LONG BEACH, California – Being a past winner of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach paid off in practice today for Sunday’s 35th Indy car race on the famous street course in Southern California.
All seven prior race winners entered this year finished in the top 10 on the combined timesheet for the two sessions on the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary circuit. Scott Dixon, the 2015 Long Beach race winner, was quickest for the day with a lap of 1 minute, 8.4112 seconds (103.562 mph) logged in the first of the 45-minute practices.
Many drivers, Dixon included, were surprised that lap times in the second session were slower overall, even though each team ran a set of the softer Firestone alternate tires.
“This afternoon was definitely a bit of a different story; really struggled with front grip,” said Dixon, the four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion whose 41 career wins rank fourth on the all-time list. “It seemed like the temperature really affected our car.
“There were a couple others that went quite fast in that session on the red (alternate) tires, and I actually had to do almost a long run on my reds to get them to work. I think I did my quickest time on Lap 7 or 8 (of the stint). It was kind of an interesting session for us, but I think the car is kind of there. It’s just going to take a little bit to get it right.”
Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay – the 2010 Long Beach winner – was second quick with a first-session lap of 1:08.4285 (103.536 mph) in the No. 28 DHL Honda. Alexander Rossi, Hunter-Reay’s teammate driving the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda, led the second practice and was third for the day, at 1:08.5567 (103.342 mph).
“We’re going to need to find that gap was Scott was referring to between the cooler track temps and when it heated up,” said Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champion. “It became quite a bit more difficult to get the lap time out of the car. Kind of a bit of a challenge there. It seems like everybody has their work set out for them.”
Other previous Long Beach winners who landed in the top 10 in practice today were: Simon Pagenaud, fourth in the No. 22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet; defending Long Beach winner James Hinchcliffe, fifth in the No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda; Takuma Sato, sixth in the No. 30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Honda; Will Power, eighth in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet; and Sebastien Bourdais, 10th in the No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda.
Meanwhile, newcomers to the track spent the day feeling their way around it. Andretti Autosport’s Zach Veach was best of the seven rookies, 13th on the overall chart.
“The car was different to drive – we were having some problems in the turning in mid-corner – but it was also my first day here, learning the track and everything,” said Matheus “Matt” Leist, who was 23rd of the 24 drivers in the No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet. “Tomorrow is a new day, we can only move forward from here.”
A final 45-minute practice prior to qualifying starts at 1:45 p.m. ET Saturday and streams live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. The battle for the Verizon P1 Award, featuring three rounds of progressive knockout qualifications, begins at 6:30 p.m. and airs live on NBCSN.
Live coverage of the 85-lap race commences at 4 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.