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IndyCar: Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Preview

James Hinchcliffe shown maneuvering through tight hairpin turn in Long Beach. [Joe Jennings Photo]

James Hinchcliffe shown maneuvering through tight hairpin turn in Long Beach. [Joe Jennings Photo]

 

by Paul Gohde

Next to the Indianapolis 500, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is perhaps the biggest race/event on the Verizon IndyCar calendar. And with sensational rookie Robert Wickens having challenged the series’ veterans in the opening two races of 2018, Sunday’s event along the Pacific shoreline roadways promises to be an exciting chase.

RACE FACTS: The 1.968-mile, 11-turn street course features a long straightaway along the shoreline coupled with tight turns that should provide an ideal combination for the 2018 Indy car aero kits that allow greater passing combined with more pressure on drivers who wrestle the turns with less downforce. The race, the third of 17, will run for 85 laps/167.28 miles.

PAST RACES: Formula One established racing in Long Beach from 1976–1983 with the likes of Niki Lauda, Gilles Villeneuve and Mario Andretti winning for McLaren, Ferrari and Lotus.  Indy cars took over the event in 1984, first with CART, then Champ Car, and in 2008 with IRL/IndyCar. This year’s race marks the 35th in the series with Mario Andretti having captured three of the first four and Al Unser Jr. winning six, including four in-a-row from 1988-’91. James Hinchcliffe won for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda last year, holding off Sebastien Bourdais in a three-lap shootout, with eventual 2017 series’ champ Josef Newgarden grabbing the final podium spot.

2018 SO FAR: Newgarden’s Team Penske Chevrolet bested Robert Wickens SPM Honda at Phoenix last week as Honda took five of the first six spots on the oval. It was Newgarden’s eighth career IndyCar win and moved him into the top spot in points coming to Long Beach. Wickens took pole position at the year’s opener at St. Petersburg last month and led 69/110 laps before contact with Alexander Rossi on the last lap dropped him out of contention, opening the door for Sebastien Bourdais to snatch the unexpected win from Graham Rahal as Honda swept the top six positions. Newgarden (77 points) leads Rossi by five with Bourdais (-7), Rahal (-14) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (-15), trailing.

THE FIELD: Twenty-four cars are entered for Long Beach, basically the same field that opened the season in Florida. Jack Harvey returns for Meyer Shank Racing with SPM, rookie Jordan King is the road/street specialist at Ed Carpenter Racing and Canadian Zachary Claman De Melo is Dale Coyne’s road/street racer.

NOTES:

  • Sebastien Bourdais (2006-07) is the last driver to win back-to-back races at Long Beach.
  • Bourdais and Will Power are the only entered drivers with multiple wins at LB.
  • Seventeen of the 24 entered drivers have competed in Indy cars at LB.
  • Surprisingly, only four drivers have won the race from the pole in the 34 races held: Mario Andretti (3), Al Unser Jr. (2) Bourdais (2) and Helio Castroneves.
  • The Toyota Long Beach sponsorship is the longest running among U.S. sports events.
  • There were seven different teams in the top 10 at Phoenix and nine different drivers led the race there.
  • TV: NBCSN- Race, Sunday, 4:00 p.m. ET/ Qualifying, Saturday, 6:30 p.m. ET

OUR TAKE:  Rookie Robert Wickens has been the surprise of the 2018 season as the series moves to Long Beach. The Honda driver was the pole-winner at St. Pete and other than that last lap contact as Rossi bullied for the lead, the Englishman would have won in his first IndyCar try. He then finished second at Phoenix in his first oval run ever. We look for him to win at some time this season, so why not at Long Beach? Remember, he’s in a Honda, the dominant engine so far. I’ll pick Wickens or Bourdais to win for Honda or Simon Pagenaud/Newgarden for Chevrolet.

LAST WORDS: Graham Rahal (No.15 Total Honda): “I think that with the universal aero kit, the Indy cars are going to be way quicker on the straightaway, and I think Long Beach is going to highlight that…I think it’s going to be great for passing on the front straight and I also think the tire degradation that we saw at St. Pete, and we have a similar tire at LB, should make the racing really interesting.”

 

 

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Paul Gohde heard the sound of race cars early in his life.

Growing up in suburban Milwaukee, just north of Wisconsin State Fair Park in the 1950’s, Paul had no idea what “that noise” was all about that he heard several times a year. Finally, through prodding by friends of his parents, he was taken to several Thursday night modified stock car races on the old quarter-mile dirt track that was in the infield of the one-mile oval -and he was hooked.

The first Milwaukee Mile event that he attended was the 1959 Rex Mays Classic won by Johnny Thomson in the pink Racing Associates lay-down Offy built by the legendary Lujie Lesovsky. After the 100-miler Gohde got the winner’s autograph in the pits, something he couldn’t do when he saw Hank Aaron hit a home run at County Stadium, and, again, he was hooked.

Paul began attending the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, and saw A. J. Foyt’s first Indy win. He began covering races in 1965 for Racing Wheels newspaper in Vancouver, WA as a reporter/photographer and his first credentialed race was Jim Clark’s historic Indy win.Paul has also done reporting, columns and photography for Midwest Racing News since the mid-sixties, with the 1967 Hoosier 100 being his first big race to report for them.

He is a retired middle-grade teacher, an avid collector of vintage racing memorabilia, and a tour guide at Miller Park. Paul loves to explore abandoned race tracks both here and in Europe, with the Brooklands track in Weybridge England being his favorite. Married to Paula, they have three adult children and two cats.

Paul loves the diversity of all types of racing, “a factor that got me hooked in the first place.”