Picking a Long Beach winner is no easy task – it’s provided several drivers their first IndyCar victory and there’s a good seven or eight to choose from this week if you’re looking for a contender. And even after that there’s another five or six who could play spoilers. Here’s a field breakdown:
PAST LONG BEACH WINNERS (7)
The seven past Long Beach winners are Sebastien Bourdais, who’s won here three times from 2005 through ’07, two-time winner Will Power (2008, ’12), and single-race winners Juan Pablo Montoya (1999), Helio Castroneves (2001), Ryan Hunter-Reay (2010), Mike Conway (2011) and Takuma Sato (2013).
Power and Hunter-Reay are the only two drivers in the field to qualify in the Firestone Fast Six both years at Long Beach since the Dallara DW12’s introduction in 2012, and RHR hasn’t qualified worse than third at Long Beach since 2009. On past performance they’re likely to be the pace setters.
Power’s Penske teammates Castroneves and Montoya aren’t as likely to be pole threats, but at least one of the two should make the Firestone Fast Six.
St. Petersburg polesitter and defending Long Beach winner Sato has a shot at his third straight pole position in a street course qualifying session, after also winning the pole for Houston Race 1 last year (Race 2 qualifying was canceled due to inclement weather, with the grid set by entrant points).
Bourdais and Conway are each in the situation where they’re gelling with new teams in just their second race apiece at KVSH and Ed Carpenter Racing.
Qualifying is important, but not imperative at Long Beach. Power won from 12th after a 10-spot grid penalty and a fuel-saving masterpiece two years ago and Sato from fourth last year. It’s still better to be in the top three, though.
THE SAFE SPOILERS (6)
Any of Ryan Briscoe, Simon Pagenaud, James Hinchcliffe, Tony Kanaan, Justin Wilson or Graham Rahal would be your next best bets.
Briscoe is a former Long Beach polesitter; Pagenaud and Hinchcliffe have past Long Beach wins in other categories (ALMS and Indy Lights, respectively) and Kanaan has the polesitting car from Long Beach last year, Dario Franchitti’s No. 10 Target car.
Wilson and Rahal were the two additional podium finishers in 2013 and while both work with new engineers this year, a repeat result is not impossible.
Although none has won yet at Long Beach, all six have past Long Beach podium finishes in IndyCar and seek that top step of the podium.
LONGER SHOTS BASED ON HISTORY OR THEIR SITUATION (10)
While Briscoe and Kanaan have had some Long Beach success, Ganassi teammates Scott Dixon and Charlie Kimball haven’t. This has been a frequent bogey track for Dixon, and a place that for whatever reason always seems to bite him.
Asking RLL’s Oriol Servia to pull a repeat of his 2007 heroics in his first race of the new season, when he came second that year to Bourdais, might be a bit tougher to pull off this time around. It wouldn’t be a shock to see him in podium contention by Sunday, but it might take a session or two to gel with the car and the team this week.
For Andretti Autosport, Marco Andretti’s qualifying has left his Long Beach results lacking more often than not (best finish sixth in 2009 in five starts), while Carlos Munoz seeks an encore of his excellent qualifying at St. Petersburg or something close to his Indy Lights win here last year. You wouldn’t put either of these two in the top tier of Long Beach contenders just yet.
The four that fall into the “can they punch above their weight” club are Sebastian Saavedra, Josef Newgarden and rookies Jack Hawksworth, Mikhail Aleshin and Carlos Huertas. All did so at some stage in St. Petersburg and we’ll see if they can follow up this weekend.