LONG BEACH, California - Former Indy car and Formula 1 champion Emerson Fittipaldi was immortalized in Grand Prix of Long Beach history Thursday when he was inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame.
The Brazilian raced at Long Beach 13 times from 1984-96 with a best of finish of second twice (1985, 1990). The two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 also raced on the streets of Long Beach five times in Formula 1 from 1976-80. He is in an elite group with fellow Indianapolis 500 winner Mario Andretti as the only Indy car and F1 season champions to race at Long Beach in both series.
“I think Long Beach has so much history,” Fittipaldi said. “For me, it is a great honor to be here among great champions. Long Beach always was one of the best destinations to go.
“I remember I was in a meeting in Monaco in 1973 and Bernie Ecclestone came and said, ‘I think we are going to race in America on the streets.’ I told him, ‘Bernie, I think this is impossible, it cannot happen.’ But it happened! Chris Pook was able to but this event together and it was fantastic.”
Fittipaldi won the F1 championship in 1972 and an Indy car title in 1989, also the year when he won his first Indy 500 (the second came four years later). Tied for 20th on the all-time Indy car wins list with 22, the 70-year-old is amazed with the continuing growth of Long Beach since he first came to the city.
“Every year I come here, the city is changing,” he said. “I think the grand prix helps a lot to make the history change, much like Indianapolis. Both are landmarks of racing in America.”
Grand prix CEO has seen it all and likes what he sees
Jim Michaelian has seen a lot over the course of the 43-year history of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
The president and CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach has worked for the event since its inception in 1975. The race has established a reputation of being one of the most successful street races in the world.
Michaelian noted the race’s success comes down to being an engaging and entertaining event in an eye-catching location and that it is more than just a race.
“Where you hold these kinds of events is really important because it needs to be an attractive venue,” Michaelian said Thursday. “It needs to be a place where people want to come, visit and be entertained. The fact that we can hold this event in this kind of environment, with all of the improvements that they made to the downtown area over the years since we started in 1975, is truly a great marriage between those two organizations.
“Secondly, you need to make sure that you make the event entertaining. It can’t be just for the (racing) purists only. If you do, you lose a lot of the fans because a lot of the fans that come to a street race are not the traditional hardcore race fan.
“It is a great place to go, it is a great environment, there are things to do that don’t involve racing at all.”
Long Beach attendance has been on the uptick the last few years, solidifying the race as one of the best-attended on the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar. Michaelian feels the unification of Indy car racing in 2008 was a key.
“There’s solidification, there’s continuity, less questions about sustainability and how’s the series going to go, and more about the racing and the stars in the series and the activities associated with it,” he said. “In that sense it has refocused people on the entertainment value which is vastly more important than the political and technical aspect.”
While he is encouraged by the success of his own event, Michaelian is also invigorated by INDYCAR’s current state. He feels that the series’ continuity and healthy level of competition today bode well for a successful future.
“This isn’t a sport where you can dial in and are almost guaranteed to know who first second or third is going to be like some of the other sports around,” he said. “From a manufacturers standpoint, 2017 is getting off to a very competitive start. We’ll see how it goes at Long Beach. The more competitive the battle between Chevrolet and Honda, the better it is.”
Sato unveils wine to commemorate 2013 Long Beach win
Takuma Sato wanted to commemorate his memorable win on the streets of Long Beach in 2013. What better way to do it than with a cabernet sauvignon made from a bumper crop of grapes from the same year?
Sato unveiled TS Wine on Thursday at the Hyatt Regency hotel located inside the 1.968-mile temporary street circuit. Only 600 bottles of the wine were made and will be available at the Foyt Wine Vault in Speedway, Indiana, beginning in May, with plans for wider U.S. and Japanese distribution to come.
Sato drove to victory at Long Beach for AJ Foyt Racing four years ago. He left the team this season to join Andretti Autosport, but commended the Foyt organization for helping him put the plan in motion to develop the wine. TS Wine used the same vintner, Meadowcroft Wines, and the Mt. Veeder line of varietal wines from Sonoma, California, that the Foyt Wine Vault relies on for its wines.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity for me to introduce this wine here,” Sato said. “I was very close with the Foyt wine and I had the opportunity to look at how they are making special wines. And A.J. had a lot of special stories about wine, so I thought why not?”
Working with winemaker Tom Meadowcroft on the project since March 2016, Sato learned that a strong crop of 2013 grapes was still available to create a perfect tie-in to his Long Beach victory the same year. Meadowcroft originally presented six variations to test, which Sato narrowed to the winner that recently received a 92 rating from The Sommelier Company’s review.
“We carefully tasted it and chose it,” Sato said. “This is something I want to be really special. It’s a great wine already but this one can be good 10 years later.”
A contest was held to design the bottle’s label, with the winner hailing from Argentina. The label includes the painting from noted motorsports artist Randy Owens of Sato’s 2013 car on track at Long Beach.
“I’m very pleased and this is almost like a collector level, the high end of the wine,” Sato said. “I wanted to produce the best out of the best. It is really, truly unique.”