LONG BEACH, Calif – For the second straight weekend, the NTT IndyCar Series stars will hit the track once again. After last weekend’s race at the Barber Motorsports Park, it’s time to shift our focus back to a street course race in Long Beach.
The prestigious Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach (4 p.m. ET/NBCSN/IndyCar Radio Network) will take place on Sunday. This is one that everyone wants to win.
See, if you had to rank the races on the annual Indy Car schedule to win at, Long Beach will rank up there with the best of them, if not tops behind Indianapolis.
That alone is a big storyline, but here are five more.
James Hinchcliffe leads Sebastien Bourdais in the 2018 Grand Prix of Long Beach – INDYCAR Media Site
Starting Position Matters
Since 2008, nine drivers have won this race from a starting position no worse than Row 2. That’s nine of the last 11 overall. Plus, the last four race winners have come from – 3rd, 3rd, 4th and 1st respectively.
With how the races have gone, expect making the Fast Six to make or break who wins this weekend’s race.
Two of the three races run this season have been won from the pole and all have been won by a driver that made the Fast Six.
Plus, our pole sitter Alexander Rossi had won from the pole in three of his previous four tries.
Ryan Hunter-Reay on the streets of St. Pete – INDYCAR Media Site
Due to the 85 Lap race not being as long as it could be and few cautions typically flying, Long Beach has become a race of pit strategy. Will a two stop strategy or a three stopper win out?
Normally, the drivers towards the back half of the field will hit pit road early in efforts to get clean air and on new tires. That has worked the last few weeks for the Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team as well as Josef Newgarden. They’ve each made up a ton of ground by pitting early. But, will an extra pit stop hurt them in the end if we have a clean race?
We saw in COTA how a caution in the middle of a pit sequence can cause chaos. In Long Beach, we’ve had a total of eight cautions the last four years. So far this year, we had just one caution in each of the last two races.
Pit strategy and managing tires is going to be the biggest thing to watch.
Scott Dixon at the INDYCAR Acura GP of Long Beach
Will We See Another Honda Dominance?
Right now, it seems to be Honda vs. Team Penske this weekend. Saturday practice session saw 13 of the top 17 times belong to Honda drivers. The only non Honda drivers in that session up front were Simon Pagenaud (5th), Josef Newgarden (6th), Will Power (10th) and Pato O’Ward (9th). The first three are Penske drivers with O’Ward belonging to Carlin.
Same happened in practice on Friday. The top seven speeds overall in session No. 1 belonged to Honda drivers with five different teams a part of that. In session No. 2 on the day, they took the top three times and five of the top seven.
In terms of the starting lineup, 11 of the top 15 are Honda’s.
Graham Rahal during the INDYCAR Acura GP of Long Beach
Will We See Another New Winner?
This is a big one to win, but it’s a hard one to figure out as well. See, over the last six races, we’ve seen six different organizations triumph on the 1.968-mile scenic street circuit.
AJ Foyt Racing (Takuma Sato) won in 2013. Ed Carpenter Racing (Mike Conway) followed that up with a win a year later. Chip Ganassi Racing (Scott Dixon), Team Penske (Simon Pagenaud), Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (James Hinchcliffe) and Andretti Autosport (Alexander Rossi) have followed since.
Will we see a seventh different team win Sunday’s race?
If so, the only ones left are Dale Coyne Racing (Sebastien Bourdais, Santino Ferrucci), Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing (Takuma Sato, Graham Rahal), Harding Steinbrenner Racing (Colton Herta) or Carlin (Max Chilton, Pato O’Ward).
These are all viable options too.
Furthermore, over the last seven years, we’ve seen seven different winners? Will we see an eighth on Sunday? Will Power won for Penske in 2012 joining the others in the point above this. If any of those drivers from those teams that have not won in the point above can win Sunday’s 85 Lap race, then we will have seen no repeat winners since 2012. That’s the entire era of the DW12 and this new car that debuted last year.
Josef Newgarden, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Felix Rosenqvist and Graham Rahal look like the top options to do so.
Plus, we’re three races into the 2019 season and have seen three different race winners from three different teams. If you go back to last year, the last seven races to be exact, the series has produced eight different race winners from six different organizations.
The only thing is, the top three starters are past winners in this time frame including four of the top five.
Tony Kanaan during the INDYCAR Acura GP of Long Beach
Championship Favorites Up Front
The entire Top 2 rows are filled with championship favorites. The top two in the standings are Josef Newgarden (4th) and Scott Dixon (2nd). They each start in the top two Rows. Third place is Takuma Sato and he starts eighth. Fourth place in the standings is Alexander Rossi and he’s on the pole.
It’s no secret, the top drivers on their games this season should be on top of the finishing order on Sunday.