Long Beach Preview

Although the NTT IndyCar Series is headed into the third race of the season, I feel like the season is finally underway for the first time. Going a month in between the first and second race of the season will do that to you. Now we are less than two weeks removed from a great race that people are still talking about, and we are already headed into another race. It seems that we are finally getting some momentum and rhythm to the season.

From what I understand, this weekend’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach is more of a motorsports event that happens to have a race going on in the center of it. I have never been to the Long Beach race, but it is certainly on my short list of races to attend before I hang up my keyboard. One thing I want to do while we are there is go aboard the majestic RMS Queen Mary, which sits in Long Beach Harbor and is visible from the main straightaway. I went onboard The Queen in 1971 as a kid, when it was still a relatively new Long Beach attraction. Whenever we finally make it to the race, I hope to return to the great ship more than fifty years later.

If you listened to Trackside, this past week, you heard Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee discuss how Long Beach may be the No. 2 destination for IndyCar fans, just behind the Indianapolis 500. Kevin was more leaning toward St. Petersburg, since it is the season-opener and it is a relatively close warm-weather destination for IndyCar fans in the Indianapolis area. Curt argued that Long Beach and Southern California was more of a car culture area, and that the fans who attended Long Beach were rabid racing fans. It’s hard to argue with Curt, given some of the names over the years that have grown up in the area. Names like Bob Sweikert, AJ Watson, Carroll Shelby, Parnelli Jones, Dan Gurney, Joe Leonard and Rick Mears are just a few that were either born in Southern California or grew up in the area. All of those names from the past still have a huge following there today.

The names of Long Beach winners over the years, reads like a Who’s Who in Racing. The first Grand Prix of Long Beach was a Formula 5000 race in 1975, won by Brian Redman. From 1976 through 1983, Long Beach was a regular stop on the Formula One schedule. F1 winners included Mario Andretti, Clay Regazzoni, Gilles Villeneuve, Nelson Piquet and Niki Lauda. The race has been an IndyCar race since 1984.

Notable IndyCar winners include Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti, Danny Sullivan, Paul Tracy, Jimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi, Juan Montoya, Helio Castroneves, Sébastien Bourdais, Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dario Franchitti, Mike Conway, Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud, Takuma Sato, James Hinchcliffe, Colton Herta and Josef Newgarden. By the way, the King of the Beach is Al Unser, Jr., who won this race a record six times.

In that list of IndyCar drivers; there are nineteen Indianapolis 500 wins represented, as well as thirty IndyCar championships. In that list of IndyCar winners at Long Beach, only Mike Conway, James Hinchcliffe and Colton Herta have won at Long Beach, without winning an IndyCar championship or the Indianapolis 500. The translation of all that is that flukes rarely happen at Long Beach.

This is an important race for a couple of reasons. First of all, It is one of those trophies that any drivers wants to have. Winning at Long Beach is one of those accolades a driver will appreciate after their driving days are over. While we fans can name many boring races from Long Beach, drivers look at this race as one they really want to win. It’s also important for a few drivers that are already in need of a good result, after their seasons have gotten off to a less-than-stellar start.

The 1.968-mile, eleven turn temporary street circuit is not the best track to get a good result if you do not qualify well. There is not a ton of passing zones on the course. There is the sharp left-hander at the end of the scenic long main straightaway along Shoreline Drive. This is the section that is highlighted by the Queen Mary sitting off in the distance. The area that winds through the signature Fountain Turn leads into Turn Four. This has been the site of a few ambitious moves that have ended poorly for some drivers. The Turn Ten area that leads to the Turn Eleven hairpin is an inviting area to pass, but some have been bitten in that area as well.

Romain Grosjean has driven well so far this season and was actually in a position to win both races, but he only has a fourteenth and an eighteenth-place finish to show for it and currently sits fifteenth in points. He’s not driving for his job, but he needs a good finish to get his season back on track. I suspect he will do well at Long Beach this weekend.

After their disastrous weekend at Texas, all three of the Rahal Letterman Lanigan drivers need a strong weekend at Long Beach. Graham Rahal, Christian Lundgaard and Jack Harvey currently sit thirteenth, fourteenth and twenty-second in points, respectivlely.

The Meyer Shank Racing (MSR) cars are both in need of a good weekend. Helio Castroneves is seventeenth after a decent tenth-place finish at Texas, but Simon Pagenaud is sitting twenty-fourth in points – one position behind Marcus Armstrong, who did not even race at Texas. Ouch! Both MSR cars need a strong weekend at Long Beach, but especially Pagenaud.

Alexander Rossi finished fourth at St. Petersburg, but his pit mishap with Kyle Kirkwood relegated him to a twenty-second finish at Texas. Rossi needs to rebound, because expectations are high for him at McLaren. Hew is currently ninth, but he needs to raise that this weekend. Speaking of Kirkwood, he is another needing a good finish. He has driven well, but has not had good results and currently sits nineteenth in points.

The Ed Carpenter Racing (ECR) cars are both down in the point standings, as they have both had disappointing efforts. Rinus VeeKay is sixteenth in points and Conor Daly currently sits in eighteenth. Both need a good finish before the season gets away from them in April.

On the other end of the spectrum, several drivers are having fine seasons, and they don’t want to lose their momentum heading into May. Two consecutive second-place finishes have put Pato O’Ward into the points lead, ahead of St. Petersburg winner Marcus Ericsson. Two solid drives have Scott Dixon quietly lurking in third place, while winning Texas has vaulted Josef Newgarden up to fourth, after a very forgettable drive at St. Petersburg. Alex Palou quietly sits fifth in points.

With this being a west coast race, Friday’s practice does not get underway until 6:00 pm EDT on Peacock. Then the Saturday morning practice starts at 11:45 am EDT, with Qualifications beginning at 3:05 pm Saturday afternoon on Peacock. On Sunday, there will be a morning warm-up at Noon on Peacock, then the race will be shown at 3:00 pm Sunday on Big NBC.

Whose race am I going to ruin by picking them to win this week? The smart money should probably be on Josef Newgarden, but I’m not that smart. Alexander Rossi won at Long Beach two years in a row, in 2018-19. I was really tempted to pick him, and probably should. But after seeing two strong races this season, I think Romain Grosjean is ready to step up and finally complete the deal to break through into the win column. This is the weekend Grosjean gets his first IndyCar win, putting the disappointments of the past two races behind him. We’ll see.

George Phillips

2 Responses to “Long Beach Preview”

  1. billytheskink Says:

    Lots of cars on a short and narrow street race, could get messy.

    This should be a good place for the Andretti cars to start making their mark on the standings, if they are capable of doing that. If Herta wants to earn his super license points this season, he’ll need to finishing up front at Long Beach and places like it. Will be curious to see if the good performances and fortune continue for the JHR drivers.

  2. difficult to pick a winner before practice and qualifying

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