Standing mere feet from vehicles that are designed to travel from 0 - 200 mph in under 20 seconds as the rocket past with the throttle wide open, smashing your skull with the sound of 700 horsepower. In the downtown streets of Long Beach, California the collection of skyscrapers, hotels, and ocean view condominiums reverberates with sound. Glorious, glorious sounds.
There’s simply nothing like it on this planet.
Attending the Long Beach Grand Prix is an experience that must be undertaken by anyone that considers themselves an automotive enthusiast. INDYCAR, America’s premier open-wheel racing series, held its season finale at the LBGP for 2021. Traditionally held in April at the opening of the INDYCAR season, this year’s energy and experience were notably different because of a gap year in 2020 and a schedule shake-up in 2021 due to COVID-19.
2021 was an incredible year at the Long Beach Grand Prix and we can’t wait to tell you all about this amazing race weekend.
A Storied History
It’s no surprise that the Long Beach Grand Prix draws in everyone from former Formula 1 World Champions to Hollywood Elite. It holds the honor of being the longest-running street racing circuit in the United States and started off its storied life as not an INDYCAR track but as a Formula 1 track. That’s right! The Long Beach Grand Prix started off as the inaugural West Coast Grand Prix way back in 1976. For 8 glorious years, names like Mario Andretti, Nelson Piquet, and Niki Lauda duked it out on the streets of Long Beach when open-wheel racing bordered on insanity.
Motorsports were popular in the United States but they paled in comparison to other forms of sport. In contrast, series like Formula 1 is incredibly popular throughout Europe and draw massive crowds of several hundred thousand people on any given race weekend. The LBGP was the first time Americans had really gotten a taste of open-wheel racing and it was an unabashed hit.
In 1984, Formula 1 exited the Long Beach Grand Prix and was replaced by CART/Champ Car World Series, which eventually transitioned into the IRL (Indy Racing League), which transitioned into INDYCAR. Today, INDYCAR is owned in whole by Penske Entertainment Inc., yes, THAT Roger Penske.
Other series such as the IMSA Weathertech Series, Trophy Stadium Trucks, and Formula Drift also take place on LBGP race weekend.
Race Weekend Format
Every INDYCAR race weekend follows the same format in order to determine the starting grid:
Friday: Practice and Race Preparations
Saturday: Time Based Qualifying
Sunday: Race Day
Depending on the type of race (oval or street circuit) qualifying takes place in three segments to narrow down the top 6 fastest drivers on a given track.
Segment 1: Each of the two groups receives 10 minutes of track time, inclusive of full-course caution conditions, with the fastest lap by each car determining its qualifying position. The fastest six cars from each group advance to Segment 2, while the remaining cars are assigned positions 13 and back to the rear of the grid. Group 1 drivers occupy the odd-numbered positions (13, 15, 17, etc.), while Group 2 drivers occupy the even-numbered positions (14, 16, 18, etc.) based on their fastest lap times during the segment.
Segment 2: The 12 advancing cars receive 10 minutes of track time, inclusive of full-course caution conditions, with the fastest lap by each entry determining its qualifying position. The fastest six advance to the Firestone Fast Six shootout, while the remaining six cars are ranked in positions 7-12 based on their fastest laps during the segment.
Firestone Fast Six: The six advancing cars receive six minutes of guaranteed green-flag track time. At the end of the session, the cars are ranked 1-6 based on their fastest laps during the segment.
2021 Season Finale
Although the 2021 season was a bit rough due to the pandemic, the points race was remarkably close by the time the 2021 Grand Prix hit Long Beach for its season finale. Saturday qualifying was particularly exciting this year since a matter of 40 points separated the top 3 drivers, and as with all racing, qualifying for top grid position is crucial to overall race success.
Although, that didn’t seem to play out this year (more on that to come).
Rolling into qualifying, Pato O’ Ward was second in the points behind points leader Alex Palou, and Long Beach was his ultimate opportunity to take team McLaren to victory. After a stunning qualifying session, O’Ward seemed poised to take the come behind win at the Grand Prix. Ironically, Alex Palo didn’t make it past segment 2, while rookie drivers like former F1 drive Romain Grosjean squeaked into the top 6.
Although Palou was the favorite to win it all, there was still a chance of some wildness in this final crucial race, with Pato O’ Ward and Newgarden still in contention.
Sunday was an incredibly action-packed day of racing!
Josef Newgarden ended up the day in second place after, but a barnstorming performance by series winner Alex Palou into 4th place secured his 2021 Title. However, it was Southern California native Colton Herta that really impressed spectators with an unbelievable performance from 14th place to 1st place charge.
Potential title contender Pato O ‘ Ward received a DNF due to half shaft damage after a tussle with Ed Jones early on in the race, killing his hopes for any title contention. Newgarden placed second above Palou, who finished 4th in Long Beach but ultimately couldn’t make up the 60+ gap rolling into race day.
A Must For Southern California Race Fans
If you’re anywhere within a reasonable driving distance to Long Beach and you’re an automotive enthusiast - you owe yourself a visit to the Long Beach Grand Prix!
Tickets are incredibly reasonable if you’re willing to stand against the fence or fight for general admission seating, but for a few more dollars, you can have a secured seat right on the Shoreline Straight. Beyond the race action, there are tons of amazing food, drinks, and displays to look at as you make your way around the track’s massive area. INDYCAR is incredibly accessible and drivers are easily stopped for autographs on Fridays and Saturdays, with paddock tours being an option for those willing to pay a little extra.
The best things about this track are the out-and-out accessibility to racing and the ability to see so many turns, and so many dynamic moments right in person! Want to see cars rip by at 200 MPH? No problem. How about watching cars navigate the hairpin (the tightest turn on the entire INDYCAR calendar)? No problem.
See you next year at the race!