NTT Indy Car Series: Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach Preview

Scott McLaughlin races in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. [credit Penske Entertainment: James Black]

Current NTT Indy Car series point leader, Scott McLaughlin . [credit Penske Entertainment: James Black]

by Paul Gohde

With headlines reading of a second, and now a third Formula One event to be run in the United States in the next years, the NTT Indy Car series (with a gaggle of foreign drivers on the grid), goes about its business this week, providing a full field of cars and an interesting array of drivers, both veterans and youngsters alike, in the 38th running of the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. The series’ schedule of 17 races seems solid after the juggling of dates and tracks in the past several Pandemic years. This bodes well for the Series future, giving Indy Car the impetus to add perhaps several new events in the coming years.

Race Facts: Long Beach hosted F5000 and Formula One events from its opening in 1975 before switching to Indy-style events in 1984. Mario Andretti (3) and Al Unser Jr. (6) combined to capture nine of those first 12 events. Sunday’s race (#3 of 17) will be the 38th on the ocean-front street course, making it the longest running major street race in North America. The 1.968-mile, 11-turn course has changed configurations several times over the years with Sunday’s race being contested over 85 laps (167.28 miles). Simon Pagenaud set the race record (1:33: 54.483/100.592 mph) in 2016. Team Penske and Ganassi Racing drivers have each won six times here. Among active drivers Will Power and Alexander Rossi have each topped the winners’ podium twice.

Recent Long Beach Races: The 2020 race was cancelled due to the Pandemic, while the 2021 event was moved to September from its scheduled spring slot and became the final race of the season. It also turned out to be a three-way shoot-out for the series’ crown. Alex Palou came to Long Beach with a 35-point margin over Pato O’Ward with pole-winner Joseph Newgarden still in the running in third. O’Ward fell out on the first lap due to an incident that damaged his drive train while Palou took it easy knowing he only needed to finish 11th or better to capture the championship. Colton Herta charged from 14th spot to overtake leaders Scott Dixon and Newgarden for the race win, while Palou finished a conservative fourth for the win and his first NTT series crown.

2022 Indy Car Season So Far: Standings after two events: 1) Scott McLaughlin (1 win, 97 points) …2) Will Power (69) …3) Alex Palou (67) …4) Joseph Newgarden (1 win, 65) …5) Marcus Ericsson (58) …Engine Manufacturers: Chevrolet: (187 points, 2 wins/2 poles) …Honda: (137).

Race Entries: The same 26 street and road course cars and drivers are entered at Long Beach with Tatiana Calderone moving back to her road course drive with AJ Foyt racing.

Notes: TV: Race, Sunday, 3:00 pm (ET), NBC network…Qualifying, Saturday, 12:05 pm (ET), Peacock Premium streaming…If Alexander Rossi takes the green flag Sunday, it will be his 100th series start, while Scott Dixon will start his 291st series event; second all-time behind Helio Castroneves…Three California natives are entered for Sunday’s Long Beach race: Alexander Rossi, Jimmie Johnson and Colton Herta…Drivers from 15 countries are among the 26 entries: US (8)…New Zealand (2)…Canada (2)…Brazil (1)…Sweden (2)…Spain (1)…Columbia (1)…Australia (1)…Netherlands (1)…Switzerland (1)…Denmark (1)…England (2)…Japan (1)…France (1)…Mexico (1).

“Our Take”: Colton Herta led a run to his first series win in 2021 at Long Beach as Alex Palou claimed the championship. Things are changing in Indy Car as winners and champions are coming from a new rank of drivers who have arrived to replace the veteran guard. This seems to happen every ten years or so as drivers such as Mario, AJ and JR gave way to Bobby Rahal, Rick and that other Andretti. Change is great in racing and is in another of those periods of change and growth today. We’ll likely see Palou, O’Ward, Herta and VeeKay in the Top-10 Sunday and for many upcoming years. It’s difficult to think of Newgarden, Graham Rahal, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud as the “old guard” but it’s hard to stop the next generation.

They Said It: Jimmie Johnson, on how his sixth-place finish on the fast Texas oval (his best Indy Car finish in his initial oval track competition), will help him compete on road/street courses like Long Beach…” I think going this fast (on an oval) and being on the ragged edge of the car, will carry over (to the road course like Long Beach). Chip (car owner Ganassi) has been saying it all along. I’ve kind of doubted it. The radius of the turns is so different, the speeds are so different…I am hopeful and curious. We have (had) a test coming up on the Indy road course. We’ll see how that goes. I hope it does slow things down for me. Gives me more comfort (since he’s now been on that ragged edge on an oval) so I can go faster on the street and road courses.”

Next NTT Race: The Honda Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park on May 1.



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