Los Angeles News

Wet start to Long Beach Grand Prix weekend

Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday saw a soggy start to the three-day Long Beach Grand Prix, but despite the wet weather, enthusiasm was high.

Fans, celebrities and drivers were all out and about. There was a bit of rain, a bit of sun, some wind, but the fans wouldn't let a little inclement weather spoil the show.

Even with on-and-off rain, the regulars still came to tough it out on the first day of the annual three-day party, sometimes with the whole family in tow.

"Dad's been coming for about 20 years or so, and this is my eighth year -- we sail or boat down, come every year from Los Angeles," said Leanne Toumajian.

Lashawn Hudson said she made it out to the races for her husband.

"She wanted to do something that I like to do, so that's why we're here," said Byron Hudson.

The fans come to cheer the drivers on, and many of the drivers appreciate the fans at this unique venue.

"There is no place else like Long Beach. To me, it's so very special because of the fans, because of the atmosphere," said Katherine Legge, one of two female IndyCar drivers racing this weekend. But women aren't just in the cockpit.

"There are a lot of different roles that a female can have in racing, it's certainly isn't limited. There's mechanics, there's engineers, owners, drivers, so it really isn't a gender-specific sport," said Sarah Fisher, owner of the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing team.

Lauren Elkins is an engineer in the American Le Mans Series, and she got her start at Long Beach, in a way.

"I grew up down here coming to Long Beach Grand Prix," said Elkins. "My dad was a tool salesman for Snap-On Tools, so always came to Grand Prix, always watched the IndyCars and thought, 'I would really like to be a part of that.'"

Over at the annual Toyota celebrity race, the cars are identical, so driving skills win out.

"You know what the instructors told us at Willow Springs when we were training? That women actually are better because they listen better," said celebrity driver Eileen Davidson.

But then there's the rain, which fell on the day the celebrities qualify.

"What's Dallas say about tomorrow?" asked Carolla. "I welcome the challenge."

The celebrities had their qualifying sessions scrubbed because of the weather.

Sunday's weather is expected to be good. The track old-timers say they've never had a Sunday rain-out in the history of the race.

Jim Michaelian, the president and CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, said since the event is street racing, rain isn't much of a factor and that it can actually add a new dimension to the race.

"Quite frankly, it really makes it more exciting when the streets are a little slick, because everybody knows from their own driving experience," Michaelian said.

He said race officials take the rain seriously and make sure to take proper precautions for drivers' safety. He pointed out the difference between normal, slick racing tires and rain tires with grooves, which dissipate the water on the tracks, increasing the stability of the car.

Michaelian said crews will switch out race tires for grooved ones if there is significant rainfall.

He pointed to crews prepping a few race cars in the Tequila Patron American Le Mans series, saying they will likely hit the track Saturday with race tires to start off, since race officials expect a dry kickoff with possible rain later in the race. Michaelian noted the cars can achieve speeds of 170 mph when whizzing down Shoreline Drive under dry conditions.

In Long Beach for the Toyota Grand Prix? Check out some places to visit around town!

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