Preparation for the 47th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach is shifting into gear, with road closures starting this week. But it’s taken months of worth of work to get to this point.
The multiagency effort has included state and federal government resources in addition to the work of several city departments, including the health and business permitting offices, as well as the Police, Fire, Public Works departments—and even the city’s Water Department.
They all work in coordination with the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach to put on the three-day event that starts Friday.
Tasha Day, the city’s manager of special events and filming, said the planning for the 2022 event basically started at the end of the 2021 event to ensure that all the necessary road repairs were identified and completed in time to allow for safe racing conditions.
“There are a number of things we’re looking for,” Day said. “We’ve always walked it pre- and post-race, but basically we’re looking for any damages. Are there any sprinklers damages? Do we have any potholes that need to get fixed? Because a car going 200 miles per hour and a pothole don’t mix well.”
Then there are other less evident considerations, like securing flyover permits from the Federal Aviation Administration so jets can announce the main race Sunday afternoon.
Manhole covers must also be welded in place so the IndyCars don’t suck them up with the incredible amount of downward force they generate when they’re driving.
Grand Prix spokesperson Chris Esslinger said the contract with IndyCar does have specific requirements for the city’s street conditions, and those repairs need to be made well in advance to ensure they’re ready for race day.
“You don’t want brand new pavement down because these cars will tear it up,” Esslinger said.
City and race officials are not the only ones intently focused on the conditions of Downtown streets. IndyCar legend Helio Castroneves, who won the Long Beach race in 2001, said his team will examine the track this week before the first practice of the week.
His team of engineers will take photos of every crack and imperfection of the course, and they’ll begin to compile notes for him to memorize for race day so he knows which turns may have a crack or a divot that might affect his performance and what to expect in the transition points where the track shifts from concrete to asphalt.
“It’s a tough track because it’s always changing,” Castroneves said of the Long Beach course.
Urban tracks like Long Beach are subject to weather-related issues like potholes, and the types of sealer used to fix roads can provide different levels of grip—which can make a big difference when you’re going 180 miles per hour.
“They’ve been pretty consistent in that area,” Castroneves said of the maintenance of the Long Beach track. “However, there are some holes that unfortunately you can’t do much about.”
Looking ahead, the city’s new agreement with the association—which extended the Long Beach race through 2028—requires a significant improvement to Pine Avenue to be completed before next year’s race.
To fulfill the contract, the section of Pine between Shoreline Drive and Seaside Way will have a complete grind and overlay performed on the surface to make the stretch like new for the 2023 race.
Public Works Director Eric Lopez said the department will have to wait to start work on the project until the upcoming fiscal budget is approved later this year, but work could start shortly after the start of the new fiscal year in October.
Lopez said that while the project would affect local traffic, it is a routine street maintenance project that won’t disrupt residents and businesses too much when it is completed.
The Grand Prix Association will pay $150,000 over the next five years to help the city with the cost of the Pine Avenue project. The association will also pay for other road improvements to other parts of the track, including the removal of tire marks caused by race activities.
That includes using pressurized water to remove the excess rubber from concrete portions of the street, but the city doesn’t use the same method on asphalt portions because it reduces the life of the asphalt.
Those types of repairs will start after the April 10 finale when the track and all of its guardrails and bridges start to be taken down. Under the reduced timeline in the new contract, the tear-down work must be done by April 30.