12:48 PM (PT) – The four horsemen for Andretti Autosport had a brief media session earlier this afternoon that, in typical Andretti Autosport fashion, turned into much joking and laughter between Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe while Marco Andretti and Carlos Munoz flanked their flashier teammates and spoke mostly only when spoken to. A couple interesting notes from the presser:
- All four drivers agreed that qualifying here is at a premium. Given this a tight street course races, that’s not exactly a revolution of thought.
- Marco said Long Beach is the race he wants to win more than any other on the schedule with the exception of Indianapolis.
- When asked about the new Formula 1 entry that has been granted to US businessman Gene Haas, all agreed that he represents the best chance for success of a US-based team.
- Speaking of Formula 1, all the drivers also agreed that it is unlikely Long Beach will become an F1 race in a few years. The course would require a greater financial commitment than California could afford and it would be nearly impossible to upgrade the track to meet the requirements of Bernie Ecclestone.
- Asked about the pending long off season led to a long back-and-forth between RHR and Mr. Mayor about deep sea fishing. No, I’m serious. I can’t even make that up. Hinch said he would probably stay in shape over the off season by going snowshoeing and assumed Hunter-Reay would stay in shape by sitting on his boat and diving.
It’s always a good time when Andretti Autosport press conferences go down.
12:01 PM (PT) – The first practice session is in the books and what did we learn? Well, really not much. Given that the TUSCC cars had been on the track for two hours beforehand, most of the faster drivers were content to let the other drivers go out and clean the track for the first half of the session before a true all skate broke out during the last 20 minutes. In the end, James Hinchcliffe was fastest, leading a top 10 consisting of six Honda entries. Josef Newgarden wound up a surprising fifth, surprising given that he posted that time early in the session before sitting out a good chunk of the practice after nosing his car into the tire barriers. The rest of the practice ran mostly uneventful, with eight teams represented in the top 10.
As I touched upon earlier, this track definitely feels big and spread out. Another aspect that surprised me was that when people talk about a “downtown street course,” this is what they’re talking about. Unlike events in St. Petersburg, Toronto, Houston, and several other defunct locations, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is right in the Long Beach CBD and has a significant impact on the daily dealings of the city. It’s really pretty cool to go directly from the track to one of the main downtown streets in only a few steps.
Getting to the track yesterday was a bit of a challenge as a result of my own poor planning. Somehow I ended up on a flight that arrived into LAX at 3:45 yesterday afternoon. Unfortunately, it seems everyone else at LAX was also heading to my rental car facility, and I stood in line for over 90 minutes before finally getting my car. Not that there is probably ever a good time to drive “The 405,” but I can assure you that 5:30 is a really bad time. I finally made it to the Long Beach area about an hour and 15 minutes later.
I happened to come in via I-110 and CA-47, which run west of Long Beach through the San Pedro area. This approach into Long Beach takes you across the Vincent Thomas Bridge and through the massive Port of Los Angeles (which I’m pretty sure I saw on Modern Marvels a couple years ago). If you’re kind of engineery geeky like me, both of those are pretty cool sights to see. Once you clear the Los Angeles River, though, the port quickly disappears and the beautiful downtown Long Beach opens up to you.
My hotel for last night and tonight is in the San Pedro area, which is only about a 10-minute drive to the west from the track. The area of my hotel is pretty eclectic and has all sorts of shops ranging from tattoo parlors to restaurants to music recording studios, along with the run-of-the-mill attorney offices and convenience stores.
By the time I finally got to my hotel, I basically had time for dinner and to get to bed. After I got chastised by a friend for having only chain restaurants while in Florida (for 7 hours) a few weeks ago, I decided I was going to take in the local fare as much as possible this weekend. For dinner last night, I chose a British pub that was highly recommended called the Whale and Ale. The restaurant was traditionally British with dark woods and brass throughout and nautical scenes adorning all the walls. Their fish and chips were very good, though whether they would meet Pippa Mann’s approval, I can’t say. An unexpected surprise was that a local Dixieland band was playing in house so that added a bit of a different flair to the evening. Service was good. Food was good. A wide selection of beers on tap. And it was nearby. All in all, I highly recommend the Whale and Ale if you find yourself in the San Pedro area.
That should just about cover most of my travel experiences. Practice 2 for the Verizon IndyCar Series is coming up soon. With a little luck, and a little more effort, I’ll have some observations from the west end of the track for you later this afternoon.
NEXT PAGE: More live coverage from the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach