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IN THE COCKPIT: James Hinchcliffe: Long Beach

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Over the years a lot of different venues have been chosen to host a motor race. Some make good races. Some make bad races. And every once in a while you get one that makes a great race.

And when I say “race,” I’m not just talking about the on-track action. I mean one of those events that has it all: the track, the location, the atmosphere, the fans, the spectacle.

With that said, I thought I’d take the time in SPEED.com installment number two to tell you a little about what this humble racing driver thinks is one of the greatest street races on earth.

Long Beach.

Maybe you’ve heard of it. Perhaps you’re even lucky enough to have been there. But for those that haven’t, let me explain why this race has got the goods.

First off, let’s talk about the track itself. Street courses are always a challenge because you are so limited in the area you have to design a track. The configuration of Long Beach has changed over the years, but it has always been an exciting and challenging layout. A great mix of slow and fast corners with varying radii is a nice break from the 90-degree-corner-after-90-degree-corner format of so many failed street circuits.

It also has one of the most famous corners in racing — the hairpin. This corner is an iconic symbol of Long Beach. It’s so unique that teams have to design specific parts on the car just for that corner!

Cool track? Check.

Now let’s talk about the location. Sunny southern California is a nice place to be for any reason. Make that reason a world class motor race and you’re really onto something. Long Beach in particular has a big city feel without actually being so big that the race gets lost in all the other goings-on of a major metropolis.

Being right on the water certainly doesn’t hurt the appeal either! Throw in the street parties, good hotels and some really nice restaurants to relieve you of the ‘chain restaurant blues’ and now you’re cooking.

Beautiful, yet functional locale? Done.

The next element is the atmosphere of the race. This is really where Long Beach sets itself apart from a lot of other races. The place has such a buzz from Thursday afternoon until Monday morning. What makes it so good is that it’s not just a race, it’s an event. There is so much more going on than just cars buzzing around a track.

Whether it’s the guys doing back flips on their dirt bikes and skate boards or the dozens of vendors and activities in the convention centre, there really is something for the whole family and enough to keep you busy for an entire day. Or three.

And that’s before you even watch any racing!

 
Hinch, right, stops by to visit his pal Miles Maroney, who became the youngest driver to start an ALMS race last weekend at Long Beach. (LAT)

Not only is the IndyCar Series racing on Sunday, but there is also Firestone Indy Lights, ALMS, World Challenge and Formula Drift. If you can’t find something on that schedule that interests you, well then you don’t deserve to be at the track! I mean, short of having Lawn Mower racing I’m not sure what else they could have slammed onto that schedule. But wait, there’s more!

The Pro-Celebrity race brings a whole new level of glam to the event. We are in southern California after all. What’s great about this event – apart from the hilarity of watching celebs with very little grasp of racing, trying to navigate one of the most challenging tracks on the schedule – is the additional demographic it appeals to. Some teenage girl comes to catch a glimpse of McDreamy, and, boom (!!) leaves an Indy car fan.

Atmosphere? Out of this world.

The final key to this event is something money can’t buy. It’s one of the biggest keys to success and longevity for a race, and like most of the best things in life, it’s something you have to wait for. History. This race started in 1975 and has been such an important part of this city’s calendar ever since.

Not only have some of the most historic drivers of all time had some of the best races of their careers here, but you see families who are bringing their kids, and their kid’s kids.

People who make this yearly pilgrimage to ‘The Beach’ create part of their own history.

And that, my friends, takes time.

Enough gushing from me. I’ll leave you with the things I took away from Long Beach:

0. IndyCar + Street course = something everyone must see.
1. I much prefer waking up to race cars instead of alarm clocks.
2. A top-5 finish.
3. How much of a family event a race can be.
4. Tecate.

Hinch out.

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Source: SpeedTV