Ryan: Was Long Beach an Amazing Race? Well, it had Alexander Rossi


LONG BEACH, Calif. – Zipping around a 1.96-mile course that has validated the greatest that IndyCar has to offer, it might have seemed Alexander Rossi had time to soak up a picturesque Sunday.

Ahh, the sights and sounds of a sun-splashed day at the beach that also just happened to include a 20-second romp to victory in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Must have fun to absorb all that, right?

“I mean, no, (not) in the race car,” Rossi said with a tiny smile after winning his second consecutive Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Joe Skibinski/IndyCar

OK, so he might have been a little preoccupied.

Rossi, a former “Amazing Race” contestant who can respect the need to deliver an entertaining show, still wanted the fans to enjoy themselves, which he was pleased to see happening during his pickup ride around the streets of Southern California in driver introductions.

“It was amazing to see the kind of crowd reaction and the fan turnout,” he said. “Everyone looked like and sounded like they were having a really good time. (Runner-up) Josef (Newgarden) said, who knows if this is true, ‘I was looking around during the race, and no one left. They must have enjoyed it.’

“Good for him. I was not spectating on the spectators.”

If they had the right idea, those spectators (and viewers) hopefully were spectating on the guy wheeling the No. 27 Honda, which effortlessly floated through the corners with perfection for more than 90 minutes despite breakneck speeds and little margin for error.

If there was disappointment with the action on track, it wasn’t evident from the Long Beach crowd, which lingered en masse for the rest of the afternoon.

But there were some who seemed unhappy with a race that featured a single yellow flag for three laps.

A question was asked in the postrace news conference about what might add “pizazz” to the Grand Prix. And a check of IndyCar Twitter also revealed some suggestions on how to make the race “better.”

Tire degradation!

The race length!

Stages! (Uh. Wut?)

Here’s another idea: Appreciate the greatness of a budding superstar who might be remembered in the same breath as the last guy who whipped the field so thoroughly at Long Beach.

In 1995, it was Al Unser Jr. who won by more than 23 seconds in the last of his six LBGP victories that crowned the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner as “The King of the Beach.”

Among the multiple winners at Long Beach: Unser. Mario Andretti. Will Power. Alex Zanardi.

And now the Nevada City, California, native who turns his sights to another marquee event next month at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Rossi, 27, already has his face on the Borg-Warner Trophy with a 2016 Indianapolis 500 win, but he probably should have gotten another sterling silver headshot for a starring role in last year’s race (despite finishing fourth).

Stephen King/IndyCar

The Indy 500 turns drivers into household names, but having a 22-inch bronze medallion on the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame has its iconic appeal, too.

“Very similar to the 500,” Rossi said. “You’re next to legendary names in the sport. That’s special in and of itself. When you’re in the moment and you’re just here to try and maximize what you can do, you don’t really think about the history of it.

“If you ask me that question in a couple of weeks, next year, it probably will have more magnitude.”

Thankfully, we have another multiple-time winner at Long Beach who can provide instant perspective.

Car owner Michael Andretti said just as amazing as Rossi’s victory was the Herculean lap Saturday that put him on pole position by nearly 0.3 seconds over five-time series champion Scott Dixon.

“What he’s done the last couple years is pretty amazing,” Andretti said of Rossi. “It’s really difficult to even get a 10th of a second advantage at this track. That’s why when he put that three 10ths on Scott, I was like, ‘Wow, that was a big lap.’ He’s special.”

And humble even though the thumping he delivered Sunday occurred during a competitive renaissance in the NTT IndyCar Series in which the first four winners of 2019 have come from four different teams.

“You just got to stay in the zone and stay focused,” Rossi said about leading 80 of 85 laps and managing a big lead (with a heavy heart after learning that morning of grandfather Donald Russell’s death). “A lot of mistakes actually happen when you try to go slower. You’re so used to driving at 10/10ths, you stay in that rhythm.

“You cherish those days where you can just kind of go out there, not have too much stress. They’re hard to come by. Probably happens once every couple of years. I love (this win). I definitely won’t get used to it, though. It’s certainly not something that is going to happen week in, week out.”

But we could see it happening more regularly for Rossi, which is why the sixth win of his career should be viewed as an entry point for witnessing his brilliance and not the exit point for “fixing” street course racing.

If you were watching Long Beach because you wanted to see nonstop dicing and passing for the lead, we’ve got nothing for you.

If you were watching because you wanted to witness the emerging greatness of someone who could be remembered as a generational talent … well, we got Alexander Rossi.

Maybe that’s enough?

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”