INDYCAR PREVIEW: Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

Photo: IndyCar

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.


  • 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


‘It’s gnarly, bro’: IndyCar drivers face new challenge on streets of downtown Detroit

IndyCar Detroit downtown
James Black/Penske Entertainment

DETROIT – It was the 1968 motion picture, “Winning” when actress Joanne Woodward asked Paul Newman if he were going to Milwaukee in the days after he won the Indianapolis 500 as driver Frank Capua.

“Everybody goes to Milwaukee after Indianapolis,” Newman responded near the end of the film.

Milwaukee was a mainstay as the race on the weekend after the Indianapolis 500 for decades, but since 2012, the first race after the Indy 500 has been Detroit at Belle Isle Park.

This year, there is a twist.

Instead of IndyCar racing at the Belle Isle State Park, it’s the streets of downtown Detroit on a race course that is quite reminiscent of the old Formula One and CART race course that was used from 1982 to 1991.

Formula One competed in the United States Grand Prix from 1982 to 1988. Beginning in 1989, CART took over the famed street race through 1991. In 1992, the race was moved to Belle Isle, where it was held through last year (with a 2009-2011 hiatus after the Great Recession).

The Penske Corp. is the promoter of this race, and they did a lot of good at Belle Isle, including saving the Scott Fountain, modernizing the Belle Isle Casino, and basically cleaning up the park for Detroit citizens to enjoy.

The race, however, had outgrown the venue. Roger Penske had big ideas to create an even bigger event and moving it back to downtown Detroit benefitted race sponsor Chevrolet. The footprint of the race course goes around General Motors world headquarters in the GM Renaissance Center – the centerpiece building of Detroit’s modernized skyline.

INDYCAR IN DETROITEntry list, schedule, TV info for this weekend

JOSEF’S FAMILY TIESNewgarden wins Indy 500 with wisdom of father, wife

Motor City is about to roar with the sound of Chevrolet and Honda engines this weekend as the NTT IndyCar Series is the featured race on the nine-turn, 1.7-mile temporary street course.

It’s perhaps the most unique street course on the IndyCar schedule because of the bumps on the streets and the only split pit lane in the series.

The pit lanes has stalls on opposing sides and four lanes across an unusual rectangular pit area (but still only one entry and exit).

Combine that, with the bumps and the NTT IndyCar Series drivers look forward to a wild ride in Motor City.

“It’s gnarly, bro,” Arrow McLaren driver Pato O’Ward said before posting the fastest time in Friday’s first practice. “It will be very interesting because the closest thing that I can see it being like is Toronto-like surfaces with more of a Long Beach-esque layout.

“There’s less room for error than Long Beach. There’s no curbs. You’ve got walls. I think very unique to this place.

PRACTICE RESULTS: Speeds from the first session

“Then it’s a bit of Nashville built into it. The braking zones look really very bumpy. Certain pavements don’t look bumpy but with how the asphalt and concrete is laid out, there’s undulation with it. So, you can imagine the cars are going to be smashing on every single undulation because we’re going to go through those sections fairly fast, and obviously the cars are pretty low. I don’t know.

“It looks fun, man. It’s definitely going to be a challenge. It’s going to be learning through every single session, not just for drivers and teams but for race control. For everyone.

“Everybody has to go into it knowing not every call is going to be smooth. It’s a tall task to ask from such a demanding racetrack. I think it’ll ask a lot from the race cars as well.”

The track is bumpy, but O’Ward indicated he would be surprised if it is bumper than Nashville. By comparison to Toronto, driving at slow speed is quite smooth, but fast speed is very bumpy.

“This is a mix of Nashville high-speed characteristics and Toronto slow speed in significant areas,” O’Ward said. “I think it’ll be a mix of a lot of street courses we go to, and the layout looks like more space than Nashville, which is really tight from Turn 4 to 8. It looks to be a bit more spacious as a whole track, but it’ll get tight in multiple areas.”

The concept of having four-wide pit stops is something that excites the 24-year-old driver from Monterey, Mexico.

“I think it’s innovation, bro,” O’Ward said. “If it works out, we’ll look like heroes.

“If it doesn’t, we tried.”

Because of the four lanes on pit road, there is a blend line the drivers will have to adhere to. Otherwise, it would be chaos leaving the pits compared to a normal two-lane pit road.

