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Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach a success, officials say; crowds likely hits or pass 2019’s numbers

This weekend’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach was a resounding success and appears as if it surpassed 2019’s pre-pandemic attendance figures as it returned to its traditional April schedule, officials said Monday, April 11.

Any worries about burnout because of the Grand Prix taking over the city’s downtown twice in a little more than six months turned out to be for naught, with thousands flocking to Long Beach this weekend — and bringing high energy and good spirits. And for the most part, they arrived without masks.

“It looks like we’ll exceed about 187,000 people for the three days,” Michaelian said, though he’s still waiting on the final count. “We’re trending slightly ahead of where we were in 2019, which is the most comparable non-pandemic event we’ve had.”

Last year, the pandemic delayed Long Beach’s biggest party until September. And even then, there were multiple health regulations, including mask mandates. But September’s event was still critically important, both for the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach — which had to cancel the 2020 race — and the city in general, which needed the financial boost the Grand Prix provides.

“The race last year in September was very important for us,” Jim Michaelian, the president and CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, said in a Monday interview.

The September Grand Prix, however, required guests to not only wear face coverings but also show proof of either vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. Those, among other things, contributed to a drop in attendance, Michaelian said.

Health regulations were still on the table when 2022 began, but then new cases and hospitalizations declined, and most health mandates were repealed — just in time for the Grand Prix.

And it seems as if the public felt safe enough to converge on downtown.

The event, Michaelian said, went off without a hitch.

Kids played in the Family FunZone, foodies delighted in the various culinary options, primarilt at food truck row, and music lovers rocked along with the Royal Machines on Saturday night. After a sweltering Friday, the marine layer, making for a cooler Saturday and and a perfect Sunday.

And, of course, racing fans witnessed a slew of races, including the event’s eponymous Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. Josef Newgarden won Sunday’s main event, his second straight victory of the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series season.

“It’s taken me 11 years to win a race here, so I’m so happy,” Newgarden said in Victory Circle. “I’m so proud of the efforts of the guys at Team Penske.”

Downtown businesses also seemed to win this weekend.

After the races finished each night — but particularly Friday and Saturday — the crowds flooded into the downtown and shoreline areas to carry on the celebrations.

“Friday and Saturday were very busy downtown,” said Steve Goodling, president and CEO of the Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau. “As you walked around, you could see the activity on the streets after the races were finished for that day.”

All Long Beach hotels were sold out as of Friday, April 8. Hotels outside of the city likely saw an increase in clientele over the weekend as well, Goodling said.

“The crowds were strong, they were enthusiastic,” he said. “Not only was there a strong economic impact this weekend — but it will have residual effects on future conventions.”

For the first time since 2007, Michaelian said, the IndyCar race was aired on national television — prompting a big boost in Grand Prix viewership that he hopes will translate into in-person attendees at next year’s race.

“It just magnified all the beautiful assets that the city has,” Michaelian said.

As workers begin to tear-down the remnants of this year’s race — and the city returns to its normal routine — Michaelian is laser-focused on using this year’s success to make Grand Prix 2023 even better.

“With the extension of our city contract until 2028, and the extension of our coastal commission permit for another five years,” Michaelian said, “the future looks very, very bright for the Grand Prix.”

Next year’s Grand Prix is scheduled for April 14 to 16.

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