Which Weekend Is Better For Long Beach, April Or September?
For the first time ever, Long Beach last year served as the championship deciding race for the NTT IndyCar Series. This was actually the fourth straight year and with it being in Laguna Seca this year will be a fifth straight time that a different track has hosted the season finale. In turn, that brings up a legitimate question, should the last race of the season get moved around each year and if so, should Long Beach be in the rotation?
In 2018 we ended the year in Sonoma. A year later, Sonoma was replaced by Laguna Seca. For 2020, since we couldn’t go west due to COVID, the last race was held on the streets of St. Pete. Last year, COVID moved Long Beach back to September which served as the final race. This year will be a fifth as we go back to Laguna on Sept. 11.
Now that we’ve moved it around in each of the last five years, should INDYCAR start allowing tracks to bid on the final race? Could that be an extra stream of revenue coming in?
I mean NASCAR has discussed this the last few years but haven’t ever actually done it. They ended the year in the playoff format from 2004 through 2019 in Homestead. In 2020 they moved it to Phoenix as they’ll end the year out west for this year and next too. Which brought the question up as why aren’t they moving it around like they initially discussed?
INDYCAR, due to some unforeseen circumstances, has. I mean, look at the Super Bowl. It’s moved around each year. So is the NCAA Tournament. Big championship deciding events are shuffled around each year. INDYCAR has indirectly done that the last four years and makes you wonder if that should stay.
Some current drivers are open to it. They even have a perfect track in mind to go to soon.
“Like an oval I think is a perfect scenario, if it’s a great racing oval,” six-time champion Scott Dixon said. “Like an Iowa would be insane. Maybe it doesn’t work for the time of year.”
Josef Newgarden agreed on Iowa too.
“I would also agree, an oval is fun, too. Iowa would be super crazy, but probably not the right place to end the year.”
It wouldn’t be terrible. Iowa in September isn’t bad and the weather may actually be more favorable.
Part of the argument though would be that it makes it an even bigger event. It’s not just another race on the schedule that so happens to crown a champion. The track and the series would build it up. Plus, it doesn’t give a distinct advantage to any one driver each year if a certain track remains as the last race and that driver may or may not be good there.
With being a bigger event too, I feel like a case can also be made to keep Long Beach in this spot and not where it is back now. I get that the April date is tradition, but this being the season finale just felt right last year.
April’s race to me gets overshadowed a month later by Indy. This separates the two.
Plus, I can make a case that the season finale weekend in Long Beach felt bigger. It’s not just another race that happens to be a crown jewel. It sets a championship. It feels right to be honest.
Being able to finish a race in a major market like Los Angeles and to do so in a race that has favorable weather and you get what I feel a perfect scenario.
“It’s great to be back. I don’t know, now that you’re here in the space, it feels like normal Long Beach in a lot of ways,” Josef Newgarden said last year. “Just being in L.A., it’s a great market to end the year. I think that adds an element to it that should probably be talked about.
“There’s a lot that goes into it, right? There’s so many other logistics, other variables to consider. Yeah, if you’re looking at it from a pure excitement standpoint, it’s interesting. It adds an element of chaos sometimes which can be very exhilarating.”
Dixon says that if you do a street course race as the finale, this is the place to do so.
“I think if you’re going to have a street course, this is the one,” Dixon said. “Look at last year, we were just talking about points, Pato and the points fight this year, how it’s kind of similar, their starting positions are kind of similar. Josef won the race last year. I got on the podium as well. It was chaotic, man. There was a lot of passing, a lot of close moments.
“I think St. Pete played really well. I think Long Beach will play really well as well.”
From 1985 through 2019, Long Beach was always in early to mid April. 2020 canceled it. 2021 it was in September. Now, we’re back in April. The door is open and it’s one that I think should be considered.
It’s better to be aesthetically to end the season in Long Beach than Monterey. However, Colton Herta wasn’t so sure though.
“I think it’s good to be back on the normal Long Beach schedule,’ he says.” It’s a good event leading up to the Indy 500. I think it’s one of those races that even if you don’t promote the event you’d still get up to 60k people on race day.”
Can Rossi Recapture Long Beach Magic Again?
Alexander Rossi had a very frustrating season in 2021 which included a sixth place finish in Long Beach. He led no laps that day. That’s par for the course for him the last few seasons.
I wrote entering the season that Rossi was betting on himself. He’s a free agent at the end of the 2022 season but wasn’t just going to return to Andretti Autosport unless things changed within the organization too. He was open to signing a new contract but would rather bet on himself to see if he could have better results which could in turn sway him to either stay or maybe even test the market to see what his value was elsewhere as well.
But, if results didn’t change, he most certainly would be gone.
So far through two races, I don’t see why he’d want to come back. Rossi qualified 13th and finished 20th in St. Pete and now started 12th and finished 27th in Texas. That has him 27th in points out of 29 drivers.
