INDYCAR Pre-Race Media: Long Beach Track Trends, race preview for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach

TRACK: Streets of Long Beach (1.968-mile, 11-turn street course), DISTANCE: 85 Laps (167 miles)

TRACK HISTORY/TRENDS

  • 5 of the last 6 Long Beach winners started in the top 2 Rows. Colton Herta was 14th last year.
  • We’ve had 6 different teams win the last 8 races on the streets of Long Beach.
  • We’ve had 9 different drivers win the last 12 street course races in general but they all hail from either Penske, Ganassi, Andretti or Arrow McLaren SP.
  • 3 of the last 6 races at Long Beach saw 1 or fewer caution.
  • The 4 of the last 5 years have seen 6 different lead changes in each with last year being 7.

Prime Sports Network/RRO Video Preview Here

Long Beach Odds here

Indy 500 Odds here

TRACK COMPARISONS/WHO’S BEEN GOOD ON THEM

Long Beach being a street course is unique in the sense that we don’t have many of them on the schedule. In 2020 there was just one – St. Pete. Last year, we have a few more in Long Beach, Belle Isle and Nashville joining St. Pete. These are the best comparisons to the scenic southern California street course in the fact that the top drivers on those places are also good at St. Pete too.

As far as who’s good on them, look no further than Josef Newgarden. Since the start of the 2019 season, Newgarden is one of just three multi-time winners on them with three trips to victory lane on these types of tracks, two of which coming on the streets of St. Pete alone.

Marcus Ericsson (Belle Isle, Nashville) and Colton Herta (St. Pete, Long Beach) each scored two wins on them last year though. Scott McLaughlin (Penske) won the season opener in St. Pete this year.

You notice by the names, it’s the big teams good on street courses.

Penske has won five of those last 11 races and Andretti scoring three wins and Ganassi two themselves. Arrow McLaren SP has the other victory in that span.

Newgarden, Herta, Ericsson and O’Ward though have been the strongest the last couple of seasons on these tracks and I suspect they will be again on Sunday. They went 1-2 (Newgarden, O’Ward) in the 2020 season finale at St. Pete and the only reason it wasn’t 1-2-3 was due to Herta’s late race misfortunes.

They went 1-2 again (Herta, Newgarden) at St. Pete last year with Ericsson in seventh for a second straight year on the Florida circuit. In Belle Isle, it was 1-3 (Ericsson, O’Ward) in Race 1 and 1-2-4-9 (O’Ward, Newgarden, Herta, Ericsson) in Race 2. Ericsson won Nashville last August and Herta-Newgarden going 1-2 at Long Beach last September.

This past spring, it was McLaughlin-Alex Palou-Will Power on the podium that day.

The thing is though, while Newgarden, Herta, Ericsson and O’Ward were the best last year, we’ve also had a lot of parity on these circuits too.

If you go back to Race 2 at Belle Isle in 2019, we’ve had seven different winners on street courses (Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud, Newgarden, Herta, Ericsson and O’Ward, Ericsson, Herta, McLaughlin) in the last 10 races run on them. In fact, we’ve had eight different winners in the last 11 if you throw in Alexander Rossi’s 2019 triumph at Long Beach too.

One driver not mentioned is Will Power. He’s one of the most accomplished street circuit racers too, earning 15 of his 40 career Indy-car wins on these types of layouts but his last coming in 2016. He was on the podium in St. Pete this February and also did have a trio of top-10 finishes in last season’s street races, but his best effort actually came in the first race at Detroit where he finished 20th. He had led a race-high 37 laps and was leading when a red flag halted the race for an on-track incident. Power’s car would not fire back up due to an electrical issue when the race resumed with five laps to go and Ericsson became the benefactor of his misfortune.

Power (2-time Long Beach winner) and Palou who in seven prior starts on street courses had finishes of 13th, 17th, 15th, 3rd, 7th, 4th and 2nd respectively are the top drivers to keep this streak going. Power, is with Penske and for Palou, a Ganssi driver, went from no top 10’s in his first three street course starts to three top four’s in his next four.


Favorites

Josef Newgarden

He has never won Long Beach but does have three podiums in his last four tries including six straight top 10’s. He’s had seven top twos in his last 10 street races starts including right here last September. He’s coming off of a win in Texas. The thing is, he’s only went back-to-back in terms of 2 straight wins just once in his career (2017). That includes his five win Indy Lights season back in 2011 too.

