Ready To Hit the Beach, Indycar Style!

Richard DeveauCorrespondent IApril 18, 2009

LONG BEACH, CA - APRIL 17:  Will Power drives the #3 Team Penske Dallara Honda ahead of Stanton Barrett during practice for the IRL IndyCar Series Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 17, 2009 on the streets of Long Beach, California.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Palm trees swaying, waves rolling and fast cars making loud noise. Add pretty girls in tank tops, celebrities, fans and a party atmosphere, and you will get this weekend's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

The peaceful beaches will become vibrant with the sound of naturally aspirated V8 engines as the Indycar Series heads to town.

The famous street circuit is celebrating it's 35th anniversary of American open wheel racing, and it's as good as it's ever been. It all started as a Formula 5000 event, then becoming Formula One's US Grand Prix. CART took over the event in 1984 and in 2009, the race is sanctioned by the Indycar Series.

Big storylines surround us heading into this race, including the return of Helio Castroneves, after nearly facing jail time.

Castroneves was second in last year's championship standings with two wins. The Brazilian will be returning to his familiar Penske Racing No. 3 and there is probably no driver hungrier to get in the race car and give us a good show.

The race will also finally see the return of former CART drivers to the event, including Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon, who last raced at Long Beach in 2002.

"I had this date circled on my calendar ever since I decided to come back to Indy cars," said Franchitti, who despite his street racing prowess, never won here during his CART days from 1997-2002. "Long Beach has always been one of my favorite tracks and I've really missed running there. It's one of those great American events."

Ryan Hunter-Reay has also been here in his Champcar days (2003-2004) along with Darren Manning who made his lone start in 2003. Danica Patrick raced a couple times here in the Toyota Atlantic series.

There is also a large group of former Champcar drivers who raced at last year's Champcar finale in Long Beach, including Graham Rahal, Will Power, Robert Doornbos, Justin Wilson and Alex Tagliani.

Back in the day, father and son Mario and Michael Andretti won plenty of races in Long Beach. Mario had five wins, in both CART and F1.

An Andretti hasn't participated in the event since 2003, when Michael won his final race; but that is all about to change as third generation driver, Marco Andretti, is set to make his debut at Long Beach.

"It's obviously a special place for my family and I just want to carry on that tradition," said young Andretti, who had a disastrous opener at St. Pete.

Some guys absolutely can't wait to get the event going:

"Wonderful memories for me. My first Indy Lights race in 1996, my first CART race in 1999 and my first pole position in '99," said Kanaan, who was leading Juan Montoya that April before collecting the tire wall.

"When the two series finally got back together this was the one race I wanted to come back to the most."

"I think it's pretty obvious I enjoy all the street races but Long Beach has that great tradition," said Will Power, who absolutely smoked the field in last year's Champcar finale at Long Beach.

"It's my biggest victory and I just want to repeat this weekend."

Power will be moved from his Penske No. 3 to the Penske No. 12 this weekend as Castroneves returns with the team. He will have sponsorship from Verizon.

Justin Wilson is always fast on the street circuits, winning last year in Detroit and leading many laps two weeks ago in St. Petersburg, until Ryan Briscoe ruined the party.

"We had the car to win at St. Pete, led the most laps and I just want to keep the momentum going," said Wilson, now driving for Dale Coyne.

Scott Dixon, last year's champion and Indy 500 winner, has proved us he can win on any type of track, may it be oval, road course, street circuit or even an airport; he could be a threat this weekend, as always.

"I know things have changed drastically since I last ran there," he said. "But it was always a challenging place and I'm excited about going back."

Of course, before every race, people make predictions; so do I! I messed up at St. Pete, predicting Scott Dixon the winner, who crashed out of the event.

But this week, I will be right, as I believe Graham Rahal will be the victor!

The Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing driver raced twice before at Long Beach, with not much success. But he was young, and with more experience, Graham will be a threat, as he was two weeks ago in St. Petersburg.

To all you race fans, I hope you enjoy the event, as I know I will.

The Indycar Series will be returning to ovals next week at the Kansas Speedway, and I will once again preview the race for you!