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Long Beach GP Promotions off and running
Throughout downtown Long Beach, "Welcome Race Fans" banners deck restaurants. Along Broadway, bars are festooned with checkered flags. In Belmont Shore, a merchant is getting ready to ferry visitors to and from the Shore and race track.

It can only mean one thing.

From special events to race-themed menus and "express" spa facials, businesses are gearing up for the tens of thousands descending upon the city this weekend for the 35th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

The four-day event, which begins Thursday, is the first year following the Champ Car and Indy Racing League merger. This year's event will showcase stars from both series, including Danica Patrick, Scott Dixon, Graham Rahal, Marco Andretti and Dario Franchitti.

Ticket sales, with prices that have not changed from 2008, continue to trend upward and ahead of last year, with attendance expected to reach between 175,000 to 180,000 people over the entire weekend, said Jim Michaelian, president and CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach.

"That's the target, and if we can do that in this economic climate and with double-digit unemployment, boy, we'd feel very, very satisfied," he said.

Meanwhile, many of the downtown hotels are filling up. Rooms at the Westin are booked for Saturday, the Hyatt has only a small amount of rooms available and the Hilton is sold out the entire weekend, according to the Long Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Festivities start Thursday

Thursday kicks off a weekend of festivities ranging from the Tequila Patron American Le Mans Series cars practicing laps to Tecate's "Thursday Thunder on Pine" which features freestyle motocross, BMX, live music and the Tecate Light Miss Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach pageant.

"Tuner Thursday at The Pike," starting at 6:30 p.m., features a pit-stop contest between two IndyCar teams, as well as the cars and drivers of the Formula Drift Championship and cars from the SpoCom Show. You can watch the pit stop action, enjoy the cars and get autographs from the drivers. For details, visit www.ThePikeatLongBeach.com.

And in Shoreline Village, there will be live music, go-karting and driver competitions from 3 to 10 p.m.

Radio control cars, or rather toys for the big boys, will be a highlight of this year's Lifestyle Expo & Green Power Prix-View.

The expo, which occupies 270,000 square feet of exhibit space in the Convention Center, will feature the latest in radio control vehicles and a 50-foot-long track for demonstrations. Fred Medel, with Tamiya USA, said the toy vehicles can range from a foot to more than four feet in length and can cost up to $1,000.

"It's more like something a dad gets for himself and shares with his son," Medel said.

Spectators will also have a chance to test a state-of-the-art racing simulator, check out several extreme spots shows, play interactive games and more.

This year's Green Power event will feature twice as many booths for green products, including solar power companies, waterless carwash products and a preview of the new Tango electric car.

Clark said the Tango is smaller than the Smart Car but can reach speeds similar to a Porsche. Viewers on Sunday will have a chance to see the Tango in action, he added.

The Lifestyle Expo is free to the public from 3 to 6 p.m. on Thursday. It is free to all ticket holders during the Grand Prix. It's hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday.

Firms show off the goods

Many Long Beach businesses take advantage of the crowds to roll out new products and services.

This weekend, Tracht's will feature its outdoor seafood bar on the restaurant's patio and lounge, where guests can check out the Grand Prix action along Ocean Boulevard and eat Alaskan king and Dungeness crab, giant prawns, wild shrimp ceviche and lobster tail, starting at $1.25 a serving.

Spa Sidney owner Sidney Cramer this week launched new speedy spa services, including a 30-minute express facial and "the fastest blow dry in the west."

"The Grand Prix is the No. 1 draw for Long Beach, where it brings in a lot of people to view the city and what it has to offer," said Cramer, adding that street construction was delayed until Monday, after Grand Prix weekend.

He and other business owners also have kicked up advertising for this weekend.

"It's really a time to stand out and be seen by people who normally wouldn't make it to Long Beach, so it broadens our viewership," he said.

City offers parking help

To overcome some of the hassles of finding parking for the race, the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency Parking Operations Division is offering free bike valet services, online parking reservations and auto valet parking services Grand Prix weekend.

Visit www.thepermitstore.com/lb/event to reserve a parking space.

Valet parking is also offered for $12 from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday at Pine Avenue and Shoreline Drive and at Shoreline Village.

Don't want to even deal with driving? New this year is a free bike valet service offered by the agency and Bikestation Long Beach and Modern Parking. Bike Valet stations will be available from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. at 222 East Broadway and 125 W. Third St.

Visit www.LongBeachRDA.org and click on "Projects" for more.

Race fans can get swag

There are special promotions for race fans.

Legends owner Gene Rotondo is offering a Grand Prix package that includes race tickets, all-you-can-eat buffet, goody bag and transportation to and from the race.

A shuttle will run every 15 to 20 minutes, he said. The cost is $159.

The Aquarium of the Pacific is offering free admission to "Shark Lagoon" from 6 to 9p.m.

Attendees can touch the ocean's ultimate predator, shop in the Shark Shack gift store and enjoy live music and Grand Prix drink specials.

And, from 9a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, the entire aquarium will be open to race ticketholders for $10 per person. Visit www.aquariumofthepacific.org for information.

Toyota is holding a promotion featuring two free Friday/ Saturday tickets with an $89.99 service at Southern California Toyota dealers.

Locations offering free Friday coupons include Bubba Gump restaurant and Mai Tai Bar and at Firestone Tire stores, Pep Boys and King Taco restaurants.

Participating 7-Eleven stores are offering a 20 percent discount on select Sunday reserved seats and Sunday general admission tickets. Long Beach Press Telegram

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