International Jet Sports Boating Association (IJSBA) National Endurance Champion and YAMAHA Motor Corporation factory rider Mike Follmer recently confirmed that he has accepted an invitation to compete in the 2004 – 28th Annual TOYOTA Grand Prix of Long Beach Pro/Celebrity Race representing the sport of Personal Watercraft (PWC) Racing in the Pro Category on April 17th.
The TOYOTA Pro/Celebrity Race is a 10-lap race that pits today’s hottest celebrities against professional drivers in identically prepared, race-ready, all new TOYOTA Celica GT-S model coupes with 180 horsepower. The race is contested on the 1.97 mile Champ Car race course through the streets of Long Beach where the celebrity racers start 30 seconds ahead of the professionals.an invitation to compete in the 2004 – 28th Annual TOYOTA Grand Prix of Long Beach Pro/Celebrity Race representing the sport of Personal Watercraft (PWC) Racing in the Pro Category on April 17th.
The invitation to race in the Pro Category was based on Mike’s (IJSBA) Offshore Endurance Championships and extensive background racing Motocross motorcycles, SCCA E-Production Class Sports Cars, IMSA Camel GT Production cars and Bosch/Super Vee Formula cars that Mike raced on this race course in the Long Beach Grand Prix from 1983 through 1989. Mike will be joined this year in the race by stars Frankie Muniz (“Malcolm In The Middle”, “Agent Cody Banks”), Carlos Bernard (“24”), Chris McDonald (“Cracking Up”, “Family Law”, “Happy Gilmore”) Melissa Joan Hart (“Sabrina The Teenage Witch”), Andrew Firestone (“The Bachelor”), Liza Snyder (“Yes Dear”), Andrea Parker (“Less Than Perfect”, “The Pretender”), Sean Astin (“The Lord of the Rings”), recording artist Lil’ Kim, sports star Laila Ali (Female Boxer and daughter of Muhammad Ali), media star Tony Potts (“Access Hollywood”), Cliff Cummings a TOYOTA Dealer, and Jill Pasant who was the high bidder (at $60,000) for the seat at last year’s charity auction. Joining YAMAHA Factory PWC Racer Mike Follmer in the pro category are last year’s celebrity and overall winner, Peter Reckell (“Days of our Lives”), 2002 Celebrity Champion and Olympic Gold Medal Swimmer Dara Torres, and Open wheel and sports car driver Max Papis.
Since the first TOYOTA Pro/Celebrity Race in 1977, almost 350 celebrities and professional drivers have competed in the event. TOYOTA will again donate $5,000 in each participants name to “Racing for Kids”, a national children’s charity program that will again benefit Miller Children’s Hospitals of Long Beach and Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC). “It is truly an honor to be invited to participate and represent YAMAHA Motor Corporation and the entire Personal Watercraft community in an event like this where the entire focus is to raise money for these two very worthy causes,” said Mike Follmer when asked to comment on his invitation.
Due to the short 10 lap race (19.7 miles) and the 30-second lead the celebrities have over the professionals, Follmer is keeping his expectations of winning the overall title in perspective. “Because the average race time is around 20 minutes, making up a 30 second deficit and then going on to pass 13 celebrities that are all there to win too is a very big challenge. I am confident that I can win the pro category, and with a little bit of luck, win the overall title too,” said Follmer.
All of the participants just completed their mandatory four days of Professional Driver’s Training at the Danny McKeever’s, Fast Lane Racing School at Willow Springs Race Course in Lancaster, California prior to the race weekend. “At hearing that I was going to have to spend four days in driver training I questioned what I could possibly learn that I hadn’t already experienced during my years racing automobiles, but after four very intense days of classroom and on-track training in the actual TRD race ready TOYOTA Celica GT-S’, I understand why even a seasoned veteran like myself can learn a lot about how to drive these front wheel drive rockets fast”, said Follmer about his weekend experience. Follmer was among the quickest driver’s during each phase of the on-track training sessions, but he was closely followed by a very smooth Dara Torres, 2002 winner and Peter Reckell, last years Celebrity winner.
The next opportunity for all of the competitors to be in their TOYOTA Celica GT-S race cars, and have their first chance to drive on the Long Beach race course will be on Press/Practice Day, Tuesday, April 6th. On that date they will have four 30-minute practice sessions during the day as well as a large amount of TV, newspaper, magazine and media interviews.