Five IndyCar things to watch for at Long Beach

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The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach marks the fourth race on the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series calendar. So far, three different drivers have found Victory Lane, including rookie Colton Herta after his incredible run at Austin, and Barber winner Takuma Sato, who finished 12th in points last year.

Watch Sunday’s race at 4:30 pm ET on NBCSN or the NBC Sports app

There is a strong likelihood that Sunday will crown a fourth new winner. With his two runner-up finishes so far this season (St Petersburg and Barber), Scott Dixon has a great opportunity to narrow Josef Newgarden’s lead. Dixon won this race in 2015 and could become only the third driver to win two Long Beach Grand Prixs since IndyCar took over the sanction.

  1. Since 2008, when the IndyCar Series began sanctioning this race, no one has ever been able to back up one Long Beach win with another. (Sebastien Bourdais scored three consecutive from 2005 through 2007 when the race was sanctioned by the Champ Car World Series.) Alexander Rossi has the potential to double down after a strong start to the season that includes two top-fives and a sweep of the top 10.
  2. Until last year, the pole was not the place to start at Long Beach; Rossi was the first driver to ever win from the pole. And while pole sitters scored four podium finishes in the 10 races previous, they also finished 15th or worse three times (Ryan Hunter-Reay – 20th in 2014, Dario Franchitti – 15th in 2012, and Justin Wilson – 19th in 2008).
  3. Josef Newgarden is the only driver so far this season to sweep the top five with his St. Petersburg victory, second-place finish at Circuit of the Americas and fourth at Barber. Keeping that mark will be a challenge because he has only one top-five at Long Beach (third in 2017) and has trended downward in three starts.
  4. The pole may not be the place to start at Long Beach, but a driver needs to at least have a glimpse of clean air. Nine of 11 races have been won from the first two rows. Qualification is critical.
  5. Are the 2019 rookies finally running out of steam? At St. Petersburg, three freshmen finished in the top 10 (Felix Rosenqvist in fourth, Colton Herta in eighth and Santino Ferruci ninth). Circuit of the Americas had two in the top 10 (Herta’s victory and Patricio O’Ward’s eighth). Last week, Marcus Ericsson’s seventh was the only rookie top 10.

MORE: Fernando Alonso, McLaren test at Texas Motor Speedway 

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Max Verstappen shows speed in Austria; Lewis Hamilton lacking pace

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SPIELBERG, Austria — Red Bull driver Max Verstappen posted the fastest time Friday, and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton lacked pace in the second practice session for the Styrian Grand Prix.

Verstappen was 0.043 seconds quicker than Valtteri Bottas – Hamilton’s teammate at Mercedes – and 0.217 ahead of Racing Point driver Sergio Perez.

“The car already feels better than last week, the balance is a lot nicer and we have made a good step,” said Verstappen, who did not finish last Sunday’s season-opening Austrian GP after starting from second.

“It is too early to say how we are looking against Mercedes, but we are quite happy. We have tried a few different directions to understand the car a bit more and we are heading the right way.”

Hamilton was only sixth fastest, about 0.7 seconds slower than Verstappen. Hamilton spent a chunk of time in the garage while his team worked on his car.

“It was quite far off, so there’s a lot of work to do in the background to figure it out,” he said. “Others out there are quick and Valtteri’s obviously got good pace.”

Despite adding a new front wing to its car, struggling Ferrari had a dismal afternoon.

Charles Leclerc was only ninth quickest and 1 second slower than Verstappen, while teammate Sebastian Vettel lagged about 2 seconds behind Verstappen in 16th.

Daniel Ricciardo lost control of his Renault car early into the second session, swerving left off the track and thudding backward into a protective tire wall. He climbed out unharmed, other than a slight limp, but the left rear tire was mangled and the car was lifted off the track by a crane.

Alexander Albon spun twice, the Red Bull driver’s second spin taking him right off the track and into gravel.

Earlier, Perez was fastest in the first practice ahead of Verstappen and Bottas, with Hamilton fourth quickest and Vettel only 10th in sunny conditions.

That session was briefly interrupted when Nicholas Latifi’s Williams car pulled over to the side with a gearbox issue.

The incident brought out yellow flags, forcing drivers to slow down. But McLaren driver Lando Norris overtook Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri and got a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

Norris, 20, finished third at the Austrian GP last weekend, becoming the youngest British driver in F1 history to get on the podium and third youngest in F1.

The upcoming race is changing names from last week but is at the same track. It is surrounded by the Styrian mountains.

A third and final practice will be held on Saturday morning before qualifying in the afternoon, with heavy rain and storms in the forecast.

If third practice and qualifying are washed out, drivers take their grid positions from where they placed in second practice.

“It would definitely suck if we didn’t get to qualify,” said Hamilton, who started fifth and finished fourth last weekend. “It would make it challenging.”

However, qualifying also could be moved to Sunday morning.

“I don’t expect to be on pole position with this (practice) lap,” Verstappen said.