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Downtown San Jose is busy with activity as preparations are made for this weekends Taylor Woodrow Grand Prix of San Jose.
The party is on in downtown San Jose for the weekend.

The inaugural Taylor Woodrow Grand Prix of San Jose revs up today with three days of sleek, state-of-the-art race cars speeding around a 1.6-mile course through the streets of Northern California's largest city.

Featured will be the Champ Car World Series.

But it's also more, with many sideshows to go along with the racing, ranging from drifting competitions to motocross exhibitions on the track to off-track events designed to create a festival atmosphere.

Restaurants and hotels in the area expect booming business, and the night life of the nearby South First Street scene will beckon race-goers.

Two leading Champ Car racers are veteran Jimmy Vasser from Morgan Hill and A.J. Allmendinger from Los Gatos.

Vasser said he never imagined anything like this happening in San Jose.

"Naw, especially with Laguna Seca there," Vasser said. "You probably thought there would always be a Laguna, but I think the attendance had dropped over the years, and sports fans require more than just saying, 'Hey, we're puttingon an event and drop yourself in the dirt."

To be honest, Laguna has updated its spectator amenities quite a bit in recent years. Still, the popularity of the San Jose street race bodes well for continued growth.

By all indications, the event's first edition appears headed toward being a big success featuring the Champ Cars along with various support races.

Close to 120,000 fans are expected over three days with

30,000 today, 40,000 on Saturday and 50,000 on Sunday.

"You really need to give the fans a lot," Vasser said, "and I think you'll see that this weekend in San Jose.

"It's going to be a race, and I tell my friends to come out and see that, see all the sessions, the pits, but there also are going to be a lot of things going on on the periphery ... motocross exhibitions, other stuff. ... So take it all in."

The Champ Car Series has evolved in the past couple years after being bought in bankruptcy by a group led by Kevin Kalkhoven, who made his mark in the business world as a venture capitalist based in the Silicon Valley.

After engaging in a war with the budding Indy Racing League from 1996 through 2003, the Champ Car Series was in dire financial straits when Kalkhoven's group won a bid for the troubled series early in 2004.

Since then the series has been doing more and more street-course events in which the racing is taken to the casual fans, instead of trying to lure them to the more established tracks.

"We learned that early on in the first few months we had the series," Kalkhoven said. "The street courses were something the fans supported."

A new street race held two weeks ago in Edmonton, Canada, drew a crowd of 80,000 on the Sunday race day alone.

Bob Singleton, the general manager of the San Jose GP, a veteran of putting on such races in Vancouver and Toronto, said the trend from recent Champ Car races is a very good one.

"Toronto was a great race with very good crowds. Edmonton was a huge success," Singleton said, "San Jose is going to be a huge success, it appears, and then Denver. That's four very successful weeks of racing right there."

Besides the Champ Cars, Trans Am, Toyota Atlantic, US Touring Car and Historic Stock Cars also will stage races.

In the Champ Car Series, 2004 champion Sebastian Bourdais comes in holding a 21-point lead over second-place Paul Tracy, 182-161, after seven of the season's 14 races.

Allmendinger is in fifth place after crashes spoiled either a win or a top-three finish in each of the past two races, and Vasser is in sixth place.

Greg Pickett, a veteran from Alamo, won the Trans-Am Series race at Edmonton to become the first driver in the series to win a race in each of the past four decades.

In the Toyota Atlantic series, Katherine Legge of England won the season opener at Long Beach. The rookie became the first woman to win an open-wheel race in North America — in her first race in the series. Legge won for a second time at Edmonton.