Q&A with boss of Toyota GP of Long Beach
The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach celebrates its 35th anniversary. Jim Michaelian has been part of it since the beginning.
"We had a staff of about five people that first year with added help that came on for the race," says Michaelian, president and CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach. "It has grown since then and we have thousands of volunteers that have assisted us putting this race on. A lot of people have contributed to our success."
It will be the first time unified open-wheel racing will compete on the 1.96-mile, 11-turn circuit, though 12 drivers who are entered for the April 19 race have competed there.
"There is no doubt we were delighted when unification occurred last year," Michaelian says. "IndyCar has been very receptive. They have the resources and manpower and financial resources to commit to the promoters and we have had a significant amount of dialogue leading up to the race. Some of the individuals from the IRL attended our race last year, some of them flying in after the Motegi race. So far, it's been a very good marriage."
IndyCar.com caught up with Michaelian for five questions leading into the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach:
Q: How big of a buzz is there now that the name drivers in IndyCar racing will be in this year's race?
A: It's a refreshing change from what we've been through in the last few years not only to have the names of the stars of the IndyCar Series but also have some assurance they are all coming, they will all compete here and our fans will have a chance to see them. There is no doubt there is an added benefit to our race weekend this year. We've seen in reflected in both ticket sales and the overall buzz surrounding the event. Our ticket sales are trending ahead of last year with absolutely no price increase, which in this day and age with unemployment in California in double digits is a very significant statement in itself. The media and the buzz that has been created around the event and the presence of the IndyCars is much more substantial this year than in the past.
Q: There have been some big names in the IndyCar Series that have raced at Long Beach and some big names that will be racing there for the first time. How important is that?
A: Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Dario Franchitti all had a reputation here before they went to the Indy Racing League, but there have been a lot of new names that have come on board. Obviously Danica Patrick but also Marco Andretti. There is a continuum and recognition of the fact there were some who came and conquered before and there are some ones. The beauty is we can put them all together in a very inviting lineup for our fans to come and see.
Q: How do you think the engine/chassis package will adapt to the course?
A: I think from a viewing standpoint those cars have adapted pretty well to street circuits like St. Petersburg and Detroit. I don't think it will be any different here. We have fairly wide areas on parts of the tracks and some narrow areas. I went back and looked at the Edmonton numbers because that was the only one that gave any indication of what comparable times or performance might be and I saw that differential from 2007 to 2008, but except to the real hardcore fan I don't even see that being of interest. The outcome of the race and the competition on the track is far more important to us than what the lap times are.
Q: To celebrate 35 years of racing at Long Beach while other races have come and gone, what is the key that has made your event one of the world's great street races?
A: I think there are a number of factors to take into consideration. It's the venue itself. It is an ideal place to be conducting an event of this nature in the springtime, which is when we have held our event with the exception of the first year. It has the facilities, it has a tremendous hospitality capability here with the hotels and the convention center and the infrastructure. The city hosts a number of major activities, whether it is sporting events or other events so it has a built-in structure for facilitating that. The welcome mat is always out in this town for guests and I think that is felt by the people that come here. The setting on the water with all the hotels and convention center and now with all the restaurants and shopping centers literally within in the perimeter of the course makes it unique and different. It not only adds to the ambiance but it also creates an atmosphere that is attractive to the non-hardcore racing fan. That is really one of the groups we have depended on over the years to help support this event. Families come, young people come because of maybe the racing, maybe the concerts, maybe the freestyle motocross events we have or the go-kart track that we have or maybe it's the drifting that we have now. Who knows? Nevertheless with the selection that is available in terms of on-track and off-track activity, with the venue we have that is established and the date equity that we have. All of those factors are taken into consideration with longevity.
Q: How important is it to bring the Andretti name back?
A: Mario Andretti's name is not only on a lot of the trophies and on our victory circle area four times as a winner but he's always enshrined in the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame as one of the recognized members of the racing community that has contributed to so much of the success the grand prix here. It's great to have all of the Andrettis back, all of them participating in one way or another. Mario will be here to will his grandson, Marco, to a good finish and Michael is here as the team owner. It's names like that and names like Unser. Al Unser, Jr. will be our grand marshal. He's the "King of the Beach;" he's won here six times. The ability for us on our 35th anniversary to reach back in our history and highlight some of these names and individuals who have contributed to our success is very important. IndyCar.com