Long Beach notebook: Pro/Celebrity Race makes bittersweet farewell

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The 40th and final Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race featured a field full of former winners in its farewell, including four former Indy car drivers – Eddie Lawson, Max Papis, Al Unser Jr. and Jimmy Vasser. But it was actor Alfonso Ribeiro who drove to victory, the fourth for the former “Dancing with the Stars” champion.

Alfonso RibeiroWith the starting field inverted from Friday qualifying, Ribeiro moved from eighth place to first in the opening two laps of the 10-lap event that was red-flagged on Lap 3 when Sean Patrick Flannery ran into the back of the disabled car of Brett Davern as it was being loaded onto a tow truck. After the restart, Ribeiro (spraying champagne in photo at right) held off Papis, the former Indy car driver who is now an INDYCAR race steward, who charged from 15th starting position to finish second.

Afterward, most said it was a bittersweet moment that the fun but competitive race between pros and celebrities race will not continue.

“I’ve been around this sport, done a lot of different things, raced almost everything there is to race in my life,” Papis said. “What I love about what happened today is we were able to share what wakes me up in the morning every day: the passion for the sport. These people have it and they have the same love, maybe they haven’t experienced everything I have done on the pro side, but it’s pretty amazing.

“Today, having my family on the podium with me with all the other kids was maybe the joy of my life.”

Hunter-Reay finishes sixth in Long Beach sports car race

Ryan Hunter-Reay is pulling double duty this weekend. In addition to driving in Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, where he will start 11th, the 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner returned to drive for the Visit Florida Racing team in today's IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at Long Beach. Driving a Chevrolet Corvette in the Daytona Prototype class, Hunter-Reay and teammate Marc Goosens finished sixth.

“I was just hanging on there through most of my stint, we just didn’t have the traction that we needed with the Visit Florida car," Hunter-Reay said. "The way the race started, we were 10 seconds back to start and then Marc had a hard time with the rear tires just trying to pass the DeltaWing. We burned the rears off and our race kind of snowballed from there. 

"I was as conservative as I could be with the tires and just happy to be able to keep ahead of (Oswaldo) Negri there at the end." 

Bell’s Indy 500 entry sponsored by California Pizza Kitchen, Robert Graham

Townsend Bell’s car for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil will have a definitive Golden State flair as California Pizza Kitchen was named co-primary sponsor of the No. 29 Andretti Autosport Honda he will drive in the historic race May 29.

Bell, a native Californian, also has long-time sponsor and fashion leader Robert Graham returning as a co-primary sponsor. For California Pizza Kitchen, founded in 1985 in Beverly Hills and now a global brand, it marks a first venture into Verizon IndyCar Series racing.

“Being a California native, I cannot think of a better fit than California Pizza Kitchen to join our team for the 100th Running of the Indy 500,” said Bell. “It’s awesome to represent a brand that I grew up with here. … I’m also proud to have Robert Graham on board again for 2016 and cannot wait to unveil the No. 29 car in May.”

Added Andretti Autosport CEO Michael Andretti, “It’s great to have California Pizza Kitchen come on board for Townsend’s Indy 500 program, especially as a new brand coming into the sport for such a historic event. To have California Pizza Kitchen’s partnership combined with Robert Graham’s continued support, the No. 29 car and Townsend are positioned for eye-catching success on all fronts.”

Aleshin honoring anniversary of Gagarin’s space flight with decal on car

Verizon IndyCar Series driver Mikhail Aleshin is carrying an image of fellow Russian and cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on the nose of his No. 7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in honor of the 55th anniversary of Gagarin becoming the first human in space.

The Vostok 1 spacecraft, carrying Gagarin, was launched into space on the morning of April 12, 1961. Gagarin spent 108 minutes in the tiny capsule, completing the first human orbit around Earth before landing back on Soviet soil.

Dates for 2017 Long Beach race announced

Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach announced today that the 2017 race weekend is scheduled for April 7-9.

Long Beach becomes the third Verizon IndyCar Series event to announce its dates for next season. The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be held March 10-12 and the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil will be May 28.


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