The party kicked off for this weekend’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, with former Long Beach winners and racing royalty Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya enshrined into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame on a splendid Thursday southern California afternoon.
Established in 2006, The “Walk” is located on a broad public sidewalk on Pine Avenue, right in front of the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center, adjacent to Turns 7 and 8 of the longest running street circuit in North America.
The ceremony bestowed well-deserved recognition upon both Montoya and Castroneves, commemorating each driver with a 22-inch Walk of Fame bronze medallion inserted into the palm-lined sidewalk that displays renditions of the racers’ Long Beach-winning cars, as well as their major triumphs in motorsports.
Montoya’s victory in the 1999 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach transpired during his rookie season, as he stormed onward to take the 1999 CART FedEx Series championship in dominating fashion. Montoya also is a two-time Indy 500 champion (2000, ’15) and winner of another famous international street race, the Grand Prix of Monaco. Montoya has been an agile crossover series winner, collecting victories in Formula One, CART, IRL, IndyCar, Grand-Am and NASCAR.
Castroneves won the Grand Prix of Long Beach in 2001 and captured the 1997 Indy Lights race at Long Beach as well. The unwavering loyal Team Penske driver has logged 30 IndyCar race victories, including being a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner (2001, ‘02, ‘09) and is renowned for his fan charm, including “Spiderman” fence victory climbs as well as his Dancing with the Stars mirror ball trophy.
With both Castroneves and Montoya having early success in the forerunner CART/Champ Car World Series (CCWS) open-wheel series at Long Beach, it’s a timely tribute given both drivers’ passion for racing at the highest competitive levels across multiple decades.
Surprisingly, this 2018 Ceremony comes ten years after the final run of Champ Cars at Long Beach. In 2008, Champ Car and the Indy Racing League finally merged together thereby settling an acrimonious rivalry that lasted over a decade. The combining of those two series resulted in an erratic IRL double points-paying weekend, with the 2008 Grand Prix of Long Beach and the Indy Japan 300 taking place the same weekend, and Castroneves making the trip to Japan instead of Long Beach.
Pointedly, Castroneves underscored that the Walk of Fame recognition should not generate any false impression that he and Montoya are now retired. He’s here at Long Beach to win, as racing burns deep in his Brazilian veins.
A decade later, both Montoya and Castroneves are still competing for trophies and titles, albeit in a relatively new setting for both drivers in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. While the core event remains Sunday’s IndyCar Grand Prix of Long Beach, the IMSA BUBBA Burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach escalates the thrill as Saturday’s appetizer.
The IMSA Grand Prix is the one race on the streets of Long Beach that features a driver change, along with multiple car classes navigating the tricky and tight corners of Long Beach, where passing is a finely crafted art to ensure drivers don’t plow into a tire barrier, wall, or fountain along the course.
Last year, a multi-car pileup in the hairpin on the final lap right before the main straight threw the finishing order into disarray as the melee blocked the entire racetrack. Trust me, it’s a race not to be missed.
With Prototype and GT Le Mans serving as the showcase IMSA product in Long Beach, 14 cars featuring the headlining Daytona Prototype international factory entries and the privateer LMP2s will be combined with eight factory GT machines (representing BMW, Corvette, Ford, and Porsche) for the 100-minute IMSA BUBBA Burger Grand Prix.
As Daytona Prototype drivers for Acura Team Penske, Montoya and Castroneves will have their hands full with both fellow competitors as well as the traffic in the GTLM class.
Castroneves will co-pilot the #6 Acura Dpi entry with last season’s Prototype co-champion, Ricky Taylor; while Montoya will team with Dane Cameron in the #7 Acura Dpi.
“It is entirely appropriate that we recognize these two racing legends here at Long Beach this year,” explained Jim Michaelian, president and CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach. “They have excelled in their performances both here and around the world and this year return to Long Beach both driving sports cars for Team Penske.”
For your hometown columnist, I’m delighted to see these two legendary stars battle again on the Streets of Long Beach. Candidly, I haven’t been this ecstatic since I drove my first clandestine laps on the eve of 1984 race, before receiving a police escort to the finish line, but that’s a tale for another occasion should we ever have the pleasure of strolling the Long Beach Walk of Fame during a serene moment.
By Ron Bottano
Let’s connect on Twitter at @rbottano