The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is an event that many people look forward to, at least here in Southern California. It is, without a doubt, the biggest motorsport gathering on this side of the United States. The beach, the amazing weather, the screaming race cars – what more could you want?
I’ve been attending this race for a few years now, but for 2018 I thought it would be cool to take you guys on a shooting tour of the course, one corner at a time.
The fact that this track only exists for one weekend out of the year makes it impossible for anyone other than the drivers themselves to run it, so I’ll do my best to illustrate what it’s like.
It all starts on the front straight on Long Beach’s famous Shoreline Drive. Cars blast down here at triple-digit speeds, and on race day the stands are so packed that spectators are forced to line the fences.
To be honest, the front straight isn’t really all that straight.
As the cars approach the official Turn 1, you get a glance of the Cyclone Racer rollercoaster bridge.
Some of the drivers get really close to this first left-hander, giving media a heartbeat-skipping moment.
As soon as drivers make the left at Turn 1, they bring their cars right alongside the track’s right-side wall as they work towards Turn 2. The walls make this track pretty dangerous, especially when the drivers are giving it over 100%. I’ve seen the edges of wings spark up from rubbing on the concrete slabs before.
Turn 2 and Turn 3 together make up what we all know as ‘The Fountain’.
For many of the drivers, a lot of time can be made up or lost here. Or at least it seems like that from my vantage point as a photographer.
Drivers try their best to get up on the curbing, as you see here. But some get too close, dipping into the bushes and losing time.
This gives you a general view of The Fountain from the aquarium of the Pacific parking lot. You can also see a Carnival cruise ship in the background.
Right as drivers make their way out of The Fountain, they’re back on the gas and blasting towards Turn 4.
Turns 3, 4, and 5 hug around the aquarium parking lot.
Because of this, the higher floors of the parking structure are an extremely popular area for media. With the elevation and trees, people will get creative here. From my experience, the cars are really predictable through this section, which usually gives me more consistent panning shots.
The walls open up slightly around Turn 5, giving the drivers a bit of breathing room as they make their right turns. Some of the faster guys will glide over the aggressive curbs, and if you shoot fast enough you can potentially capture some two-wheel action.
The cars are now back on Shoreline Drive, but this back straight that connects Turn 5 and 6 is hard to shoot. One day I’ll try to find a spot for a good angle.
The drivers are hard on their brakes, then proceed to blast through the left hand Turn 6. The inside of this turn is one of the closest areas the media can get to the cars, but because they pass by at such a high rate of speed, catching them in camera while panning is relatively hard. The above shot was taken at 1/100th of a second, but looks like I shot it at 1/30th of a second.
Shooting from the drivers’ right is a lot easier.
Turn 7 is less than a second away from Turn 6, and drivers don’t even bother lifting here as they head towards Turn 8.
Getting nice and low here allows you show that these insanely loud race cars are literally racing through the middle of the city.
To the left of Turn 7 are the Pike Outlet stores and restaurants, and to the right is the Long Beach Convention Center. The latter is elevated, giving spectators an excellent view of the racing.
There is a slight downhill as the cars head towards Turn 8, and this is where you’ll see the least amount of media. No, not because it’s not exciting, but because access to it is rather difficult. In years prior, I would shoot at least one race start here. The downhill into Turn 8 really shows off the snake of cars in the opening lap, but I didn’t grab that shot this year.
Grab your earplugs because it gets loud between Turns 8 and 9. I rarely shot here previously, so I forced myself to see what I could find at this year’s event.
It was well worth it too. Right outside the media center I was greeted with this shot during the weekend’s very first session. Tracking the race cars here, especially the DPI and IndyCars, is almost impossible because of their ludicrous speeds.
Just a few more for fun.
The drivers are hard on their brakes (which you can smell) as they approach Turn 9.
This is where things start to get familiar for the drift fanatics.
Turn 9 probably has the most amount of spots to shoot from. It’s not a corner that’s even very exciting, but because access to it is so easy I find myself returning to this area pretty often.
Unlike the drifters, the race cars don’t get out to the ‘touch and go’ and outer zones. I can only assume that they love this section of the course though, because all the drifters from the weekend prior have laid down layers upon layers of rubber, allowing these guys to go a bit faster around Turns 9, 10, and 11 than the other corners.
Similar to the area around Turns 6 and 7, the area around Turn 10 is popular for spectating. It’s right by the IndyCar and IMSA paddocks so the convenience of that helps as well. You can watch Juan Pablo Montoya thrash his Acura DPI on track and then walk two minutes over to the paddock right after the session ends to grab his autograph.
Like Turn 9, Turn 10 accessibility is also amazing. With the palm trees, it’s a really picturesque area.
But it looks best, in my opinion, with the Motegi Super Drift guys during their sunset practice sessions.
Turn 11, is the last corner and the slowest of the track.
It also has the most amount of media at any given time. The shooting area for the inside of 11 is also the same as the outside of 10. It’s come to be known as ‘The Island’ by many people, because it’s essentially a center divider for the eastern end of Shoreline Drive.
The racers run a tighter line here than the drifters do.
I’ve seen a few mistakes made at this point of the track. Turn 10 is definitely a set up corner for Turn 11, but brake a split second too late and you can cause some major traffic jams. I’m sure some of you remember the 2016 incident between a Corvette and 911.
The backside of Turn 11 is a great place to shoot from. Again, it looks best when the Super Drift guys are running at sunset.
I wonder what it would be like if either IMSA, PWC, or IndyCar ran til sunset….
After the famous (and infamous) Turn 11 hairpin, the drivers will either continue onto the main straight or head into the pits to their right.
Then, all the drivers have to do is cross the line to either take on their next lap or the checkered flag.
I hope that gave you a slightly deeper look into what shooting at the Long Beach Grand Prix course is like.
Louis these are probably some of the best photos I've seen from you. You've really captured the essence of speed and power in every shot. I get dizzy looking at those panning shots. You faster shots really show the atmosphere and I can feel the heat. You've really painted a picture for us all. I think I saved almost all of these photos for my rotating desktop background!
Remember how crazy last year was when that guy !#$%ed up the hair pin and caused everyone to get backed up? Weirdest finish ever.
Turn 9 isn't exciting? It's one of the primary passing zones where you can reliably get shots of cars going two wide. With multi-class passing like in IMSA and PWC you can see drivers choose some real interesting lines to get around.
9 also can be shot a variety ways from just a couple of locations, which makes it a favorite spot for me.
Good stuff Louis, glad to see the Ice Break Porsche #12 in there, straight from the Bathurst 12 Hour race.
Fantastic photography! This is why i love speedhunters