Rossi, was sixth and fourth respectively in practice in St. Pete but only qualified 13th. The team elected to not pit with everyone else that hadn’t already done so on Lap 27 of the 2022 season opener. They were desperate to stay in the front. So, he’d lead 10 laps but have to pit on Lap 37. Without a yellow the rest of the way, that move pushed him further down.
For Texas, he had a mechanical failure on Lap 11.
“At least we saw the green,” he’d say. That’s how low that it’s gotten for him. Now, he’s reeling even further.
He hasn’t won a race since Road America in 2019. He led 54 of 55 laps that day. In fact, that was the 10th race of that season. At that point, he had led in 7 of the 10 races to account for 182 laps led.
But, over the last 39 races during this winless streak, he’s led a total of 95 laps. He led 83 laps in 2020, two last year and 10 in St. Pete. That’s it.
Also during this 39 race drought, he has finished 17th or worse in 7 of his last 19 starts. He had 6 finishes of 17th or worse in his previous 47 races.
The prime of his INDYCAR career is being wasted and he’s not anywhere near to where he expected to be in his career path in terms of success yet.
The Andretti Autosport driver seemed to be on a quick path to a championship once he won his second career NTT IndyCar Series race in Watkins Glen during that 2017 season. From the Toronto race that season through the one at Road America in 2019, Rossi had six wins, 16 podiums and 22 top five finishes in a span of 33 races. But, over the last 39 races, he’s yet to win, has just 8 podiums and only 11 top fives.
He was second in the championship in 2018 and third in 2019. But, this dip started during the middle of that ’19 season which is why he didn’t hoist the Astor Cup championship trophy that season and why he’s hasn’t yet overall. He was 10th in the final standings last year.
That’s why with him being in the final year of his contract, he’s not just running to the negotiating table with Andretti Autosport to reup. He feels like the results could be better for both sides.
Now, if he’s ever going to get right, Long Beach is the place.
Rossi, led 71 of 85 laps in a dominating victory in 2018. He followed that up with leading 80 of 85 laps a year later and won by 20.2359-seconds.
We didn’t come to Long Beach in 2020 and when we were back in 2021, his teammate Colton Herta stole the show.
Can he recapture that magic again this weekend?
“We’ve moved on from Texas. It didn’t really matter,” Rossi said. “When it’s a mechanical issues for a driver, you don’t really care. It’s out of your control. There’s nothing you can do. Obviously if it’s a self inflicted mistake you kind of want to get back on the horse but it is what it is.
“Last thing you want to do is overcompensate and make up for lost ground.”
To be winless since is saying something. Does that drought end on Sunday’s though?
Parity On Street Courses, But Why?
For some reason, street courses have seen a wide amount of parity lately. Since the start of the 2019 season on the streets of St. Pete, we’ve had 12 street course races. In those events, we’ve seen eight different winners.
St. Pete – Josef Newgarden
Long Beach – Alexander Rossi
Belle Isle 1 – Josef Newgarden
Belle Isle 2 – Scott Dixon
Toronto – Simon Pagenaud
St. Pete – Josef Newgarden
St. Pete – Colton Herta
Belle Isle 1 – Marcus Ericsson
Belle Isle 2 – Pato O’Ward
Nashville – Ericsson
Long Beach – Herta
St. Pete – Scott McLaughlin
As you can see, Newgarden, Herta and Ericsson are the only repeat winners in this span. What’s odd is, among this group, they all hail from the big teams though. Penske, Ganassi, Andretti or Arrow McLaren SP have won these events.
Also, for Long Beach, we’ve had 6 different teams win the last 8 races on the scenic street course too. So, why all the parity?
Part of the reason could be the sense that they’re constantly tweaking with the tire each season. This year, Firestone has brought a new tire to street courses for both primary and alternates which kind of threw the Andretti guys for a loop in St. Pete.
“The tires were very different,” Colton Herta said. “Both the compounds are different this year compared to last year.”
He says that probably allowed Penske to close that gap to them in a sense. But, they have a smoking gun in their camp with MSR driver Simon Pagenaud to hopefully counter this weekend. 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.
He says that plus some tweaks from what they’ve learned in St. Pete should put them in the window.
Rossi and Herta have also combined to win the last three races in Long Beach too. However, Herta notes that you can never get too complacent in this series that even if you are good one year, it doesn’t mean you’ll be good the next. The tires are a great example.
Rossi also noted that not much has changed from Long Beach via 2019 to 2021 but last year it seemed like the bumps sure did. Then, they looked at the data and noticed they truly didn’t. It was just that there was an Aeroscreen now compared to then that was more sensitive to vertical movement.
So, can Andretti recapture their Long Beach magic or will we see more parity?
