Long Beach Preview

Although it has barely been six months since it ran, it is time once again for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. It has been three years since this race took place during its traditional April date. The 2020 race was completely cancelled due to COVID, and last year’s race was scheduled as the season-finale as a precaution. Before last year, the last time Long Beach was run outside of the month of April was in 1984 – the first year it ran under the sanction of CART.

After last year’s race, many fans were clamoring for Long Beach to run as the IndyCar season finale every year. I was glad that IndyCar, nor race organizers listened. This race was meant to be run in the spring. Southern California is a nice destination if you’ve been cooped up throughout a rough winter. After a long summer, the heat of southern California in late September just doesn’t have the same appeal.

I say that like I’m a veteran of this race, and we go every year. Although I’ve been to the City of Long Beach a couple of times, I’ve never been to the race there. It has been on my list of races to attend soon, but COVID has changed those plans. California has been a tough place to make travel plans to for the last couple of years. I am hopeful; that by next year, COVID will be a distant memory and that Susan’s health will continue to improve so that we can put Long Beach on our list of races for 2023.

As many good things as I hear about attending Long Beach, the racing sometimes takes a back seat to the events of the weekend. I’ll compare it to what I know. It sounds an awful lot like the Music City Grand Prix. Both offer the chance for fans to attend and walk away very happy, even if they never saw a race car. Both appear to be outstanding events to attend, and both can produce some dramatic looking shots for television; but the racing can be just so-so.

The Indy cars have raced at Long Beach thirty-seven times, while they’ve raced one time in downtown Nashville. In those previous thirty-seven race, Long Beach has produced some outstanding races and it has also produced some duds. I’m hoping fans cans be as patient with Nashville, as they have been with Long Beach.

Last year, Colton Herta led forty-three of the eighty-five laps at Long Beach on his way to victory. Josef Newgarden won the pole, but led only eighteen laps as he finished second. Scott Dixon finished third, while his teammate Alex Palou was trying to stay out of trouble on his way to wrapping up the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series championship in only his second season. Simon Pagenaud finished fifth, in what was his final drive for Team Penske.

There will be seven former Long Beach winners in Sunday’s race – including two former winners (Will Power and Alexander Rossi). Andretti Autosport has won the last three races at Long Beach; but Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing have won six apiece at the beach.

Long Beach can produce some surprise winners also. Just since 2008, Long Beach has been won by teams such as KV Racing Technologies, AJ Foyt Enterprises, Ed Carpenter Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports; featuring surprise winning drivers such as Mike Conway, James Hinchcliffe and Takuma Sato. If you get hot at The Beach, your name is immortalized; as this is considered the most important race on the IndyCar schedule outside of Indianapolis.

While attendance at places like Texas has withered over the past few seasons, Long Beach attendance has exploded. Sales for this year are reported to be very brisk, and this year sounds as if it could be a record – at least under the current IndyCar umbrella.

While Penske and Ganassi lead current teams at Long Beach with six wins each, Newman/Haas deserves a tip of the hat for their six wins back in the day. In fact, they started things off with Mario Andretti winning the first CART-sanctioned Long Beach race back in 1984. Mario and Paul Tracy each won Long Beach four times, But the undisputed King of the Beach is Al Unser, Jr.; who on a record six times at Long Beach, with all six of his wins coming between 1988 and 1995.

Other legendary (IndyCar) names to win at Long Beach include Michael Andretti (twice), Danny Sullivan, Jimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi, Juan Montoya, Helio Castroneves, Sébastien Bourdais (three times), Dario Franchitti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud.

With this being a west coast race, you can expect some late TV times. Friday’s one-hour opening practice will be shown live on Peacock beginning at 6:15 pm EDT. Practice Two begins at 11:45 am EDT on Peacock. Qualifying will get underway on Saturday afternoon at 3:00 pm EDT on Peacock. Sunday’s morning warm-up will be shown on Peacock at Noon EDT, and the race coverage begins on Big NBC at 3:00 pm EDT, with a post-race show on Peacock following the race.

Who will take the checkered flag this Sunday? I am predicting that it will be one of the former winners in the field. Colton Herta broke through last year, I don’t think we will have two breakthrough winners in six months at Long Beach. I am going with the team that won the race last year, but the driver that won it in 2018-19. That’s right, I’m picking Alexander Rossi to escape the dark cloud that has followed him around for more than two seasons. No one can have as much bad luck as he has had since the beginning of the 2020 season. I think his luck will change this weekend, and in a big way. We’ll see.

George Phillips

3 Responses to “Long Beach Preview”

  1. billytheskink Says:

    Seems like a chance for Andretti’s squad to rebound. Will be interesting to see if Newgarden finds the front row qualifying speed that he has yet to show this year, it would do wonders for his championship hopes. Rossi and O’Ward in particular have their backs up against the wall as championship hopefuls, they will need to start making a move up the points table this weekend to have a chance to contend this year.

  2. OliverW Says:

    Bourdais if he gets Jimmys car !!

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