LONG BEACH, Calif — We knew there was a great chance of the track record falling this weekend on the streets of Long Beach. Due to a new sealer on the 1.968-mile street circuit to go along with a new Firestone alternate tire, we’ll combine each and you get blazing fast speeds.
In practice on Saturday morning, 9 cars topped the old track record set 5 years ago Friday by Helio Castroneves at 1:06.2254-seconds. That’s due to the nature of getting to use the Firestone Reds for the first time this weekend.
Romain Grosjean was P1 at 1:05.6520-sec. He had a fast car in St. Pete and showing that he’s definitely a pole contender later this afternoon.
He was joined up front by his teammates. The last two winners of this race in Colton Herta (1:05.8353-sec) and Alexander Rossi (1:05.9424-sec) were second and fourth in the session. Both were in the top six in practice on Friday too.
Will Power (1:05.9383-sec) was third in his No. 12 Chevrolet. Yesterdays top man in Simon Pagenaud (1:05.9989-sec) rounded out the top five.
Andretti Looks Stout
Andretti Autosport has won the last three races in Long Beach and a day after putting 3 cars in the top 6 if you include their Mayer Shank Racing alliance, they put 4 cars in the top 5 on Saturday.
The change in track conditions between the two days has been astounding. In session 1, it was 95 degrees ambient with a track temp of 132 degrees. On Saturday morning, it was nearly 30 degrees cooler air temp and 56 degrees cooler track temp. It was 68 degrees for session 2 with a track temp of 76.
Johnson Practices But Crashes Again
Jimmie Johnson’s status last night was up in the air for the rest of the weekend. A crash in Turn 5 broke his hand. However, with a carbon fiber brace, he gave it a go on Saturday morning. Johnson, completed 14 laps before getting into the Turn 1 barriers. He said he was okay after the incident but felt terrible for his team to have to repair his No. 48 Honda again.
Ganassi/Penske Next Up
Team Penske has won both races, taken 1 of the 2 poles (was on the front row in the race they didn’t win the pole) and has combined to have taken 4 of the 6 podium spots this season. Ganassi was runner-up in St. Pete and combined with Penske to sweep the entire top 7 the last time out in Texas.
So far this weekend, they’re second fiddle to the Andretti camp.
On Friday, Penske went 3rd, 4th and 8th respectively on the speed charts in the initial 45 minute long session. Ganassi was 5th and 7th.
On Saturday, Penske was 3-8-13 with Ganassi 6-7-9-26.
Tough to get a clean lap
We knew with a shorter track, there was potential for more drama in practice. In this session, especially on reds, you want a clean lap. But with 26 cars and only 1.968-miles of real estate, there’s bound to be backups.
That’s exactly what happened. No one could truly get a clean lap due to everyone looking for a 3+ second gap. The hairpin was a problem spot as everyone slowed there due to that being the spot of the timing line.
That’s why it’s hard to get a true reading of the speed charts because everyone didn’t get a true clean lap as a solid indicator of their pace.
This happened in St. Pete too which leads us to wonder if you need to have a split field practice in the future.
In all, this makes qualifying interesting later with 13 cars in each group still for the first round as records are sure to fall, feeling are likely to be hurt and Andretti likely to be fast.