IndyCar: Possible Long Beach stunners and spoilers

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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.

You can see the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Sunday at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.

Helio Castroneves: ‘I have nothing to lose’ Sunday in bid for 4th Indy 500 win

All photos: IndyCar
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You might say Helio Castroneves comes into Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 with a “less is more” philosophy than he’s had in years past:

* No pressure

* No worrying about points

* No worrying about winning a championship

Take away all those things and the very popular Brazilian driver could be in the best position he’s ever been to achieve the biggest goal of his career:

Winning a fourth Indy 500, making him a member of motor racing’s most exclusive club, joining legendary drivers A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as the only drivers to conquer the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway four times each.

Like his car number, Castroneves has won the Indy 500 three times. He wants to change that number to four times in Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing. Photo: IndyCar.

“For sure, I definitely don’t have much to lose in terms of points, championships, and things like that,” Castroneves told MotorSportsTalk earlier this week. “I don’t have to think that I don’t have a car to win, I’m not going to risk that much because there are still championship points (to earn if he was still racing full-time in the series).

“Not that I did that before, but if the situation occurs, people just need to know I have nothing to lose this time.”

Castroneves three prior triumphs in the 500 came in his first two years in the field – 2001 and 2002 – and again in 2009. In addition, he has finished twice in the last four editions of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing in 2014 and 2017.

Coming so close last year, losing to Takuma Sato by .201 of a second, is something Castroneves hasn’t forgotten about. To come so close to No. 4 has only made him more hungry to get it done on Sunday.

“Yeah, but if it were easy, we would likely have had more than four wins by now,” he said. “We’ve had opportunities in the past, the last four years we were really competitive, we were right there, especially in ’14 and ’17, we were right on it.

“Last year, I thought it was going to be the hardest 500 for me and look what happened: we were battling to the end for a victory,” Castroneves said. “It’s not just about trying hard, it’s about being there at the right place at the right time.

“And this place, Indianapolis, I’ve always said the track winds up choosing who is going to be the winner. Hopefully, with safety and luck, we’ll be part of it and be on the right side.”

Team owner Roger Penske decided after last season to put Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya as the chief drivers of Team Penske’s new two-car effort in the IMSA WeatherTech Championship sports car series.

When the announcement was first made, many feared that Castroneves had run out of chances to get that elusive No. 4 at Indy.

But Penske sweetened the deal for Helio to go sports car racing by promising he’d field a car for him at Indy. And Penske has proven to be a man of his word, giving Castroneves everything he needs to finally win No. 4.

“I feel we’ve prepared as much as a team, we’re doing everything possible in relation to preparation,” Castroneves said. “The preparation we had in the previous year helps us tremendously to give us an opportunity fighting there for a win, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Castroneves has taken to the new style Indy car with aplomb. During the first week of practice leading up to last weekend’s qualifying, he was consistently one of the fastest drivers in the field.

The 43-year-old even topped the speed charts in the Fast Nine last Saturday before ending up eighth in the following day’s pole qualifying.

As a result, he’ll start Sunday’s race from the middle of Row 3, anchoring Team Penske’s four-man Top 8 starting lineup effort in the 500. When the green flag drops, to his left will be Danica Patrick and to his right will be four-time IndyCar champ and former 500 winner Scott Dixon.

And millions of others right behind him, so to speak.

“I feel the sense that everyone wants it to happen,” he said of winning No. 4. “We’re talking about being part of history here. The last guy to do it was Rick Mears in the ‘90s (1991).

“I mean, how cool would that be if I would be in the position and to see No. 4 in my era. I hear a lot of the fans, even those supporting different drivers, all saying ‘Man, I want to see you win No. 4.’ That just shows how special this place is.

“(The Indy 500) is part of a lot of people’s lives. I just would be very fortunate to hopefully to have this generation see someone do No. 4.”

While he’d rather not think about missing out on a fourth win at Indy for a ninth straight year, Castroneves is using reverse psychology somewhat.

He’s going into Sunday’s biggest race in the world fully believing he will finally win No. 4.

And if he does, forget the idea that he would never come back to race at Indy again.

“Not at all. Why? You’re so close to getting four, and then when you get four, you stop it? It doesn’t make sense.

“I think I still have at least four or five more years, there’s no question about it. As long as Roger (Penske) gives me the opportunity, I’m going to be going for it, for sure.”

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