Long Beach Preview

Posted in IndyCar on September 24, 2021 by Oilpressure

The 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season will come to a close on Sunday afternoon. It will happen at one of the most iconic sites that the series visits – The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. We all know that this race normally runs in April. We also know that it did not run at all last year due to the pandemic. Just to be on the safe side, race organizers made the decision to run the race in September – just to get it way past COVID. Hindsight is 20/20, but California was still under a fairly heavy lockdown in mid-April.

Although things have heated back up again, I still think it was probably wise to move it to September as a one-time season-finale. This event will run again in seven months, but it’s been seventeen months since racing took place om the streets of Long Beach. It’s better to see it late, than never.

As most of you know, Long Beach is the second longest continually running event on the schedule, after the Indianapolis 500. I don’t consider 2020 a break in that streak, since it was originally scheduled to run. COVID ended a lot of streaks, so we just ignored that they happened.

Long Beach has been staging a Grand Prix since 1975, when they hosted a Formula 5000 race, won by Brian Redman. From 1976 through 1983, it was part of the Formula One schedule. Winners of the F1 races at Long Beach included legendary names like Clay Regazzoni, Mario Andretti, Carlos Reutemann, Gilles Villeneuve, Nelson Piquet and Niki Lauda.

Beginning in 1984, the event switched over to a CART race. The streets of Long Beach have hosted IndyCar races ever since. It was also the site of the final Champ Car race in 2008, after the open-wheel reunification. Famous IndyCar winners at Long Beach include Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti, Danny Sullivan, Paul Tracy, Jimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi, Juan Montoya, Sébastien Bourdais, Will Power, Dario Franchitti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud. Of course, the “King of the Beach” is Al Unser, Jr., who has won at Long Beach six times. What’s the common denominator of all of those drivers? Each of them has won an IndyCar championship at least once.

Only Mike Conway, Takuma Sato, James Hinchcliffe and Alexander Rossi have won at Long Beach without ever winning an IndyCar championship. There aren’t a whole lot of “fluky” race winners at Long Beach. Rossi has won the past two races at Long Beach – completely dominating the race in 2019, leading eighty of the eighty-five laps.

Long Beach rookies don’t usually fare well. Just ask Josef Newgarden, who started on the front row as a rookie alongside pole sitter Dario Franchitti in 2012. Newgarden didn’t make it past the first turn. Curiously enough, this is one of the tracks where Newgarden has never won in an Indy car.

For the first (and hopefully only) time ever, IndyCar will crown its champion at Long Beach. Alex Palou has a commanding thirty-five point lead over Pato O’Ward. It is NBC’s job to create suspense and drama surrounding this championship, but in reality – there shouldn’t be a whole lot of drama. O’Ward has to win the pole, win the race and lead the most laps in order to have a shot. Even then, if Palou finishes somewhere mid-pack (I’ve heard anywhere from fifteenth to eleventh), he wins the championship. Most likely, O’Ward would need for Palou to crash out early in order to have a shot to win – even when winning the race. I will be shocked if Palou is not hoisting the Astor Challenge Trophy on Sunday afternoon.

Not only will a champion be crowned, but the IndyCar Rookie of the Year will be decided. Fulltime driver Scott McLaughlin has a twenty-point lead over Romain Grosjean, who missed three of the ovals – including the double-points paying Indianapolis 500, which is essentially the same as missing four races. I think one of the most overlooked accomplishments of the 2021 season is how close Grosjean is in the Rookie of the Year battle, even after missing so many opportunities to score points. If the Grosjean wins it, does it speak to his ability or McLaughlin’s lackluster season?

Like Laguna Seca, this will be a three-day show. Practice One begins at 6:00 pm EDT (3:00 pm local time) on Friday, and will be shown live and archived on Peacock.Practice Two begins at Noon EDT on Saturday on Peacock, with Qualifying being shown live on NBCSN at 3:00 PM EDT. The morning warmup will take place at Noon EDT on Sunday on Peacock. The race coverage on NBCSN begins at 3:00 EDT. With NBCSN going away in December, this will be the final IndyCar event shown on the channel that was once known as Versus. It’s been a good run.

There is also a race winner to celebrate. Unless Palou wins the race on Sunday, the race winner will be lost in obscurity. Susan and I have been to two IndyCar season-finales – Fontana in 2013 and Sonoma in 2018. Both times, the race winners (Will Power at Fontana and Ryan Hunter-Reay at Sonoma) were completely overshadowed by that season’s champions (Scott Dixon both times).

I don’t expect Palou to win the race on Sunday. Although he says he will be going for the win, he would be foolish to be overly aggressive when he just needs to finish mid-pack to clinch the championship. I have an idea that team officials will convince him to be just a little careful on Sunday. That means that someone with nothing to lose will most likely win at Long Beach on Sunday. Who do I think will win? Alexander Rossi will win his third consecutive race at Long Beach and end almost two and a half years of winless frustration. This would be Rossi’s first win since Road America in June of 2019. We’ll see.

George Phillips

Some Fans Just Have to Complain

Posted in IndyCar on September 22, 2021 by Oilpressure

The NTT IndyCar Series released the 2022 IndyCar schedule this past weekend at Laguna Seca. There were some changes, and some were rather significant. No matter what the series did, people would gripe about it. The Legions of the Miserable certainly did not disappoint this weekend.

Continue reading

Random Thoughts on Laguna Seca

Posted in IndyCar on September 20, 2021 by Oilpressure

There is something in the genetic makeup within the Herta family that makes them untouchable at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Half of Bryan Herta’s career IndyCar wins came at the famous track near Monterey, California. Now his son, Colton, is undefeated in an Indy car at the track in two attempts. Not only did Colton win both of the IndyCar races he has participated in at Laguna Seca – he has dominated them. He won the pole both times and led almost all of the laps in both races, except for stop shuffles.

Continue reading

Laguna Seca Preview

Posted in IndyCar on September 17, 2021 by Oilpressure

The second race in the so-called west-coast swing for the NTT IndyCar Series takes place this weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca near Monterey, California. After this weekend, there will be only one remaining race to decide the IndyCar championship – next weekend at Long Beach.

Continue reading

Jumping in Bed With the Devil

Posted in IndyCar on September 15, 2021 by Oilpressure

Yesterday morning, Adam Stern of the Sports Business Journal confirmed what we have been hearing for a couple of weeks. World Wide Technology Raceway (WWTR – formerly known as Gateway) will host a NASCAR Cup Race in 2022, on June 5.

Continue reading

Random Thoughts on Portland

Posted in IndyCar on September 13, 2021 by Oilpressure

No one ever said that a race had to have a lot of daring passes to be interesting. While fans of some series insist that there must be lots of rubbin’ to be a race, fans of the NTT IndyCar Series realize that they can actually have both. The Grand Prix of Portland provided something for everyone.

Continue reading

Portland Preview

Posted in IndyCar on September 10, 2021 by Oilpressure

The NTT IndyCar Series begins a final flurry of action this weekend as the so-called “west coast swing” gets underway. The first of the three west coast races over three weekends will take place at Portland. Normally, the season would be wrapping up next weekend at Laguna Seca, but concerns over COVID forced promoters for Long Beach to move it from their traditional April date to the end of the season this year. In hindsight, it may have been better ton run it in April.

Continue reading