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Beach Drive: Touring the Long Beach Circuit in an Acura NSX

Riding on the Public Roads That Make up the Course Provides a New Perspective

 

By John Oreovicz

 

It’s a treat for any fan to attend the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, established for nearly 50 years as one of the most successful racing festivals in America. I can’t think of a better venue than Southern California for car culture and people watching, and the Long Beach weekend organically brings them together.

 

The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship tops the Saturday bill at Long Beach, with a 100-minute sprint race on Sept. 25. Long Beach is one of only two street-course races on the calendar, challenging competitors with a bumpy track surface with multiple transitions from asphalt to concrete.

 

Creating a 1.968-mile racetrack lined with concrete barriers, safety fencing and grandstands is not the work of a moment. At Long Beach, they’ve refined the track build to an art, completing the process in 53 days, minimizing the impact on local traffic patterns. This year, track construction began Aug. 2.

 

While I have attended the Long Beach GP almost every year since 1988, I had never actually seen the venue without the racetrack in place. Most of the year, you can drive the roads that make up much of the track, so while on a trip earlier this year to Los Angeles, I decided to make that happen.

 

When I told my friends at Acura about my plan to visit the site – in the spirit of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s “Lost Speedways” video series – they kindly offered the use of a new NSX resplendent in Indy Yellow paint to make the ride more enjoyable.

 

To start a lap, turn from Ocean Boulevard onto westbound Shoreline Drive toward the Queen Mary. About 100 yards past the traffic light for the Beach Access road, you’ll join the circuit at the hairpin – albeit traveling the opposite direction of the racing cars, which will have burst out of the empty parking lot to your right.

 

As you proceed down Shoreline, at the entrance to the parking lot for the Long Beach Arena on the right, you can catch a glimpse of Victory Circle. Now you’re actually driving in pit lane; the traffic coming from the opposite direction is on the racing surface. During the race weekend, you barely notice the restaurants at Shoreline Village to the left.

 

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At the next light, the circuit takes a 90-degree left onto Aquarium Way. To keep it legal, you’ll have to briefly deviate from the racing line at the roundabout but rejoin on the other side and glide through a pair of right-handers back onto eastbound Shoreline.

 

Make a left at the light onto Pine Avenue. Wow! There’s a mall and a small amusement park here that can blend into the scenery when the sights and sounds of a racetrack are built up around it. It’s a vibrant shopping district.

 

Then take a right onto Seaside Way. This is the back straight of the track, a long clean run into Turn 9, a key passing zone for racers. If you’re driving something fun, put down the windows and enjoy the sound as you roll through the Seaside underpass.

 

Just past Linden Avenue, Turn 9 is a right into the parking lot, where the track winds back toward where we started on Shoreline near Victory Circle. Park (a spot on the street may be your best option) and take a walk through the lot. Look closely, and you can follow the red painted line that surrounds the entire circuit. You’ll also see the rubber racing groove laid down from past events.

 

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For most of the last 30 years, I’ve watched Long Beach races from Turn 10 – which is nothing but a painted line in a parking lot 51 weeks of the year. Take a look at these pictures taken from the same area to get an idea what goes into building a temporary circuit.

 

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#7 Acura Team Penske Acura DPi, DPi: Helio Castroneves, Ricky Taylor

 

While you’re there, walk up the hill on Linden to Ocean Boulevard. The original Long Beach circuit used for Formula 5000 and Formula 1 from 1975-83 actually utilized Ocean Boulevard as the pit lane and start/finish straight. That hard downhill right from Ocean onto Linden was Turn 1. A similar abrupt uphill transition to Ocean occurred at the intersection with Pine. Imagine today’s racing cars trying to negotiate those conditions!

 

A couple laps of America’s most famous street course in an Acura NSX demonstrated that Long Beach is a destination that has a lot to offer 365 days of the year. For racing enthusiasts, it’s even better at Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach time.