5 things I’m watching for this weekend’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach (3 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network)

Andretti Autosport

7 wrecked race cars in a two-race span out the gates to the season has Andretti Autosport 11-17-20-28 in points. This definitely isn’t the start that they envisioned after making some changes between last year and this. It didn’t have to start off like this though.

A strong Thermal test led to a strong test in Sebring. That led to three cars being in the Fast Six in St. Pete including Romain Grosjean on the pole. Despite that, all four cars were collected in crashes that day.

Texas saw 3 of the 4 crashed once again.

Now, can they make up ground on a strong track for them in Long Beach?

Grosjean for starters has been in the mix to win in each of the two races thus far. He wrecked going for the lead late in the race in St. Pete and crashed while running up front on the final lap in the last race at Texas.

Plus, Andretti has been extremely quick here over the years including a Herta win in 2021. However, last year’s race on the sunny California streets looked a lot like this past year’s St. Pete race too.

Grosjean brought his No. 28 Honda home runner-up for his first podium with Andretti Autosport in this very race a season ago.

However, that strong run masked more Andretti problems in the race. I wrote a day prior too, that this race was Andretti’s to lose.

Herta, broke the track record and sat on the pole. He was 6th and 2nd respectively in the two practice sessions that weekend before topping the speed charts in warmup prior to the race.

Rossi, was 2nd and 4th in practice and qualified 5th. Grosjean, was quickest in practice on Saturday morning and was second before crashing in the Fast 6. That lost him his top two laps which forced him to start 6th.

Quickest in practice on Saturday morning, quickest on Sunday morning, 3 of 6 in the Fast Six and coming to a race they had won 3 straight times in.

The thing is, Grosjean was the only one who had a clean race. Rossi, was stuck behind Felix Rosenqvist early on and lost a ton of ground by being 8-seconds back on the first stint. Then his tires went away so they pit on Lap 26. He was now battling for spots around fifth instead of a podium. On his second stop, they had trouble on the right rear which dropped him a bit more to an 8th place run.

He failed to lead a single lap.

Herta, led the first 28 laps but a slower stop (9.3-seconds) and a slower in lap, put him back to third. Then, he was pushing hard to coming to pit road on Lap 56 and crashed. That left him 23rd.

Devlin DeFrancesco got into the wall early on and would finish 25th.

Sound familiar….

“For me, I feel a lot more optimistic,” Michael Andretti said after locking out the front row of qualifying in St. Pete. “I think we really studied ourselves and got real honest with ourselves where we needed to improve. I think we’ve done it.

“Obviously the race is going to be another thing. Hopefully we can have all four cars go through the race without making a mistake. If that happens, I think we have a great shot at winning.

“I mean we did have many races where we had very fast cars last year, but we tended to do something wrong, shoot ourselves in the foot one way or another. That’s another thing we’ve really studied and worked on. Hopefully our pit stops will be better and strategies will be better.

“We really worked on trying to be a lot more detail-oriented, things like that.

“I hope it pays off.”

It hasn’t so far but can this weekend.

Alexander Rossi

Alexander Rossi had a very frustrating season in 2021 to which included a sixth-place finish in Long Beach. He led no laps that day. Same last year despite a Fast Six starting spot. Being held up on the first stint and a slow second stop left him to 8th in the end. Now, he’s with a new team and one that looked stout on the streets of St. Pete. Rossi even managed a top 5 finish that day. How much of that can translate over to this weekend in the second street course event of the season?

“They are different,” Rossi admitted. “I think St. Pete’s borderline getting to the point where it’s almost a road course, it’s so smooth and the grip level is what it is. I think you definitely take a little bit of a different approach there than you do other street courses.

“Yeah, there are obviously some similarities. I think as a whole, obviously I didn’t drive the car last year, but I think the team has taken a step forward in terms of the street course program. I think Chevrolet has made monumental steps, especially coming from 2021, their evolution of ’22, then again a step this year.

