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INDYCAR PREVIEW: Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

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A busy month of April that features three consecutive race weekends for the Verizon IndyCar Series continues this weekend on the famed streets of Long Beach, California for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (Sunday, 4:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

The most iconic street race on the schedule, Long Beach is second in prestige only to the Indianapolis 500 in the IndyCar ranks, so a win at Long Beach is a big feather in the cap to get.

Like all street courses, passing can be a challenge at Long Beach. Unlike other street courses, cautions can be few and far between – the 2017 race had only three, and the 2016 race ran without any yellows at all.

The two facets combine to put a premium on qualifying.

The race has also seen six different winners in the last six years: Will Power, Takuma Sato, Mike Conway, Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud, and James Hinchcliffe, and plenty of other big names have yet to add theirs to the list of Long Beach winners.

Talking points ahead of Long Beach are below.

Two Stops or Three? That Is the Question.

At 85 laps in length, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach presents two distinct options for pit strategy: two stops, in which you’ll need to save a little bit of fuel but can save a pit stop, or three stops, with which you can run at a much faster pace in hopes of making up for time lost with the extra pit stop.

Last year’s race saw most of the field opt for three stops, though a handful, namely drivers running at the very front, went with two. For example, James Hinchcliffe used a two-stop strategy to get to Victory Lane last year, while second and third place finishers Sebastien Bourdais and Josef Newgarden used three stops.

It should also be noted that Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi were podium contenders with two-stop strategies before mechanical gremlins befell both of them.

Using 2017 as an indicator, it would appear those at the very front of the field may go with two stops, while those outside of the Top 5 could go for three.

Which strategy will work depends on if and when cautions fall, but Long Beach again appears to be set for a battle of strategic wits.

Schmidt Peterson Looks to Continue Early-Season Form

James Hinchcliffe and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports are the defending winners at Long. Photo: IndyCar

The early-season prowess of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has been well-documented.

Robert Wickens has emerged as a rising star in his first IndyCar season, while James Hinchcliffe has amassed finishes of fourth and sixth in the opening two races – and he could have finished higher up in both races under different circumstances.

“Life right now in INDYCAR is pretty good,” Wickens quipped about his early IndyCar success. “I definitely can’t complain with how competitive we’ve been in the first two races. Long Beach is going to be a new challenge. We’re going to have to start from zero again, but I’m really happy with where we are as a team and how we’re working together. Hopefully, we can keep this little run of performance going and try to score some good points in the Lucas Oil car.”

What’s more, Hinchcliffe and SPM are the defending Long Beach winners, and come into the weekend riding a wave of momentum and confidence.

“I always say this, but we look forward to Long Beach every year. It’s one of the greatest events on the calendar, one of the longest-running events, one of the best attended… it’s definitely a highlight of the year,” Hinchcliffe said of his enthusiasm for Long Beach.

“Last year was obviously pretty special taking the win! The entire team has had a really strong start to the season, and St. Pete went well for us, so we’re cautiously optimistic that our street course package is going to be strong. That said, Long Beach is a different racetrack than St. Pete, and with this new car, everyone is constantly improving, so we’re certainly not taking anything for granted.”

Both drivers appear to be early championship contenders, and they’ll look to continue their strong form at Long Beach.

Andretti Autosport Looks to Rebound from 2017 Long Beach Heartbreak

Ryan Hunter-Reay all the other Andretti Autosport drivers suffered mechanical and engine problems at Long Beach in 2017. Photo: IndyCar

Long Beach in 2017 looked set to be a strong showing for the Andretti Autosport squad, with Ryan Hunter-Reay starting third, Alexander Rossi starting fifth, and Marco Andretti starting tenth. Then Andretti driver Takuma Sato qualified 18th, but as a former Long Beach winner, Sato was certain to be a factor.

But, everything fell apart in the race as all four dropped out with mechanical trouble: Marco Andretti on Lap 17, Rossi on Lap 62, Sato on Lap 78, and Hunter-Reay in the final laps as he ran second behind James Hinchcliffe.

In 2018, Andretti Autosport hopes to take their speed from 2017 and turn it into something much better, as Hunter-Reay described.

