LONG BEACH, Calif – The final stop before Indianapolis is here and it’s a good one. Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach (4 p.m. ET/NBCSN/IndyCar Radio Network) is the fourth race of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season and the final one before the always exciting Month of May.
But, this week is exciting too and arguably the second most anticipated stop of the year. Winning on the streets of Long Beach ranks only behind the Indianapolis 500 as races that these Indy Car drivers want to win.
That’s why this weekend it so crucial.
But, before we get to Sunday’s 85 Lap race, we had two practice sessions on a picture perfect Friday afternoon.
In both sessions, Honda’s once again stole the show. The top seven speeds overall in session No. 1belonged 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.
Session 1 Recap
Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autosport) was P1 with a time of 1:07.9335-seconds in his No. 28 Honda. Hunter-Reay, has been fast in nearly every practice session this season in showing up on the speed charts second, first, first, fourth, fourth, fourth, fifth, sixth, 13th and now first respectively. The thing is, they haven’t always led to success. After three races, he has just one top five finish which was a third place run in COTA. In Long Beach, since his win in 2010, he has just one top 10 result in the last eight starts on the 1.968-mile street circuit. So, will this speed on Friday translate over to success on Sunday.
Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi Racing) was second fastest in his No. 9 Honda. The 2015 winner circled the track with a lap of 1:08.1039-seconds.
Colton Herta (Harding Steinbrenner Racing) was third overall in his No. 88 Honda. The COTA race winner turned in a time of 1:08.1844-seconds. Herta, like Hunter-Reay, has been close to the top of the speed charts in practice all season too. He’s been in the top 10 in seven of the 10 sessions thus far.
Graham Rahal (1:08.3496-seconds) and last year’s winner Alexander Rossi (1:08.4314-seconds) rounded out the top five in session No. 1.
Session 2 Recap
Dixon and Hunter-Reay were once again quick, this time changing spots. Dixon, turned a late lap of 1:07.7940-seconds on his Firestone Alternates which proved to be quick time of the day.
Hunter-Reay was P2 with a lap of 1:07.8434-seconds himself.
Right now, these are the top two drivers to beat. But, it’s still early.
Dixon’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate of Felix Rosenqvist was third quickest in his No. 10 Honda. The rookie driver circled the track with a lap of 1:07.886-seconds.
Josef Newgarden (1:07.964-seconds) and Pato O’Ward (1:08.0303-seconds) rounded out the top five.
The only incident of the session came with Matheus Leist’s No. 4 Chevrolet stalled on track.
AJ Foyt Racing/Carlin Showing Progress
What a start to the weekend it was for AJ Foyt Racing and Carlin. Foyt, hasn’t won a race since this very event in 2013 and here they were having both drivers in the top 13 in the first session. In fact, other than the three Penske cars, Foyt had the next best practice speeds in session No. 1 of the entire Chevrolet camp.
Matheus Leist said heading into this weekend that he’s most comfortable on street courses. The second year driver finished 14th in this very race last year and was P11 in practice on Friday.
His Brazilian teammate of Tony Kanaan has three top eight finishes in his last four Long Beach starts came in 13th on the speed charts in his No. 14 Chevrolet.
It’s a much better start for this duo.
Carlin was quick too. In the second session, they were the top Chevy team with rookie Pato O’Ward being P5. His teammate of Max Chilton was 11th quick to put both Carlin cars in the top 11 in session No. 2.
Team Penske Top Chevy Team
As I mentioned above, Foyt had the second best times in the first session among Chevy teams. Well, Penske was the best. They struggled overall in COTA but in Long Beach, they’re back fighting with the Honda’s again.
While none of their three drivers were in the top five of the speeds charts in session No. 1, all were in the top 10 though.
Simon Pagenaud was eighth fastest in both sessions in his No. 22 Chevrolet while Josef Newgarden (9th, 4th ) and Will Power (10th, 15th) followed.
It was a much better showing.
Pagenaud, won this race in 2016 and has scored a top 10 in six of his seven Long Beach tries. Power, finished runner-up for the third time of his career last year while also being victorious twice as well. Newgarden, has four straight top 10 finishes including a third place run in 2017. He also is the current points leader and has three top four finishes to start the year off with.
Repeat Winners Looking Strong
We’ve had seven straight different race winners in Long Beach. If that trend holds true, then Will Power (2012), Takuma Sato (2013), Scott Dixon (2015), Simon Pagenaud (2016), James Hinchcliffe (2017) and Alexander Rossi (2018) won’t be victorious this weekend.
Also, we’ve had six straight years of different teams winning too. So, AJ Foyt Racing (2013), Ed Carpenter Racing (2014), Chip Ganassi Racing (2015), Team Penske (2016), Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2017) not Andretti Autosport (2018) will produce a winner either.
Furthermore, we’ve had three different teams win all three races this season, so ex nay Penske (Newgarden – St. Pete), Harding Steinbrenner Racing (Herta – COTA) and RLL (Sato – Barber) from this weekend too.
If we want those streaks to remain in tract though, someone better alert them.
In the first practice session, the top two speeds and three of the top five were past Long Beach winners. Furthermore, five of the top eight are all Long Beach winners as well.
The only one that was the best to fit the mold was Graham Rahal and his Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing team in fourth. He’s yet to win at Long Beach and out of the past six years, RLL hasn’t won either.
In session No. 2, half of the top six belonged to past winners as well as five of the top nine.
Newgarden, paced the way among top non previous winners with being P4 in the second session and P9 in session No. 1. Rahal, was seventh in the second session as both are the top contenders to earn a first trip to victory lane in Long Beach.