This past weekend I made the annual pilgrimage to the Long Beach Grand Prix. This year was the event’s 48th running…whew!… that realization hit kind of hard when it dawned on me that this was the 48th Long Beach Grand Prix that I’ve attended! The inaugural Long Beach Grand Prix, in 1975 for F5000 cars, was the first race I ever attended (at the tender age of 9) and clearly the initial infection point for a lifelong, terminal disease.
While my interest in the LBGP has ebbed and flowed over the past 48 years, with the various transitions from F5000 to F1 to CART/Champcar/IRL/Indycar/et. al., I have to say that this year’s event was one of the very best in recent memory for the overall quality of racing, up and down the board.
Interestingly, of all the racing on tap this weekend, the one I found the least compelling was the featured Indy cars! I know they have great, tight racing, but the Stepford Wife-sameness of the cars, with their Kirby upright vacuum-sounding engines just doesn’t get my juices going. However, if you wanted to watch some exciting, one-make racing, the Porsche Carrera Cup undercard was great fun. Throw 35 identically prepared Porsche 992s onto a concrete-lined street course and you’re going to get an action-packed race. Elsewhere on the bill, the inclusion this weekend of a race for historic 3-liter Formula One cars was obviously going to be a high-point, especially in lieu of my “Old Man” nostalgia looking back over my 48-year committed relationship with this race. But the real surprise for me this year was the IMSA race. Man, that ticked all the right boxes.
The IMSA race really reminded me of the “Good Ol’ Days”. It was a big, diverse field, with a ton of direct manufacturer involvement (Porsche, Acura, BMW, Cadillac, Aston Martin, Mercedes, McLaren, Chevrolet, Lexus, Lamborghini). But I think what made it the most appealing for me was the sound…finally, here was a race series with a heterogeneity of sound. In the GTP, the deep V8 rumble of the Cadillacs was distinct from the whoosh of the Porsches or the wail of the BMWs. Each car looked different, sounded different AND went like stink. But I have to confess that the real revelation for me this weekend was the GTD Corvette. The sound that Corvette makes is pure magic. The combination of its DOHC V-8 engine and flat-plane crank gives the Corvette a nasty, gnashy-gnarly howl that just puts my adrenal glands in overload. Sitting in the stands, listening to that thing growl on the overrun, so reminded me of listening to a similar sound being spat out the back of Gilles Villeneuve’s Ferrari 312T4, when he won at Long Beach in 1979. As I basked in this aural nostalgia, I commented to the friend I was with that that sound is the most visceral engine note, I’ve ever heard in my entire life… and at this point, that’s a lot of engine notes!
Near the end of the day, said friend and I sat in another grandstand to watch the Indycar practice. While visually the cars were clearly rocketing by, much faster than the IMSA contingent, their whisper quietness seemed to lessen the impact of their higher speed. After just a couple of minutes, my friend turned to me and said, “Well, at least with these you can carry on a conversation.”