“I think it’s going to be the normal competitive obviously qualifying and race. I think your normal participants are going to be fighting for pole. It’s going to take perfect execution from everyone and exciting to see how it shakes out.”

Does that give Rossi the confidence to see if the old Rossi at Long Beach can make a dominating return?

“I think they had a huge focus on the bottom-end drivability side of things,” Rossi told me. “Even when it was a challenge, they were still obviously very successful. Even when it was difficult in ’21, they were still winning races.

“Again, it’s very hard to have that big of a difference when the engine architecture is similar or the same, and the rules have been around for so long, everyone kind of follows to the same point.

“But, yes, there are still subtle differences. It’s kind of about maximizing the strengths and weaknesses of each engine, right? Honda might go about that a different way than Chevy does. For us as drivers, me making the transition from one to the other, you’ve got to understand the areas that the Chevy is working in a better range, and you got to focus on those areas to make sure you maximize the performance available.”

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 with a new team?

“Yeah, I mean, for sure we’re two races, but also only two races, right? It’s still early days,” he says.

“I think the entire atmosphere and the positivity within the team is obvious from the outside. I think the cohesiveness that they were able to keep and also the continuity of adding a third car, the people we’ve talked about many times, it’s a testament to everyone there from the top all the way to the bottom.

“It’s a real privilege and joy to be part of that team every single week. I think we’re only going to get stronger as time goes on.”

Rossi enters Long Beach too with some fire burning inside. The 31-year-old felt like he had a race winning car in Texas, but was taken out of contention early on after an early race pit stop that saw he and his former car that is now being driven by Kyle Kirkwood made contact. Rossi was coming out of his pit stall when Kirkwood was coming into his.

Rossi was given a penalty for an unsafe release. To make matters worse, he had damage that cost him several laps in the pits for repair. To add insult to injury, after the race was over, INDYCAR changed the penalty from an unsafe release to avoidable contact which in turn pretty much placed the blame squarely on Rossi’s shoulders.

He didn’t agree. Still doesn’t. But that’s beside the point.

He’s ready to stick it to the field on Sunday. This weekend, Rossi has a better pit stall as he’s in stall No. 3. That’s behind Scott Dixon and in front of Josef Newgarden. While he expects to be fighting with both for the win this weekend, he also has the comfort of having his teammates in front and behind of Dixon and Newgarden too.

Felix Rosenqvist has the first pit stall in Long Beach. He’s in front of Dixon. Pato O’Ward has the fifth pit stall. He’s directly behind Newgarden. With Rossi in the middle of all and having three of the first five pit stalls belonging to the McLaren camp, how much comfort does that give the California native?

“Yeah, I mean, it really depends on the track,” Rossi told me of pit stall selections. “For example, Long Beach, you want to be towards the front. I assume everyone knows, but if you don’t know, it goes in order of qualifying. For example, Felix got to pick first at Long Beach based on Texas, then down the qualifying order.

“For Long Beach it’s important to be in the front in terms of pit selection just so that when you’re leaving to go to practice, qualifying sims, whatever, you have as much clear track in front of you as possible.

“For the ovals it’s a pretty big advantage to have an open in just because of the way the cross weight is set up, you can carry more speed into the pit box. On a track where we have a lot of cars and a small pit lane, at Mid-Ohio or Toronto, an open in or open out is kind of the preferred choice. You’ll see guys, even if they qualify third, they’ll choose the 15th box because it’s an open in or open out.

“Indy is a little bit similar, but there’s the added superstition that goes into that. There’s metrics that are run on these pit boxes historically have been the most successful. There’s really no rhyme or reason to it other than odds. That’s kind of what goes into it.

“It’s a little bit of everything.”

As far as why they chose between Dixon and Newgarden, he said it goes to show you how important track position is at Long Beach and that they’d all prefer to be up front in the pits too.

