By Tiffany Rider - Senior Writer
April 10, 2012 - At this year’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, race fans can enjoy exploring the new sights, new sounds and new eats.
“I often compare it to a scavenger hunt,” said Jim Michaelian, CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach. “What we like is to have people come here, and every year they [are] looking for things that either they haven’t done before or we’ve added that are new, that complement their experience.”
The 38th annual street race will host the third event of the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Racing Series, featuring autos with a variety of new engines and an upgraded chassis. Joining Honda, which has been the only engine supplier for IndyCar over the past decade, are Chevrolet and Lotus. “Not only that, but the engine itself, which used to be a big, 3.5-liter, normally aspirated engine, has changed,” Michaelian said.
“Now they have 2.2-liter turbo charged engines. The significance is that’s the way the industry is going,” he continued. “Cars are coming with smaller displacement, but turbo charged to give it some performance. That’s one of the reasons why they were able to attract additional manufacturers, because they’re not working with technology that wasn’t of value in terms of the marketplace. This had potential for marketability.”
IndyCar’s only chassis supplier, Dallara, created some additional elements that are designed to help minimize the occurrence of wheel-to-wheel contact, Michaelian said. At high speeds, such contact can launch a car into the air, which is what happened last October at the close of the 2011 season in Las Vegas. The contact caused a 15-car pileup on lap 11 of the race, which took the life of IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon.
IndyCar will not return to that track for the 2012 series.
The IZOD IndyCar race is one of six races featured at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach; others are the Tequila Patrón American Le Mans Series; Firestone Indy Lights; Team Drifting Challenge; Pirelli World Challenge Championship; and the fan favorite Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race. Actor Adrien Brody and Ultimate Fighting Championship’s Cain Velasquez return to the track in 2012.
The annual race also features a Green Power Prix-View, featuring autos that use clean fuel alternatives like compressed natural gas and electricity in hybrid technology. The green event has helped influence vendors at the race’s Lifestyle Expo to feature energy efficient, clean and sustainable products. “They want to showcase their products in their own settings, so when you go into the lifestyle expo, it’s just replete with showcasing of the greening opportunities from various manufacturers and providers throughout the facility,” Michaelian said.
The race itself does its part for the environment by providing bins for recycling and promoting the use of public transportation to the event, such as the Metro Blue Line and the Long Beach Transit system. “This year, I just heard from [Catalina Express President] Greg Bombard, that [the] water taxi, the AquaBus, is going to be in service Saturday and Sunday only. It will be serving the Queen Mary, [Hotel] Maya and Rainbow Harbor,” Michaelian said. “Usually it starts up in May or June. Last year I called over there and asked if it was happening. Well, this year it’s happening. So that’s a cool additional development.”
For those who want to ride to the race on two wheels, bicycle parking is being made available at the Bikestation, 223 E. 1st St. According to Chris Esslinger, director of communications for the Grand Prix Association, the Bikestation is about a block from the Long Beach Arena entryway at Ocean and Long Beach boulevards, which serves as the main entrance for the race.
The Grand Prix Association has also made an effort to enhance the race’s concession and food offerings this year, seeking to provide more healthful options for attendees. “When we have customers that are here basically for a full day, they cycle through one, sometimes two, meal periods,” Michaelian said. “So it’s important for us to provide more than just the standard fare. That’s a big objective of ours.”
Another objective, according to Michaelian, is to provide more food options for race fans on the south side of Shoreline Drive. In partnership with SAVOR, the catering arm of SMG, Inc., the Grand Prix Association is coordinating a food truck area with up to 10 vendors parked in a U-shape with a picnic area in the center.
“I like the combination of race cars and food trucks and I’m sure the crowds at Long Beach Grand Prix are going to keep the trucks very busy,” Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal, representing the 2nd Council District that encompasses the racecourse, said via e-mail. “It’s also great to hear that healthier foods will be offered. This shift is very much in keeping with the trends we’re seeing at professional baseball, hockey and basketball games locally – people like to have options.”
Considered the number one special event in the city since its inaugural race – from both an attendance and economic standpoint – the Toyota Grand Prix has served as a destination marketing opportunity and showcases the city’s capacity to host large events.
“Grand Prix is a great opportunity for us to share with countless of visitors and TV viewers our weather and hospitality during Grand Prix weekend,” Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster said in a statement. “It gives Long Beach its moment in the spotlight to shine and welcome thousands of Grand Prix attendees.”
Chris Pook, who conceived the idea for a car race through the streets of Long Beach back in the early 1970s, told the Business Journal the event helped Long Beach establish a positive image and morphed the city into a desirable destination for visitors. “The city got an international reputation in the late ’70s and ’80s as being the place for hospitality, for friendliness.” At this point, the city should be looking to add more events, larger ones, because “they are capable,” Pook said.
Downtown Long Beach Associates President and CEO Kraig Kojian agrees. “The Grand Prix is an exemplary example of how an event of this magnitude produces positive results for the Downtown area, the City and region,” he said via e-mail.
Iris Himert, senior vice president of sales for the Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB), said the Grand Prix is key in helping the bureau sell future meetings, conventions and events that are capable of bringing millions in economic impact to the Long Beach economy.
“Each year we bring in key meeting planners from across the country and let them experience how well Long Beach handles a large special event,” she said in a statement. “In addition to enjoying the race weekend festivities, the clients tour the city and meet with our hospitality partners at hotels, restaurants, attractions and event venues.”
This year, the CVB will host more than 30 meeting planners during Grand Prix weekend, taking them on the bureau’s Grand Prix Familiarization Tour. According to Himert, last year the CVB brought more than 20 meeting planners to the race, and has already booked six events worth over $4 million to the city.