LONG BEACH, Calif. – Smoking tires, screeching engines and the cheers of passionate racing fans are coming to this seaside city as the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach hits the streets this weekend.
The main event is Sunday’s IndyCar series street race, an 85-lap, 167-mile contest that forces drivers to contend with twists, turns, bumps and obstacles. It’s a far cry from racing the oval at the Indianapolis 500.
“It’s tough just being a street course,” said Alex Palou, who will be driving for Chip Ganassi Racing. He described the course as being “very bumpy (with) high-speed corners and the walls are really narrow.”
It requires a lot of physical and mental preparation. To keep the car going the distance, he said he has spent a lot of time conferring with the engineers to ensure the best fine-tuning possible.
Palou is breaking cultural barriers, being the first Spaniard to win an IndyCar national championship. He hopes to encourage others from his country to follow in his footsteps.
“To be the first one to win it, it felt super special. Hopefully that opens the door for future Spanish drivers to come and compete here in IndyCar,” Palou said.
The racing also draws some notable attendees and car enthusiasts who were deeply engaged with the process of preparing for the big race.
Mixed martial arts fighter A.J. McKee, a native of Long Beach, said he has been infatuated with racing culture since his youth. “Being from California, watching (the) ‘Fast and Furious’ (movie franchise), it has been embedded into me since I was a kid – I would say just as much as fighting.”
In front of their trailers – so elaborate the insides looked like spaceships – each racing team was frantically working on their cars. They were making sure everything is set for what could become chaos on the concrete this weekend. With long hours of tweaking and tinkering, preparation for an event such as this is a marathon in itself.
The angst wasn’t just felt among the IndyCar crews. Sunday’s event was preceded by a series of drift-car events in which drivers in sports cars burn rubber skidding around the track. They were competing just as intensely.
Jeff Jones, a Formula Drift driver, said the days were long and hard leading up to the event.
“I try to find sleep where I can because normally we’re working on the cars like 18 hours a day,” he said.
Jones, a 15-year veteran drifter for Formula Drift Pro, commands a 1,000-horsepower Nissan 370Z which is powered by a Chevrolet Corvette engine. Jones drifted his way to third-place spot at his last event at Irwindale Speedway, also in Southern California.
He hopes to continue his success for this event, but most importantly, have a blast doing it.
The goal: “Have some fun, eat a burger and chill out.”