“Long Beach is one of my favorite races of the year,” said Hunter-Reay, a former Long Beach winner. “It’s one of the cornerstone events for the series with a great fan base and great racing. We have a win there from 2010, started on pole in 2014 but still feel like we have unfinished business after last year with the car shutting off on us while running up front. We have some work to do. We have two top-five finishes so far this year, but we’re not satisfied with that, which is a good thing.”

Teammate, and California native, Rossi echoed Hunter-Reay sentiments about realizing last year’s potential.

“It is hard to beat the atmosphere and energy of Long Beach. With it being a Southern California race, it is sort of a home race for me, so I will have lots of friends and family down for the weekend. We will be looking to finish what we started last year and hopefully, we can put the NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda on the top step,” Rossi explained.

Misc.

  • A handful of rookies who did not run at ISM Raceway return to the grid at Long Beach. Zachary Claman De Melo, Jordan King, and Jack Harvey will all look to build on foundations laid on the streets of St. Petersburg as they make their second IndyCar street race starts. Elsewhere, Kyle Kaiser makes his first IndyCar start on a street circuit this weekend.
  • Both Spencer Pigot and Graham Rahal will have new liveries this weekend. Pigot’s No. 20 Chevrolet will feature the blue paint scheme of Preferred Freezer Services, a long-time partner with Ed Carpenter Racing, while Rahal’s No. 15 Honda is adorned with Total Motor Oil’s red, black, and white.
  • Conversely, the Team Penske duo of Josef Newgarden and Will Power will again feature identical silver liveries on their Nos. 1 and 12 Verizon Chevrolets.

The Final Word

From Sebastien Bourdais, who is the winningest active driver at Long Beach, with three victories on the famed streets to his name.

“Long Beach is historically a track where I have had a lot of success and I have always enjoyed racing there. It is a great event. It’s going to be a matter of finding the two or three tenths of a second we were missing at St. Petersburg. Obviously, we’re in it (the championship race) so we just need to keep digging and see where we can take things, but it seems pretty clear that we have a good shot. We were obviously competitive at St. Pete, but I really wasn’t expecting us to be that strong at Phoenix. So we will just keep working and see how far we can go.”

Here’s the IndyCar Weekend Schedule:

At-track schedule (all times PT and local)

Friday, April 13

10-10:45 a.m. (1-1:45p.m. ET)- Verizon IndyCar Series practice 1, Livestreamed on RaceControl.IndyCar.Com

2-2:45 p.m. (8 p.m. ET) – Verizon IndyCar Series practice 2, Livestreamed on RaceControl.IndyCar.Com

Saturday, April 14

10:45-11:30 a.m. (1:45-2:30 p.m. ET) – Verizon IndyCar Series practice 4, Livestreamed on RaceControl.IndyCar.Com

3:30 p.m. (6:30 p.m. ET) Qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award (single-car format, two laps each), LIVE on NBCSN

Sunday April 15

9:00-9:30 a.m. (12:00-12:30 p.m.) – Warm-up, Livestreamed on RaceControl.IndyCar.Com

1:00 p.m. (4:00 p.m. ET) – NBCSN on air

1:40 p.m. (4:40 p.m. ET) – Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (85 Laps)

Here’s last year’s top 10:

1. James Hinchcliffe
2. Sebastien Bourdais
3. Josef Newgarden
4. Scott Dixon
5. Simon Pagenaud
6. Ed Jones
7. Carlos Munoz
8. Spencer Pigot
9. Helio Castroneves (pole)
10. Graham Rahal

Here’s last year’s Firestone Fast Six:

1. Helio Castroneves
2. Scott Dixon
3. Ryan Hunter-Reay
4. James HinchCliffe
5. Alexander Rossi
6. Graham Rahal

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F1 Preview: 2018 German Grand Prix

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The German Grand Prix continues its biennial presence on the Formula 1 calendar – it’s hosted F1 events in even numbered years since 2014 – as Formula 1 returns to the Hockenheimring this weekend.

The German fans will undoubtedly be joyful in Sebastian Vettel entering his home race in the championship lead, by nine points over Lewis Hamilton. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, Vettel despite being one of the most successful and decorated drivers of his generation, Vettel has won in Germany only once (2013, at the Nurburgring) and he has never won at Hockenheim.

Conversely, Hamilton has won in Germany three times, including twice at Hockenheim (2008 and 2016).

