The crowds mill around the beautiful Long Beach circuit
Friday morning has dawned sunny and pleasant in Long Beach, California where the ALMS cars are currently on track practicing.
Pine Avenue was a big party for hundreds of race fans who headed downtown for Tecate Thunder Thursday. Crowds on Thursday packed Pine Avenue between Broadway and 4th Street to get racers' autographs and watch a night of diverse entertainment ranging from live DJs and pit competitions to motorcycle stunts and roller derby exhibition to a Pit Stop Competition between IZOD IndyCar Series stars Danica Patrick and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
"This is the biggest event we experience here," said one downtown restaurant owner. "There are festivals that draw the crowds, but not as big as this, so it's really a big thing here."
Chris Esslinger, Director of Communications of the Toyota Grand Prix, was impressed by Thursday's turnout.
"This place is stacked with people," he said. "All the restaurants are busy. Judging from this, and our ticket sales, we're going to have a pretty darn good weekend."
The 3-day weekend is expected to draw at least 170,000 people to see the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race, the Tequila Patron American Le Mans Series at Long Beach race, Firestone Indy Lights, Team Drifting Challenge, the SCCA Pro World Challenge and the IZOD IndyCar Series.
We ran into Tonis Kasemets this morning in the paddock. He will run his very first Indy Lights race this weekend driving for the Palm Beach International Raceway (PBIR) team. The former Toyota Atlantics star has been hunting for money to return to racing full-time, but for now he's happy to have found something for this weekend. He tells us the typical team asking price for an Indy Lights ride is $50K per race, but you can sometimes get a ride for as little as $25K. Mark C. reporting from Long Beach
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