That would set up Rossi on being just the fifth driver to win at Long Beach three or more times. It’s a feat that he cares a lot about since he sees this race as a marquee event.

“Yeah, man. I say it all the time, outside the Indy 500 I think this is one of our flagship races if not the flagship race,” he said. “It’s always such an amazing event from not only an entertainment on-and-off-the-track standpoint but a turnout standpoint. The fans there are passionate, they’re incredibly knowledgeable about the sport, there’s obviously a huge amount of history that exists with that city and that track.

“Jim Michaelian and his whole group do an amazing job for us every year. Real excited to get back there. As you mentioned, we’ve had some success there in the past. With the new team and the momentum that the Arrow McLaren group has at the moment, we’re very much looking forward to the weekend.”

Among Rossi’s eight wins are two here, the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500, a win on the Indy Road Course, Watkins Glen and Road America. If there’s a big event, he wins it. While he jokes that he’s also won Pocono, you can’t joke that when the prestige ramps up, Rossi is there battling for a win.

“It’s obviously cool to be able to have success in those types of races,” he tells me. “But, no, it’s all the same. If you’re fortunate enough to get it right on that day, it’s cool.”

Which Tire Is The Best This Weekend

Normally, with a street race, grip levels are few and far between. That makes the Firestone primary tire the best option. However, the last two years though, the reds (alternate tire) actually were the best, as the always faster tire, didn’t have the drop off like it typically does, making the faster tire the preferred one.

Firestone always tries to adapt and make ways better. This weekend, we’ll see the guayule tire (green side wall) instead of the red again as it will race all 5 street course events in 2023.

Guayule is part of Bridgestone’s plan to achieve carbon neutrality and make tires from 100% sustainable materials by 2050. The company is targeting commercial production of guayule-derived natural rubber by the end of the decade.

Do the green “guayule” tire react the same way as its predecessor, the red tire, did? It was supposed to in St. Pete, but in the actual race, it didn’t. Which set up a similar strategy filled race like the 2022 version did. What about now in Long Beach?

Sophomore Drivers

David Malukas sits sixth in points (10th St. Pete, 4th Texas) after a pair of top 10 finishes already this season. Callum Ilott is one spot behind in seventh (5th St. Pete, 9th Texas). It seems like each are getting closer and closer at a breakout victory.

Don’t sleep on Christian Lundgaard either. He was ninth in St. Pete and scored a top 10 last year in Nashville too. I also look at Kyle Kirkwood too. He was quick in St. Pete and even made the Fast Six. A pair of crashes derailed that weekend. However, the speed was there.

Alexander Rossi showed the speed in this very ride at this very track in back-to-back years (2018, 2019) too. If strategy and luck goes Kirkwood’s way, watch out.

Which is why I have my eye out on these sophomore drivers this weekend as I can honestly see all four of them finishing in the top 10…


It’s early, but with how well the top drivers are doing and how many good tracks are coming up for them, you can’t afford to give away any points this weekend. Pato O’Ward leads Marcus Ericsson by just 7 points entering this weekend. Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden each trail O’Ward by 15 and 16 points respectively. Alex Palou rounds out the top five at -22.

Between Dixon, Newgarden and Palou, they’ve combined to have won 5 of the last 6 series championships. For them to be in the top five already this early, that could make them hard to topple down the stretch.

Plus, O’Ward just finished runner-up in St. Pete. 3 of Ericsson’s 4 race wins have come on street courses. Newgarden has three straight top two finishes here including being the defending race winner. Dixon has 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.

Palou 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.

Next up is Barber to where these drivers have won 4 of the last 5 races including two straight. O’Ward’s last two finishes there are 4th and 1st respectively. Palou won in 2021 and was runner-up in 2022. Ericsson has two top 10’s in 3 starts there. Newgarden has 5 top 4’s in his last 7 tries while Dixon has an astounding 9 podiums and 10 top fives in 12 starts including six runner-ups.

They could have a massive lead over the field heading into the Month of May.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s