NTT IndyCar Series: Acura Grand Prix Of Long Beach Preview

Alexander Rossi dominated the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on the Streets of Long Beach. [credit Dan Bathie / Spacesuit Media]

Alexander Rossi dominated Long Beach in 2018, can he wrap up this season with a win? [credit Dan Bathie / Spacesuit Media]

by Paul Gohde

Well, we’ve reached the end of the trail with three of the 28 entries still alive for a shot at the NTT IndyCar championship at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. This will be the sixteenth consecutive season that the series’ crown will be decided at the final race of the year and Chip Ganassi’s Alex Palou, Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward and Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden are ready for the battle. Palou has held the point lead for 10 of 15 races and is in a strong position to remain on top come Sunday night. O’Ward and Newgarden each need the dice to roll their way to make a charge on the Spaniard’s nearly insurmountable lead. Stranger things have happened, especially on a tight, often high-speed street course like Long Beach; 85 laps on Sunday should settle the score.

Race Facts: The Long Beach street course became home to Indy-style racing in 1984 after several F1 events. First CART, then Champ Car and now IndyCar have presented 36 races, the 2021run being the first to close the season and determine a champion along Shoreline Drive. The course is 1.968 miles long with 11 turns of often bouncy streets for 85 laps (167.28 miles) around the Long Beach Convention Center. Simon Pagenaud won in 2016 at a record speed of 100.592 mph while a year later Helio Castroneves set the qualifying standard at 106.225 mph. Among current drivers Sebastien Bourdais has won here three times (in a row) from 2005-2007.

Recent Race History: Alexander Rossi won in 2018 and repeated a year later, dominating from the pole, leading 80/85 laps including the final 27, and taking the flag more than 20 seconds ahead of Newgarden, Dixon and Graham Rahal.

2020 Season So Far: Point standings after 15/16 races: 1) Alex Palou, 3 wins, 517 points…2) Pato O’Ward, 2, 482…3) Josef Newgarden, 2, 469…4) Scott Dixon, 1, 445…5) Marcus Ericsson 2, 430…6) Colton Herta, 2, 402. Other one-race winners: Will Power, Rinus VeeKay, Helio Castroneves…Manufacturers’ standings: Honda clinched the crown (tenth overall) last week with a convincing finish over Chevrolet at Monterey. Honda moves to Long Beach with nine series wins and an unbeatable point lead over the GM teams, (1306-1175).  Four of the first five finishers at Monterey were Hondas.

Entries: Twenty-eight car/driver combinations are entered for the final race of 2021. Oliver Askew is the third entry for RLL, Callum Ilott runs his third IndyCar race for Juncos Hollinger in preparation for the team’s 2022 full-time debut, and Max Chilton is in the Carlin entry. AJ Foyt has Bourdais, Kellett and Charlie Kimball in search of a strong finish to the season; likely Kellett’s final drive for the four-time winner. Ryan Hunter-Reay will also leave Andretti Autosport to likely be replaced by Romain Grosjean next season.

Notes: TV: Qualifying, Saturday, NBCSN, 3p.m.ET…Race, Sunday, NBCSN, 3p.m. ET…Willy T. Ribbs and Oriol Servia will be inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Hall-of-Fame during race weekend…Mario Andretti (1987) and Al Unser Jr. (1988), have each won a Long Beach race by more than a one-lap margin…By contrast, both Paul Tracy (2000) and Mike Conway (2011) moved from a 17th place starting spot to win their race…Just nine of the 28 drivers entered are from the U.S. four of those are from California…Twenty of the those drivers have raced at LB before…Of current drivers, Sebastien Bourdais has the most LB wins with three; all in a row, from 2005-2007…There was no race run at Long Beach in 2020 due to the Pandemic-19 schedule shuffle. This race is usually held near the beginning of the schedule but was shifted to the be final race this year. It will be held on April 10, (Race 3) in 2022.

Our Take: Rising TV ratings, growing fields of cars, young drivers challenging for the series’ crown and some drivers competing for their teams for the final time; what more could a racing series want? IndyCar seems to be on a rise in popularity among both fans and teams. F1 drivers want to come on board as do new teams. And a shout-out for Jimmie Johnson and the Ganassi team for the way they patiently brought the NASCAR champion into IndyCar and turned some rough finishes into a to-be-proud-of 17th place finish at Portland. His possible full-time schedule in 2022 should be fun to watch. But as good as that all sounds, the near future has some needs as well. More ovals need to be added to the schedule to make the series a true driver’s challenge. A third, if not fourth engine supplier must come aboard to challenge the Honda/Chevy monopoly, and more time is needed at tracks for practice, especially for drivers who have never competed at a circuit. And, finally, my pet peeve. Let’s all sign a petition to demand that the accident-inducing first turn at Portland needs to be updated to avoid the demo derby that seems to happen early in each race there. The fans deserve a better show.

Next Race: Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022, Streets of St. Petersburg.




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