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.

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.