“If it wasn’t there, there’d be guys fighting for real estate where there’s one car that fits, and there’d be cars crashing in pit lane,” O’Ward said. “I get why they did that. It’s the same for everybody. I don’t think there’s a lot of room to play with. That’s the problem.

“But it looks freaking gnarly for sure. Oh my God, that’s going to be crazy.”

Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing believes the best passing areas will be on the long straights because of the bumps in the turns. That is where much of the action will be in terms of gaining or losing a position in the race.

“It will also be really easy to defend in my opinion,” Palou said. “Being a 180-degree corner, you just have to go on the inside and that’s it. There’s going to be passes for sure but its’ going to be risky.

“Turn 1, if someone dives in, you end up in the wall. They’re not going to be able to pass you on the exit, so maybe with the straight being so long you can actually pass before you end up on the braking zone.”

Palou’s teammate, Marcus Ericsson, was at the Honda simulator in Brownsburg, Indiana, before coming to Detroit and said he was shocked by the amount of bumps on the simulator.

Race promoter Bud Denker, the President of Penske Corporation, and Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix President Michael Montri, sent the track crews onto the streets with grinders to smooth out the bumps on the race course several weeks ago.

“They’ve done a decent amount of work, and even doing the track walk, it looked a lot better than what we expected,” Ericsson said. “I don’t think it’ll be too bad. I hope not. That’ll be something to take into account.

“I think the track layout doesn’t look like the most fun. Maybe not the most challenging. But I love these types of tracks with rules everywhere. It’s a big challenge, and you have to build up to it. That’s the types of tracks that I love to drive. It’s a very much Marcus Ericsson type of track. I like it.”

Scott Dixon, who was second fastest in the opening session, has competed on many new street circuits throughout his legendary racing career. The six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion for Chip Ganassi Racing likes the track layout, even with the unusual pit lane.

I don’t think that’s going to be something that catches on where every track becomes a double barrel,” Dixon said. “It’s new and interesting.

“As far as pit exit, I think Toronto exit is worse with how the wall sticks out. I think in both lanes, you’ve got enough lead time to make it and most guys will make a good decision.”

It wasn’t until shortly after 3 p.m. ET on Friday that the IndyCar drivers began the extended 90-minute practice session to try out the race course for the first time in real life.

As expected, there were several sketchy moments, but no major crashes during the first session despite 19 local yellow flags for incidents and two red flags.

Rookie Agustin Canapino had to cut his practice short after some damage to his No. 78 Dallara-Chevrolet, but he was among many who emerged mostly unscathed from scrapes with the wall.

“It was honestly less carnage than I expected,” said Andretti Autosport’s Kyle Kirkwood, who was third fastest in the practice after coming off his first career IndyCar victory in the most recent street race at Long Beach in April. “I think a lot of people went off in the runoffs, but no one actually hit the wall (too hard), which actually surprised me. Hats off to them for keeping it clean, including myself.

“It was quite a bit less grip than I think everyone expected. Maybe a little bit more bumpy down into Turn 3 than everyone expected. But overall they did a good job between the two manufacturers. I’m sure everyone had pretty much the same we were able to base everything off of. We felt pretty close to maximum right away.”

Most of the preparation for this event was done either on the General Motors Simulator in Huntersville, North Carolina, or the Honda Performance Development simulator in Brownsburg, Indiana.

“Now, we have simulators that can scan the track, so we have done plenty of laps already,” Power told NBC Sports. “They have ground and resurfaced a lot of the track, so it should be smoother.

“But nothing beats real-world experience. It’s going to be a learning experience in the first session.”

As a Team Penske driver, Power and his teammates were consulted about the progress and layout of the Detroit street course. They were shown what was possible with the streets that were available.

“We gave some input back after we were on the similar what might be ground and things like that,” Power said.

Racing on the streets of Belle Isle was a fairly pleasant experience for the fans and corporate sponsor that compete in the race.

But the vibe at the new location gives this a “big event” feel.

“The atmosphere is a lot better,” Power said. “The location, the accessibility for the fans, the crowd that will be here, it’s much easier. I think it will be a much better event.

“It feels like a Long Beach, only in a much bigger city. That is what street course racing is all about.”

Because the track promoter is also the team owner, Power and teammates Scott McLaughlin and Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden will have a very busy weekend on the track, and with sponsor and personal appearances.

“That’s what pays the bills and allows us to do this,” Power said.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500