Furthermore, you get some domination on them too. Rossi dominated in his two year reign in Long Beach. Herta led 97 of 100 laps in St. Pete last year and 43 of 85 here last year. Newgarden led 67 of the 70 laps in Belle Isle 2 of last season but didn’t win.
Will we see more domination on Sunday?
Can Newgarden Pick Up A Crown Jewel?
Josef Newgarden has done about everything one can in INDYCAR. He’s won two championships and 21 races already. If his career ended today, he’s have a Hall of Fame type of performance to look back upon.
But, among those 21 wins, one could say it lacks a crown jewel.
Newgarden is winless in 10 Indy 500 tries and nine starts in Long Beach. Is this the year he can finally cross off at least one of those events?
What’s wild is, he’s been among the best drivers on street courses lately. He has three wins on them since 2019 which is tops in the series. He has eight top two results in his last 12 tries including his last two here on Long Beach. In fact, he has three podiums in his last four Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach starts. He’s just not even won this race.
Can he on Sunday?
He’s coming off of a win in Texas and ready for a premiere victory. The thing is, out of his 26 career victories if you count Indy Lights (21 in IndyCar, 5 in Indy Lights), he’s only went back-to-back in terms of trips to victory lane just once when he won at Toronto and Mid-Ohio in back-to-back races during the 2017 season.
In saying that, winning two straight races is difficult in the series. Since the start of the 2014 season, we’ve only seen it happen nine times. Will Power did it in 2016 (Detroit 2, Road America) and 2018 (Indy sweep), Simon Pagenaud has done it twice in going three straight in 2016 (Long Beach, Barber, Indy road course) as well as an Indy sweep in 2019 with Scott Dixon going three straight in 2020 to start that season off with, Alexander Rossi in 2018 (Mid-Ohio, Pocono), Graham Rahal in 2017 (Belle Isle weekend sweep) and Colton Herta last year in the final two races.
That’s it. That’s the list. Can Newgarden join Power and Pagenaud as the only ones to do it twice in this span?
More Long Beach Drama?
You know how the song goes, “with so much drama in the LBC…” That’s exactly what we saw during this race weekend last year. It started with Pato O’Ward being pissed at Race Control on Saturday to Helio Castroneves vs. Alexander Rossi in Sunday’s warmup to Ed Jones punting O’Ward in the final corner of the opening lap and a late race spat between Conor Daly and Oliver Askew made for a couple of days of instant drama.
In qualifying, Will Power stalled on course towards the end of the second round. O’Ward was sixth at the time. Ed Jones, Felix Rosenqvist and James Hinchcliffe all sped through a yellow corner and improved their times.
After a lengthy review by INDYCAR, they determined only Jones would get penalized meaning despite evidence that their own car in Rosenqvist went through the yellow at speed, O’Ward would only move back up one spot.
“Yeah, our car has been good. I mean, we didn’t roll off the best, but I think we made some really good changes, just kept improving,” said O’Ward. “We had enough for the Fast 6. Yeah, we should have been in the Fast 6, so…
“Yeah, I mean, really, really happy for Felix, that he went into the Fast 6. I mean, we’re in the same team and we have literal data that shows that at least two of the cars that didn’t get penalized kept going quickly in the yellow flag. I don’t know. Maybe rules don’t apply the last race of the season when everything’s at stake.
“It just sucks. Sucks that we’re stuck there because we should have transferred. We had the car to fight it. I don’t know if for pole, but we definitely had a car to be in the Fast 6 and start within the first two rows.
“Kind of sucks to get hosed by a very odd call. I’m still seeking for answers. But, yeah.”
Jones, punted O’Ward and ended his championship hopes at the start of Sunday’s race too to spark a wild moment of the day.
Prior to that, Alexander Rossi exited the pits during warmup ahead of Helio Castroneves. That move and the one that Rossi didn’t allow Castroneves who was on a flier by created an even bigger stir including one of the more iconic interviews of the season.
This has deeper implications in the sense that both were IMSA teammates with Wayne Taylor Racing as well as Meyer Shank Racing having a technical alliance with Rossi’s team, Andretti Autosport.
Then you have Askew and Daly’s run in towards the end of the race in which brought out the final caution.
“The U.S. Air Force crew did a fantastic job in the pits today. We jumped guys every time we stopped and put ourselves with a really strong group,” Daly said. “We were having the best day we could have, but sadly another competitor took that away from us. I’m still very confused about what [Oliver] Askew was trying to do there on cold tires. This is a street circuit, it’s really hard to brake off-line and he had no hope of making that corner. When you force someone off the track, you’re not supposed to crash yourself at the same time! It’s a shame, but I am thankful my guys stuck with me this weekend. It was very challenging, but we had some pace at the end and were on the right strategy.”
With Long Beach being less than two miles in length, there’s not many areas to where you’re not around someone. We saw it already happen in the season opener in St. Pete between Takuma Sato and Romain Grosjean. Do we see more this weekend?