2009 Long Beach Motorsports Walk Of Fame Inductee Gives The 411 On INDY 500
It was barely over one month ago that Al Unser Jr. was experiencing "the best week ever" here around Shoreline Drive in Long Beach California.
The week (actually, four days) started off with Al receiving the honor, along with co-inductee Bobby Rahal, of having a medallion placed in a walkway on the Westside of the Long Beach Convention Center designated as the Long Beach Motosports Walk Of Fame. Since this was the fourth time this ceremony has been held, the list of previous inductees is not as long as one might think ... but it is full of people of extreme high accomplishment and recognizable to nearly all motorsports enthusiast familiar with the Southern California area and venue.
Thursday April 16, 2009, Al Unser, Jr., and his wife Gina, Bobby Rahal, and his son Graham were there ... along with a crowd of well wishers that included J.C. Agajanian, Jr. (whom I sat next to) Parnelli Jones (past inductee), Brian Redmond (inductee and first driver to ever win at the Long Beach Grand Prix), and about 200 other family, friends, fans, and photographers shared in the unveiling.
The section of the Wyland Mural on the side of the Long Beach Convention Center that was to be re-dedicated after its restoration earlier in the month of April. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2009)
Al Unser, Jr., muralist Robert Wyland, and Mayor of Long Beach Bob Foster get ready to rise up on the scissor-lift to cut the ribbon to re-dedicate the Wyland Mural. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2009)
On Friday, Al, was involved in a re-dedication ribbon cutting ceremony of the large mural of whales and other sea creatures that adorn the landmark Long Beach Convention Center building in the center of the Long Beach Grand Prix venue.
Al Unser, Jr. signs an autograph soon after his win in the Toyota Pro/Celebrity race at the Long Beach Grand Prix venue. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2009)
Saturday, Al Unser, Jr. drove a 250 hp Toyota Scion tC to victory in the annual Toyota Pro-Celebrity race. Being that this win gave Al his seventh official win at this track, with the six previous wins at the wheel of a CART/ChampCar, it came as little surprise even though he had to steer his way around several wrecks caused by some of the anxious Celebrities to best the field.
The happiest person, besides Al was Keanu Reeves, who also drove a good and steady race while avoiding all the mayhem in turn one and about the course, to win the Celebrity category of this competition.
Al Unser, Jr. sits at the driver's seat in the ceremonial Toyota convertable pace car as IRL Dallaras line up behind him in order to begin the warm-up laps before the 35th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2009)
Then on Sunday, Al Unser, Jr. was the Grand Marshal of the 35th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach ... did I mention, a race that earned him the nickname "King Of The Beach" due to his six wins here, the most by any driver. He led the field in the Toyota pace car for the first ever Long Beach Grand Prix held under the sanctioning body of the Indy Racing League (IRL) in unification. Last year, the race featured ChampCar drivers and equipment only ... and the points were scored to count for the 2008 IndyCar Series Championship.
The best week ever!
So now Al Unser, Jr. moves on to the Indianapolis and Speedway, Indiana ... where there is a little 2.5 mile motorsports racetrack that has become known as "The World's Greatest Race Course". The venue, itself, has been in existence for 100 years and this year will be the 93rd running of the most famous and grueling 500 mile annual motorsports competition in the world ... the INDY 500!
Al Unser, Jr., as it turns out, has been successful here too, winning this race twice and finishing in the top 10 in a set field of 33 cars, 10 out of 20 competitions.
As an elder statesman, Al Unser, Jr. may just be having the best year ever. At Indianapolis, he is also the IndyCar Series driver coach and he had a few tips for the drivers who will be racing tomorrow in the INDY 500
This excerpted and edited from IndyCar.com -
Race Day analysis
By Dave Lewandowski - Indycar.com - Friday, May 22, 2009
Vitor Meira, the 2008 Indianapolis 500 runner-up, preaches patience - to himself in the mirror - in preparation for Race Day.
"I think here patience pays a lot, not only because it is a very long race but it's a track that doesn't forgive a lot of mistakes," said Meira, who will start 14th in the No. 14 ABC Supply Co. car for A.J. Foyt Racing. "The strategy is you go out, log some laps, make sure that you risk as few times as possible up to 50 laps to go, then you drop the hammer."
That's a strategy endorsed by two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and IndyCar Series driver coach Al Unser Jr. With the field - top to bottom separated by a tick over 3 seconds (the closest margin with four-lap qualifications in place) - patience will pay.
"All the teams have the cars figured out; they're on a level playing field like no other time," Unser said. "You're to a point right now, I was talking to Michael Andretti and they were looking for a half a pound of drag reduction. Any little bit.
"In the old days - in the' 70s, '80s and '90s - you had several different makes of cars and several engine manufacturers. Say I qualified 15th, I could count on five of the cars in front of me not finishing because of mechanical failure. I could count five more running into each other. I could count three that would have problems in the pits. So that really only left one or two guys that I really had to race, and that's how it unfolded in front of me when I ran the 500.
"Today, the front row is going to finish this race unless something strange or a freak deal happens. And the mistakes, if they make any, will be very small. The drivers know this, yet they have to have patience. It's really hard to have patience when everything is going by so quickly. That's when you really have to count on your team - the whole team comes into play. And when mistakes are made, you have to be there to capitalize on them. "
Unser said no matter where in the 33-car field the driver starts, the initial section of the 200-lap race is crucial.
"You need to get through the first couple of laps clean and get going and get your rhythm," he said. "If you're in the front half of the field, you'll do what the leader does all day as far as pitting and all that. If you're in the back half of the field and an early yellow comes out, then you'll get off-sequence with the leaders. The leaders will most likely stay out and that's when you'll come in.
"It's going to be all about track position, because the field is so close from front to back, and what I've been seeing during the Month of May is that it's impossible to pass. You can have a car that's running 222 in the lead and come up on a car that's running 218 and he won't be able to pass. When that happens, it's going to stack up and that's the most important time to have patience. It's going to be too much risk to pass another car. Just stay behind the guy in front of you until he makes a mistake and then it's an easy pass. The driver in front of you loses patience and does something that puts him out of shape then you're able to pass.
"It's a long race but it goes by very quickly these days. You don't really have to take care of anything these days. The engines, cars, tires and gearboxes are known reliability. It comes down to truly a whole team effort. The restarts are going to be very important as far as being able to pass on restarts. You have to be sharp; you do the passing instead of somebody passing you because once you get going you're stuck behind whoever is in front of you. Traffic will dictate a lot of what goes on during the race."
... notes from The EDJE