California Dreaming

Indycar

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The inaugural Formula 5000 race in 1975 at Long Beach.

I’ve enjoyed the pleasure of covering all thirty-four Long Beach Grands Prix, from the inaugural Formula 5000 race back in 1975 through eight Formula One races from 1976-’83 and twenty-five CART or Champ Car races from 1984-2008. This year’s race was Champ Car’s swansong in the beachside California city as the defunct organisation’s Panoz DP01-Cosworth turbos raced for one last time before the unified Indy Racing League arrives in town next year. So Long Beach ‘08 marked the end of a quarter century of the sweet sound of turbocharged engines wailing through the sunny California air and as the drivers cruised into the pits at the end of the race and the turbocharged engines – the signature song of Indy car racing – fell silent, the moment brought tears to some eyes.

For the next year or two, the familiar whine of Cosworth’s turbo V8 will be replaced by the harsh, coarse noise from Honda’s much less powerful, naturally-aspirated V8 IRL engine and there’s no doubt that the vast majority of fans and competitors would love to see the IRL adopt a more powerful, turbocharged engine formula as part of its new formula for 2010 or 2011.

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1976 Grand Prix of Long Beach, California, USA. March 26 – 28 1976. Niki Lauda (Ferrari 312T), 2nd position.

Like Mario Andretti, I’m among those who believe the new IRL formula must create spectacularly fast and demanding cars to drive. We think there must be a much greater difference between straightaway and cornering speeds. We also believe the new formula must inspire competition between engine and chassis manufacturers as well as adopting some serious elements of green technology. Over the upcoming month of May at Indianapolis I will discuss these issues with many people in the sport and will write about these conversations in the pages of Motor Sport later this year.

And as I reminded many people at Long Beach this year, back in 1975 at the inaugural Formula 5000 race – won by Brian Redman in a Haas/Hall Lola T332C-Chevrole – the garage area boasted no fewer than forty-two cars built by eight different car constructors. Thirty-nine of those cars started the two qualifying heats and because Bill Simpson’s Berta didn’t make it the first Long Beach race featured seven different car builders making this year’s race pale in comparison.

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Brian Redman with the trophy from the Formula 5000 race in 1975.

If American open-wheel racing is to enjoy a resurgence under the IRL’s unified banner it must rediscover this essential nature of the sport. The IRL’s new formula for 2010 or 2011 must dispel the banalities of spec-car racing and attract a trove of competitive engine and chassis builders. That’s the only way Indy car racing and Long Beach will thrive again.

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