The 40th Annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach has roared to a close with a spectacular finish as Mike Conway takes the checkered flag for his second victory on the streets of Long Beach.
The race Sunday April 13, 2014 was the crowning event in a week filled with city-wide festivities. Wednesday the Roar in the Shore got things kicked off as East Long Beach and Belmont Shores got involved yet again by hosting motorcycle stunts, classic car shows, racing cars on display, music and food.
Speaking of food, Michaels on Naples at 5620 E. 2nd Street invited the press in for their Grand Prix Frixe menu and a better piece of halibut I have never had. The asparagus salad to start was an unexpected delight, the hazelnut torte dessert a dream, the wine exquisite, it's no wonder the restaurant has been picked by Zagat as one of the best in Italian in Los Angeles and the adjoining pizzeria taking the same accolades.
Thursday saw the media luncheon on the race track where the press and drivers got to mingle with city and other dignitaries. There's a lot to boast about here, as outgoing Mayor Bob Foster did.
"This association has been one of the longest running in sports and one of the best for any city any where," Foster stated. It's Foster who helped get the Grand Prix a multiyear extension while another long-term agreement is worked out. "I am confident Long Beach and the Grand Prix will stay synonymous as the two have been together four decades and going strong," he added.
Thursday night was the Thunder on Pine where the Pine Avenue entertainment district became a working pit stop for the Indy Cars for a pit crew competition, motorcycle stunts were done on Broadway and Pine, bands played and the Miss Toyota Grand Prix Jessica Jenkins was crowned. Why there's no "Mister" Long Beach Grand Prix at an event filled with gorgeous drivers and fans is beyond me. Dinner was at the best pizzeria in Downtown Long Beach Broadway Pizza at 120 E. Broadway with drinks at the best pub in the city the Auld Dubliner at 71 S. Pine, right on the racetrack.
Every hotel bar from Sips to the restaurants and clubs like The Federal on Pine take in the 175,000 people that come to the city over Grand Prix weekend, making this the second largest event in the State (second to the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl).
Friday was the Toyota Celebrity Grand Prix qualifying and pole positions. MTV's Awkward's Brett Davern lapped the fastest and started in the first position. The Celebrity race is one of the highlights of the Grand Prix with the stars racing for the Miller's Children's Hospital and Racing for Kids. It has raised over $2 million dollars for the charities.
Davern would go on to win the race on Saturday. Prior to the race, everyone was optimistic.
"I know once I get out there, the competitive juices will flow and all bets are off," Collin Egglesfield from Rizzoli & Isles told me before zipping his suit and getting in his decked-out Scion.
"I've been told to watch out for (Adrien) Brody, he really wants to win," Phil Khoegan from the Amazing Race told me in the pits prior to going out.
"You know it's for charity, but you really want to win, to do your best," Max Thieriot from Bates Motel added. Thieriot would go on to place second, Adrien Brody third, and Khoegan fourth. Thieriot and Brody provided the race thrills as they fought it out for first, second and third with Davern while some celebs were just happy to finish without incident.
"The care is in the same shape as I left with it," Sam Witwer from Being Humanlaughed as he got out of his car. "I don't even care what place I'm in, I'm just happy I had a blast and in one piece," he added.
"My brakes went out pretty much for the second half of the race, so I was a little frightened, it got scary, but I wanted to stay in," Thieriot told after his second place win. "I will definitely come back," he added.
This year celebrity race saw six mishaps on the track, more than recent past, and shows the celebrities are getting more serious about the racing aspect of it.
"Who doesn't want to pretend to be a race car driver at Toyota's expense and raise money for kids," Rutledge Wood laughed as he took his place with Al Unser Jr. and the other pros. Unser, Jr., would go on to win the Celebrity Pro division.
Saturday night Paul Rodgers, the lead singer of Bad Company headlined the Rock and Roar concert series held at the Grand Prix stage in front of the Long Beach Terrace Theatre. His new album The Royal Sessions gave the new material while he called upon almost 50 years of Rock-n-Roll to get the capacity crowd in to a Saturday night stupor.
Sunday saw the big race with Mike Conway winning thanks in part to Ryan Hunter-Reay. On Turn 4 on lap 56 of the 80 total, Hunter-Reay tried to pass the leader Josep Newgarden. That pass was not successful and the resulting melee took out five drivers when the spinning had all stopped. It's proven a highly controversial and criticized move, however, Conway snuck past the debris followed by Will Power (his real name). Power took second place just .9 seconds behind Conway. Carlos Munoz of Colombia took third place, a first-timer at Long Beach Grand Prix.
Daigo Saito won the Super Drift Challenge and drifting has become a major attraction at the event.
Toyota has sponsored the Grand Prix for 35 of its 40 years in one of the most successful brand-sports partnerships in sports history. The race brings millions in to the economy of Long Beach and surrounding areas and showcases the city to a world-wide audience. For more information and results on this year's race or to find out about attending next year visit the Grand Prix Long Beach website or Toyota Racing website.
Thanks to Chris Esslinger and Sharon Noot for their help in coverage. All video by Daniel Charleston
Celebrity Interviews Part 1:
Max Thieriot, Collin Egglesfield, JR Bourne, Rutledge Wood and more.
Celebrity Interviews Part 2: