TRACK: Streets of Long Beach (1.968-mile, 11-turn street course), DISTANCE: 85 Laps (167 miles)
TRACK HISTORY/RACE TRENDS
- 6 of the past 7 Long Beach race winners have started in the top 2 Rows. Colton Herta was 14th in 2021.
- 3 of the 5 street course races a year ago were won from a front row starting spot.
- St. Pete this past year, was won from the second row (4th place).
- 6 of the last 7 years of this race were won via a top 4 starter including 3 of the last four from the front row.
- We’ve had 6 different teams win the last 9 races on the streets of Long Beach.
- Since 2014, the series champion has finished on the podium in 5 of the last 8 years. They were 4th in each of the last two seasons too. In fact, 19 of the 24 podiums spots in this span were taken by a driver that would finish in the top six of points in that respective season.
- Position of final standings for podium finishers lately in Long Beach
- 2014: Part time (Mike Conway), 1st, 8th
- 2015: 1st, 5th, 3rd
- 2016: 1st, 6th, 3rd
- 2017: 1st, 3rd, 2nd
- 2018: 2nd, 3rd, 10th (champion finished 11th)
- 2019: 3rd, 1st, 4th
- 2020: No Race
- 2021: 5th, 2nd 4th (champion finished 4th, race was season finale)
- 2022: 2nd, 13th, 5th (champion finished 4th)
TRACK COMPARISONS/WHO’S BEEN GOOD ON THEM
With 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. In 2021, we added back a few more in Belle Isle, St. Pete, Nashville and Long Beach. The same were back the last two years with the addition of Toronto again this season and last.
These are the best comparisons to Long Beach in the fact that the top drivers on those places are also good here too.
If you go back to the start of the 2019 season, we’ve had 17 races on these tracks with 9 different winners. Josef Newgarden (4 wins), Scott Dixon (3 wins), Marcus Ericsson (3 wins) and Colton Herta (2 wins) are the only multi-time winners with 2 of Newgarden’s 4 wins coming in St. Pete.
The big teams are strong on them with Penske winning 7 of those last 17 races, Ganassi with 5 and Andretti with 3. Arrow McLaren SP is the only other team to have won.
Penske won 3 of the 5 last year with Ganassi and Scott Dixon taking the other two. Ganassi (Marcus Ericsson) is 1-for-1 this year to total three straight street course wins heading into Sunday’s race at Long Beach.
13 of the top 14 starters in the season opener at St. Pete belonged to Penske, Ganassi, Andretti and McLaren. The entire podium belonged to these teams (Ganassi-McLaren-Ganassi).
Like for St. Pete, this race at Long Beach is likely going to be a two-stop strategy. That is honestly all dependent on how long you can make the new green tires last. For St. Pete, the fall off was expected and showed early on to be more than the red tire (it’s predecessor). However, the race pace showed differently which quickly shut the door on any sort of three stop strategy.
“Yeah, it’s an easy two-stop race,” Alexander Rossi said. “Everyone is kind of flat out from the drop of the green. The tire life is usually pretty good there. There’s not a whole lot of strategy or saving, like, different fuel. Everyone does the same thing, so you can push pretty hard from the green.”
With a two stopper, you can split this race really into thirds.
Last year, the 2 pits stops had significant moments. The first one was mega in fact. Colton Herta led the first 28 laps before hitting pit lane from the lead. He was almost untouchable to that point. Herta, broke the track record in qualifying, was quickest on the race day warmup and led 43 of 85 laps in his win from 14th a year prior. So, with him pulling away, it appeared then to be his race to lose. The thing is, the pit stop is where he lost it.
Alex Palou pit on Lap 27. Josef Newgarden pit on Lap 30. Palou’s stop was 1.861-seconds quicker than Herta’s. He was also 1.029-seconds quicker getting onto pit road over Herta. That, plus Newgarden’s stop being 8.1-seconds compared to Herta’s at 9.3-seconds dropped Herta from first to third with Palou leap frogging both Herta and Newgarden.
Then, the next sequence saw another race altering sequence. Herta was pushing to come to pit road on Lap 56 but crashed. Palou, pit on Lap 55 with Newgarden two laps later. That allowed Newgarden to come ahead and never look back.
The overcut and undercut are things to watch for strategy plays. Do you get held up on your in or even out lap? Scott McLaughlin had that happen to him coming to his final stop in St. Pete. Do you avoid the danger zone by pitting early in the pit sequence just in case a caution occurs? Does that risk not play out well meaning you’ll have older/used tires in the end?
Starting position is everything in an NTT INDYCAR Series race. More importantly, on street courses. The tight confines of a downtown circuit makes passing as difficult as anywhere on the annual schedule.
3 of the 5 street course races a year ago were won from a front row starting spot. St. Pete this past year, was won from the second row (4th place). 6 of the last 7 years of this race were won via a top 4 starter including 3 of the last four from the front row.
Which leads me to wonder if Sunday’s race will be won in qualifying on Saturday. Don’t make the Fast Six, you don’t really have much of a shot at victory.
Since the UAK was introduced for the 2018 season, 10 of the 12 podium spots were taken via Fast Six starters.
Starting Positions Of Podiums Since 2018
The pole winner has been on the podium in three of the last four years. The second place starter on the podium each year. Which means if you truly want to make a difference on Sunday, you better do so on Saturday.
The defending race winner has four podiums in his last five tries including seven straight top 10 finishes. Newgarden has 4 street course wins in 4 seasons and being 16th, 1st, 4th, 10th and sixth on them last year. While he had a disappointing weekend in St. Pete, I’m not going to hold that too much against him this week.
He led 43 of 85 laps from the 14th place starting position here in his dominating 2021 win. He also led 97 of 100 laps in the 2021 season opener at St. Pete too. Last year, Herta won the pole and dominated the early portions of the race before making a costly error coming to his second pit stop. In St. Pete, he had a top two car all weekend but got caught up in a crash with Will Power at the midway mark. If he can stay out of the wall, Herta will likely win.
Palou, would admit, that street courses used to be his Achilles Heel in this series.
“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.”
He had 3 podiums and 5 top 6’s in 5 tries on these tracks last season including a runner-up a third place finish here.
He’s had five top four finishes in his last seven Long Beach tries. He was close last year in being sixth. That comes after scoring just one in his previous eight starts in Long Beach. However, his podium in St. Pete and pair of wins last year at Toronto and Nashville lead me to believe Ganassi found something on these types of circuits.
He’s scored two wins and three runner-ups at Long Beach including four top sevens in his last six starts there. Power finished fourth a year ago.
Was only 14th last year, but won St. Pete a year ago, had a car capable of winning there again last month and is trying to build that end of the season momentum from a year ago back.
5th here last year. 2nd in St. Pete. He’s a past winner at Belle Isle. Worth a look. He enters as the points leader with a pair of runner-ups so far this season.
He’s dominated in two of his last four Long Beach starts and with a new team that can bring that past dominance back. He was one spot away (4th) from a podium finish in the last street course race of the season in St. Pete.
3 of his 4 wins have come on street courses as the only two he’s yet to win at are here and Toronto. Ericsson, just won in St. Pete.
Scored the pole for St. Pete and led a ton of laps. Was in contention to win before the late race incident while battling for the lead with Scott McLaughlin. Grosjean started sixth and finished second here a year ago too.
Was 4th in both St. Pete practices and made the Fast Six. If he can keep the errors down, he’s in the car that led 71 of 85 laps in 2018 and 80 of 85 a year later. He was 10th last year for Foyt…
Worth a look for a driver scoring a top 10 in St. Pete. He was in the top 5 last time out in Texas too.
Sebring was the turning point last year. Graham Rahal was 4th in Toronto while Christian Lundgaard was 8th. Actually, Rahal had 3 Top-7 finishes on the 5 street courses a year ago while Lundgaard closed out the year on them with a pair of 8th place runs. They started 2023 off with a pair of top 10 finishes in St. Pete too. Rahal has two top five finishes in his last four Long Beach starts including five top 10’s in his last nine. Lundgaard has grown faster and faster on them. Jack Harvey was 15th here a year ago for one of his better races.
Meyer Shank Racing
Simon Pagenaud is a past winner and has four top seven finishes in his last six Long Beach starts. Helio Castroneves has four top 10 finishes here in his last five tries including two of his last five on the podium. He qualified third for this race two years ago.
His three Long Beach finishes are 10th, 13th and 11th respectively.
Ed Carpenter Racing
Street courses haven’t been a strong suit for them. Conor Daly was 21st, 12th, 12th, 20th and 17th on these tracks respectively last year while Rinus VeeKay was 6th, 13th, 16th, 13th and 12th himself. They each finished outside the top 10 in St. Pete.
AJ Foyt Racing
They’ve not won a race since here in 2013 and were 18-24-25 in St. Pete last season, 10-16-26 in Long Beach, 20-24-27 in Belle Isle, 22-24 in Toronto and 19-25 in Nashville. Benjamin Pedersen is a rookie and Santino Ferrucci is still learning the Foyt program.
The young driver hasn’t exceled on these types of tracks. He’s finished 19th, 24th, 14th and 15th respectively on them a year ago and also missed Belle Isle due to an injury. While he was 5th in St. Pete, can he find lightning in a bottle twice.
He was 22nd, 25th, 18th, 18th and 22nd in 5 street course events last season and collected in an opening lap crash this year in St. Pete.
Sunday will mark some milestone starts with Alex Palou making his 50th career INDYCAR race while Conor Daly will be competing in his 100th.