Scott Dixon

He’s had five top four finishes in his last six Long Beach tries. That comes after scoring just one in his previous eight starts in Long Beach. Sounds like his last few seasons. He has a pair of top 10s in two races run this season but has just 1 win in his last 24 starts overall dating back to the second Gateway race in 2020. He had six wins in the 20 races prior as this span between wins is the second longest of his career. The other was 39 races between wins at Richmond in 2003 and Watkins Glen in 2005 as well as 36 races between his win in Nazareth during the 2001 season and his next victory in the 2003 season opener in Homestead. In fact, Dixon has just 6 podiums in his last 24 starts compared to 20 in his previous 31. Can he come out of this slump this weekend?

Will Power

He’s scored two wins and three runner-ups at Long Beach including three top sevens in his last five starts there. He was third and fourth to start the season off with too.

Alexander Rossi

He’s dominated in two of his last three Long Beach starts but has had some bad luck since.

Colton Herta

He led 43 of 85 laps from the 14th place starting position here last year in his dominating win. He led 97 of 100 laps in the 2021 season opener at St. Pete and was fourth in St. Pete back in February.


Sleepers

Alex Palou

Palou, would admit, that street courses were his Achilles Heel in this series. To come away with a podium on one already this season makes him thrilled at the future.

“I’m really, really happy about that,” he said of his recent street course results. “Street courses, I think when I first joined INDYCAR, I just did like three races on street courses before joining INDYCAR, so I think it’s just experience and confidence. Yeah, getting more confidence every time, and hopefully we can keep on scoring good results on street courses.”

In six prior starts on them, his finishes were 13th, 17th, 15th, 3rd, 7th and 4th respectively. Now, he’s second and as you can see, he’s improving greatly in going from no top 10’s in his first three to three top four’s in his next four.

Marcus Ericsson

His only two career wins are on street courses and both came last year. He also now sits fifth in points after a pair of top 10’s to start the season off with.

Simon Pagenaud

He’s a past winner and has four top seven finishes in his last five Long Beach starts.

Graham Rahal

This has always been a good race for him. Rahal, has two top five finishes in his last three Long Beach starts including four top 10’s in his last eight tries.

Helio Castroneves

Helio has three top 10 finishes here in his last four tries including two of his last four on the podium. He qualified third for this race a year ago.


Preview

Team Penske is 2-for-2 this season but hasn’t won on the streets of Long Beach since 2016. In fact, that’s their only win in the last 8 tries on the scenic street circuit. Andretti Autosport has won 3 in-a-row there in dominating fashion. However, they’re reeling starting this season off with.

So, who wins Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach (3 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network)?

The drivers note that the Aeroscreen was the only major change between the 2019 race and the one last year as the season finale. Yes, the event was held in September compared to the normal race weekend in April and no we didn’t race here in 2020, but the new safety device changed the way that these cars handled in a sense that the bumps seemed different.

Then the teams each all looked at the data and noticed that honestly they truly didn’t. It was just that there was an Aeroscreen now compared to then that was more sensitive to vertical movement.

They’ve all adapted. Now, Firestone has thrown the teams for a loop. There’s a new compound for each the blacks and reds which has changed things again.

“The tires were very different,” Colton Herta said who dominated St. Pete and Long Beach last year. “Both the compounds are different this year compared to last year.”

He says that probably allowed Penske to close that gap to them this offseason. But, they also have a smoking gun in their camp with MSR driver Simon Pagenaud. MSR is an alliance team to Andretti and Pagenaud is also a former Penske driver, just as recent as last year to be exact and he has some ideas too which Herta says is interesting.

Can Andretti now close Penske’s gap this weekend?

Ganassi struggled in St. Pete for maybe the same reasons as Andretti did. They were off in practice and even qualifying but found their ways back towards the front with 3 of their 4 cars in the top 10 at the end of the day.

Alex Palou was runner-up which excites him to improve more and more on street courses.

“I’m really, really happy about that,” he said of his recent street course results. “Street courses, I think when I first joined INDYCAR, I just did like three races on street courses before joining INDYCAR, so I think it’s just experience and confidence. Yeah, getting more confidence every time, and hopefully we can keep on scoring good results on street courses.”

In six prior starts on them, his finishes were 13th, 17th, 15th, 3rd, 7th and 4th respectively. Now, he’s second and as you can see, he’s improving greatly in going from no top 10’s in his first three to three top four’s in his next four.

Does this open the door for him? Last time he was here, he was celebrating a championship.

Of Note

  • 5 of the last 6 Long Beach winners started in the top 2 Rows.
  • We’ve had 6 different teams win the last 8 races in Long Beach.

Key Stat

Out of 26 career INDYCAR and Indy Lights victories, Newgarden has only won back-to-back races just once (2017). He’s coming off of a win in Texas but is winless in 9 Long Beach starts too. Can he pick up the rare feat on Sunday?

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