Going strong after 45 years, Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach has its own hometown vibe – Daily News

on Apr15
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LONG BEACH >> Those people who like the idea of the Los Angeles Angels building a ballpark in Long Beach is modest compared to the cynics who say it will never happen.

Jim Michaelian, who runs the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, may be in the latter group. “I’m not going there,” he said when he was teasingly asked Sunday afternoon if Victory Lane is big enough for the race and Mike Trout.

Jim Michaelian, president and CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach speaks to the crowd as Sebastien Bourdais and Will Power are inducted into Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame in Long Beach on Thursday, April 11, 2019. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

On Sunday, the Grand Prix shone brightly once again — under the blue skies of near-perfect 70-degree weather, Alexander Rossi deftly recorded his second straight wire-to-wire win. Michaelian, meanwhile, estimated a boost in weekend attendance — to 187,000 from last year’s 185,300.

It’s not easy to remember now that people once scoffed and chortled when Chris Pook came to Long Beach and asked the powers that be let him stage a car race on the streets.

That idea initially was given as much chance as the Queen Mary breaking its moorings and setting off for Maui. But almost a half-century later, the Grand Prix has earned its place as the dominant street track in the U.S., and race weekend has become the Big Event in a city that never felt it needed one.

The 45th edition Sunday was, as usual, contested on a beautiful day to be outside and in front of a crowd that was comfortably full. There were very few empty seats. A half-hour before the race began, most people were headed to the track; the number of people who were there just for the atmosphere is the only place where numbers seemed down.

Maybe they’ve just moved to Saturday, which has become fun day, with racing and music and sun and good vibes. Attendance was up this weekend, despite there no longer being a celebrity race.

Alexander Rossi won the 45th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach Sunday April 14, 2019 and got a champagne shower from second place finisher Josef Newgarden. Photo By Chuck Bennett

Sunday was race day. Repeat pole-sitter and winner Rossi led 75 of 80 laps to win his second straight Grand Prix, leading even more laps than he did a year ago (71). That puts him in company with Mario Andretti, Al Unser Jr., Alex Zanardi, Paul Tracy and Sebastian Bourdais as the only drivers to win two or more LBGP in a row.

He also did so while driving for Andretti Autosports, keeping alive the long-time Andretti connection with Long Beach. Mario won here three times. Son Michael won here twice, and he runs the race team. It was the 200th win in all racing events for Andretti Autosports, which Michael Andretti had to admit was another moment of amazing karma.

Rossi ran away with the race early. He had the best car and turned lap-after-lap in 68 seconds like a metronome. The race was clean of incidents, which only enhanced his dominance.

The only talking points for the race were:

  • Will Power coming into a turn too hot and driving off the track, which cost him a chance at the podium;
  • And Scott Dixon coming back from a slow pit stop and being advanced from fourth to third when Graham Rahal was penalized for blocking on the last lap.

A few drivers said the race was boring. Well, sure it was for them — they were running behind Rossi all day. Anyone who’s been here on a day with multiple yellow flags and crashes knows that carnage isn’t exactly good racing.

Sunday’s crowd didn’t seem to mind. And its demographics embraced the young and the old.

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