Kalkhoven has backup plan if LBGP's lost
LONG BEACH, Calif. -- The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will be back for the 32nd consecutive year in 2006, but the big question is which racing series will be featured.
Champ Car, which started out as CART, has been racing annually in the streets of downtown Long Beach since Formula One left following the 1983 season, but the rival Indy Racing League is making a run at getting the race onto its schedule for next season.
The IRL, which was an all-oval series through its first nine seasons, last week ran its first street race, the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which drew an estimated 80,000 spectators over three days. That made it second among American street races only to Long Beach, which annually draws 125,000 or more spectators over its three days.
Jim Michaelian, president and CEO of the Long Beach event, said the decision on the return of Champ Car or the move to IRL will be made within 30 to 60 days following Sunday's featured race.
Les Unger, head of motorsports for longtime event sponsor Toyota, which formerly provided engines to the CART series and now supplies them for IRL teams, said the company has not tried to steer Long Beach toward either series.
"We'll never do that,'' Unser said. "There's been only seven years out of the 31 we've been associated with this event when we as a manufacturer have been involved as an engine maker in the key event here.
"We have confidence in the people who run this event to let them make that decision. We aren't putting any pressure on them either way.''
Kevin Kalkhoven, co-owner of the Champ Car series as well as a team owner, said he is hopeful of being back next April. But Kalkhoven said, should Champ Car lose the event, there is already a contingency plan in place for another street race at an unspecified location in the Los Angeles area.
Three-time Pikes Peak Hill Climb winner Rhys Millen came from the back of the field Saturday to win the 29th annual Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race at the Long Beach Grand Prix, beating fellow pro Ryan Arciero and TV actor Frankie Muniz.
Pole winner Ingo Rademacher, who plays Jasper "Jax'' Jacks in TV's "General Hospital,'' started out front of the 16-car field but drove into a tire wall on the first turn of the 10-lap race on the 1.968-mile downtown street circuit.
The amateurs are given a 30-second head start on the pros in the race featuring identically prepared Toyota Celicas, but they made it a little easier for the pros to play catch-up on Saturday.
"Those guys ahead of us all slowed on the first corner when Ingo went into the tires and allowed us to close the gap,'' said Millen, who went on to take the lead on the seventh lap. "But I have a lot of respect for everyone I was running against today. They did their best to not block or cause a hazard.''
Muniz, who crashed on the final lap last year while running second, made no mistakes this time, waiting patiently Saturday behind Rademacher and Olympic swimming champion Aaron Piersol until the two of them tangled and drove into a tire wall on the last lap.
The only guys he couldn't catch were Millen and Arciero, a three-time winner of the Baja 1000 off-road event.
"Last year I just remember being so nervous every time I got in the car, especially before the race,'' said Muniz, the star of TV's "Malcolm in the Middle'' sitcom and several movies, including "Agent Cody Banks.''
"This time, I just knew if you didn't crash, you were going to be good because everyone was going so hard,'' he added. "This is incredible. Racing is all I want to do. The first time they asked me, I was 15 and I had to wait until I was 18.
"I finally got to run last year and loved it. I'd like to get into it on a more serious basis in the future.''
Millen, the son of longtime off-road star Rod Millen, has starred in hill climbs, off-road racing, rallying and the new sport of drifting, but this was his first wheel-to-wheel competition.
"To run in a group and have a successful drive is a brilliant feeling,'' he said. "I'm hooked.''
Somehow Rademacher hung on to finish fourth, followed by Peirsol. Amanda Beard, another Olympic swimming champion, finished 12th, followed by former NBA star Karl Malone.
The top five drivers in qualifying for Sunday's Toyota Atlantic race are rookies. In fact, among the 19 entries in the developmental series at Long Beach, 15 are first-year drivers.
Only fifth-place Chris Dyson has driven before in the developmental series, and that was one race last year.
Charles Szolsman of The Netherlands, who only got his ride with Condor Motorsports last week and had only one day of testing in the car, won the pole with a lap of 1 minute, 19.091 seconds. He was followed by Antoine Bessette of Canada at 1:19.375, Andreas Wirth at 1:19.641, Fernando Rees at 1:19.723 and Dyson at 1:19.870.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press