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?
So far, so good. Kyle Kirkwood is on the pole. Romain Grosjean starts third. Colton Herta is in seventh. 3 of the top 7 starters. Can they deliver?
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.
“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. They have the pace. Can they deliver?
Can Ganassi Top Andretti?
6 of the top 7 starters belong to the Ganassi and Andretti camps. 3 for each team. Who wins out on Sunday? 6 of the last 7 races were won here via a top four starter. Andretti has Kirkwood (1st) and Grosjean (3rd). Ganassi has Ericsson (2nd) and Palou (4th).
The thing is, none of them have also won here either.
Scott Dixon did in 2015. He starts fifth. Colton Herta did in 2021. He starts seventh.
Ganassi has just 1 win in the last 12 Long Beach races. Andretti has won 3 of the last 4. That’s why I’m watching the Ganassi cars to see if they can capitalize if Andretti falters or does an Andretti car run away with this thing.
3 of Marcus Ericsson’s 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 and starts second after being 4th and 8th in practice. Being on the front row has a massive benefit in the fact that the last five years here the second-place starter has finished on the podium.
His teammate, Alex 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 starts fourth.
Scott Dixon has 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 was 2nd and 7th in practice and rolls off 5th.
The last two Long Beach winners start in Row 4. While starting in the Fast Six has a better advantage of a win, do both Colton Herta and Josef Newgarden each having a set of alternate tires give them an advantage for the race on Sunday?
Both were in the Fast Six when Marcus Armstrong got into the tire barriers with 53 seconds left in the second round. Both had similar strategy to save a fresh set of alternate tires for the final round. However, neither made it as both were bumped out.
That puts them with Herta starting seventh and Newgarden in eighth. Does having that extra set give them a strategical advantage for the race?
They think so.
Herta won from 14th here just two years ago. Newgarden has three straight top two finishes on this track…
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.
They all start towards the front. O’Ward rolls off sixth, Ericsson on the front row in second, Dixon in fifth, Newgarden in eighth and Palou from fourth.
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.
He was quickest in both practice sessions this weekend. Strategy dropped him to sixth in the Fast Six round. After being a close runner-up in both races run this season, can he charge past the Andretti and Ganassi’s to win Sunday’s race on the streets of Long Beach?