2010.

Will Power captured his 3rd pole position in as many races this season and looked poised to get his second win of the season. He led for the first 27 laps and stayed close to the leaders throughout most of the race.

However, Power was taken out of the race by teammate Helio Castroneves late in the race when Castroneves’s car rammed into the side of Power’s car while going through Turn 1.

This allowed Mike Conway, driving for Dreyer and Reinbold, to take advantage when he barreled past Ryan Briscoe late to take the lead. Conway didn’t give it up again and went on to win his first career IndyCar victory. His previous best finish was 3rd at Sonoma in 2009.

“For it all to fully come together is awesome,” Conway said after the race, “This year, just full of energy and ready to fight for it. It’s a long season and to get it in the third race [of the season] back is awesome.”

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