By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
The biggest street course race of the season will commence this weekend in Long Beach. It’s the site of the third race in a span of eight weeks as 26 drivers hope to leave Southern California victorious. For some racers, a performance that’ll get their season on the right track.
Only this time, it’ll be back in its traditional spring date for the first time since 2019 as last year’s race was held last September. As for its future, Long Beach will take place at least through 2028, so the grand prix tradition will continue in the foreseeable future.
Despite two races in the books, two teams stand out for right and wrong reasons. Team Penske are hoping to continue its winning ways this weekend following triumphs by Scott McLaughlin at St. Petersburg and Josef Newgarden at Texas.
A Penske entry haven’t won in Long Beach since Simon Pagenaud in 2016. Since then, all but one race has been won by a single team, who are desperate of turning their season around — that being Andretti Autosport.
Texas was an absolute disaster for the entire organization. Reliability woes and controversial incidents defined their “Lone Star” misery of which they’re eager of putting behind.
Colton Herta is the defending race winner with Alexander Rossi winning in 2018 and 2019. The latter hasn’t won since Road America in 2019 and currently sits 27th in points. Only teammate Devlin DeFrancesco is behind Rossi among the full-time drivers.
With Herta being a part of McLaren F1’s test driving role, a strong INDYCAR performance is key should he be considered a serious title contender. A potential turnaround couldn’t happen at an ideal time, but time will tell which version of Herta will show up. The one who’ll dominate the weekend or be a non-factor.
On top of having IMSA, Stadium SUPER Trucks and Formula Drift, Long Beach won’t lack any action this weekend. As usual, the party and racing madness will unfold in front of the Southern California crowd.
By the Numbers
What: 47th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, NTT IndyCar Series Race No. 3 of 17
Where: Streets of Long Beach – Long Beach, California (Opened: 1975, first INDYCAR event was 1984)
When: Sunday, April 10
TV/Radio: NBC/Peacock/INDYCAR Radio Network (SiriusXM Channel 160), 3:00 pm ET
Track Size: 1.968-mile street course
Race Length: 85 laps, 167.28 miles
2021 Race Winner: Colton Herta – No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda (Started 14th, 43 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Helio Castroneves – No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet (66.2254 seconds, 106.980 mph – April 8, 2017)
From the Driver’s Seat
Josef Newgarden – No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet
“Truly there’s not a track that we go to that I’m ever sad or disappointed to go to, and Long Beach has been good to us. Two seconds the last two years hurts a bit. I would like to get a win there. We’ve been close before so, we’ve just got to figure out how to close the deal. That’s as simple as that.
“If we have a weak place, we’re going to make it a strong place, and I feel like Long Beach has been getting there slowly for us. It’s definitely become a strength, and we just need a little bit more to close the deal and feel like we can do that this weekend.”
Alex Palou – No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
“I’m super excited for Long Beach. Obviously it’s super special for me. It was the first time last year, but getting the championship here was just amazing. Everything I did before in preparation and the days I spent after it with the media tour and all that stuff, so super excited.
“The best memory was winning, obviously. When we were in victory — well, it’s not victory lane, but when we had all the team there celebrating with the trophy, it felt really special. We had a good start of the season so far. Can’t wait to try and get the first win of the season.”
Last Time at Long Beach
Southern California was the scene of last season’s championship deciding race nearly seven months ago. Three drivers were fighting for the title and those were Alex Palou, Pato O’Ward and Josef Newgarden.
The latter led the field to green where the title battle went south for O’Ward, who got turned by Ed Jones before the opening lap was completed. O’Ward never fully recovered and lost out on the championship.
From the 14th starting position, Colton Herta would ultimately be out front and never looked back as he ended the 2021 campaign with back-to-back wins in the state of California.
Not only it was Herta’s gratifying triumph, in large part that outside of the Indy 500 — Long Beach is his biggest race.
“What a good car that we’ve come here with,” said Herta. “We’ve actually done numerous changes this weekend, but one very minor change that stuck on the car. It just shows what kind of car we brought do this race weekend.
“It was perfect. Without the muff-up in qualifying, I think we could have had a great shot at pole, have another dominant race. It was fun to come from the back. A little bit more stressful, but it was a lot of fun.”
Newgarden fought hard but ended up second in the race and championship. Quietly crossing the line in fourth was Palou, who ended up hoisting the Astor Cup in his first season with Chip Ganassi Racing.
Palou ended up beating Newgarden in the championship trail by 38 points.
“Man, what a season. What a season. I cannot really believe it. I’m super happy,” said Palou. “We worked so, so hard. Getting into the season finale, this place, didn’t know the track, but the guys gave me a really good car. They gave me good strategies.
“Today we went from P10 to P4, right? Just amazing, super happy. I think all the season we were super consistent. Feels amazing to be a champion. I want to do it again now.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Friday, April 8
- NTT IndyCar Series Practice No. 1 (6:15 pm to 7:15 pm – Peacock)
Saturday, April 9
- NTT IndyCar Series Practice No. 2 (11:45 am to 12:45 pm – Peacock)
- NTT IndyCar Series Qualifying (3:00 pm to 4:300 pm – Peacock)
Sunday, April 10
- NTT IndyCar Series Warmup (Noon to 12:30 pm – Peacock)
- NTT IndyCar Series Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach (3:00 pm – 85 laps, 167.28 miles – NBC/Peacock/SiriusXM)
- NTT IndyCar Series Post-Race Show (Approx. 6:00 pm – Peacock)