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
"We have confidence in the people who run this event to let
them make that decision. We aren't putting any pressure on them
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
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.