As such, Vettel will hope to add to his points lead over Hamilton with a win on home soil, though Hamilton may be equally as motivated after watching Vettel his own home race at Silverstone two weeks ago.

Nevertheless, their 2018 championship duel will most certainly continue to be closely fought.

Talking points ahead of the German Grand Prix are below.

A Different World in 2018 vs. 2016

Nico Rosberg during the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 31, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany. Photo: Getty Images

The Formula 1 landscape looked completely different back in 2016, the last time Formula 1 visited the Hockenheimring. Bernie Ecclestone was still the chief executive of Formula 1.

Nico Rosberg was partnering Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes team, and was on his way to a driver’s championship that year.

Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen were in the midst of a slump as Ferrari went winless in 2016.

The world was still getting to know a then 18-year-old Max Verstappen, the young Dutchman having won the Spanish Grand Prix in May that year.

And the cars looked completely different, with skinnier and taller rear wings and taller rear tires highlighting the appearance differences.

In 2018, Vettel and Ferrari might be the strongest combination. Rosberg is long from Mercedes, and Valtteri Bottas is doing his best to shine in the wake of Hamilton’s enormous shadow.

Verstappen is still a rising star, though he has come under fire at times for overly aggressive driving and his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo has garnered more headlines this year, with a pair of race wins alongside his status as an F1 free agent after 2018.

In short, the Formula 1 landscape is hardly recognizable from what it was back in 2016. And even though Hamilton won that year, followed by Ricciardo and Verstappen in second and third, very little will carry over from that race two years ago.

Hamilton, Mercedes Look to Take Back Momentum from Vettel, Ferrari

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 08: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 leads Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 8, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

The seesaw championship fight has tilted back in the favor of Ferrari, with Vettel leading Hamilton after finishes of third and first in Austria and England. Hamilton, meanwhile, DNF’ed in Austria and came home second in England after spinning on Lap 1.

Hamilton trails by nine points, but this is hardly an unfamiliar position for Hamilton in 2018 – he started the year trailing Vettel until he took the championship lead for the first time after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Both teams have had multiple swings of momentum this year – Vettel won the opening two races before finishes of eighth in China (he spun after contact with Verstappen) and a pair of fourth place efforts in Azerbaijan and Spain before getting two more wins in Canada and England.

Hamilton, meanwhile stumbled out of the gates somewhat with finishes of second and third before taking a fortuitous win in Azerbaijan and two dominant wins in Spain and France before the misfortune in Austria.

All told the ebb and flow of the 2018 season seems to change with every race, and while Vettel now leads Hamilton again, things could change this weekend.

Raikkonen Trying to Fend off Ricciardo, Bottas

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 06: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 6, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Kimi Raikkonen is somewhat of a forgotten man this Formula 1 season, but he does rank third in the championship at the moment, 10 points ahead of Ricciardo and 12 points ahead of Bottas.

However, both Ricciardo and Bottas are likely thought to have had better seasons – Ricciardo has the aforementioned wins (at China and Monaco) and the only thing that has kept Bottas from the top step of the podium is a string of horrendous luck.

However, Raikkonen, to his credit, has picked up the pieces whenever others around him have faltered, and he has six podium finishes through 10 races.

However, in order to fully silence any critics, and maybe even keep his Ferrari drive, Raikkonen would do well to get a win in 2018.

Misc.

  • The driver challenging Raikkonen’s position within Ferrari is Sauber’s Charles Leclerc. The Ferrari junior driver has five points finishes, and that could have been six if not for a pit stop error at Silverstone that caused him to leave his pit stall with a loose wheel – it forced him to retire. Leclerc’s star is on the rise, and he could shine again in Germany.
  • Nico Hulkenberg is the “other” German driver on the grid. And though he has a 24 Hours of Le Mans win to his name, he is yet to finish on the podium in an F1 race. The Renault package may not be a podium threat in usual circumstances, but if he stays clean and others falter, he could sneak in there…and doing so in his home race would make that overdue podium even sweeter.
  • After a pair of eighth place finishes, Fernando Alonso has helped McLaren at least stop the bleeding after a dismal stretch of races from Monaco through France in which the team scored zero points. However, the team still has a long way to go, and Germany could be another weekend of struggles.

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