Long Beach Preview

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With a month separating the first and second Verizon IndyCar Series races of the season, it was hard to fully realize that the season had actually started. But now that we have our second of three racing weekends in a row, I feel like we are now getting a rhythm to the season.

This weekend is the forty-fourth consecutive running of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. It is the second oldest consecutive event on the IndyCar schedule, behind only the Indianapolis 500.

This race started in 1975 as a Formula 5000 event, won by Brian Redman driving a Lola for Carl A. Haas Racing. The following year, and for the next several years Long Beach was a stop on the Formula One schedule. Iconic names like Clay Regazzoni, Mario Andretti, Gilles Villeneuve, Nelson Piquet, and Niki Lauda are some of the F1 drivers that landed in victory lane at Long Beach.

After several years of barely clearing a profit with Formula One, race organizers decided to switch the event to a CART event in 1984. It stayed as a CART/Champ Car event through the 2008 race, which served as the Champ Car finale after the open-wheel unification. The 2009 race was the first under the current IndyCar banner.

Like Phoenix last week, the Indy car winners at Long Beach reads like a Who’s Who in Racing. In addition to his F1 win at Long Beach in 1977, Mario Andretti won three more times while racing in CART. In fact he won three of the first four CART races in Long Beach. Do you now who won the other in that span? His son, Michael Andretti. Michael won the 1986 Long Beach race, and didn’t win there again until 2002 – his last fulltime year as a driver.

The King of The Beach is Al Unser, Jr. Little Al won at Long Beach six times between 1988 and 1995. He won four times in a row between 1988 and 1991 and appeared to be heading for his fifth straight Long Beach win in 1992, before Danny Sullivan stuck the nose of his Galmer into his Galles-Kraco teammate’s path with three laps to go. Unser spun and finished fourth, while Sullivan sped on to the win. I’ve always wondered how that incident set with the respective teams and drivers. Little Al got his final two wins at Long Beach in 1994 and 1995 while driving for Marlboro Team Penske.

Other notable drivers to win multiple times at Long Beach are Alex Zanardi (2), Paul Tracy (4), Mike Conway (2), Sébastien Bourdais (3) and Will Power (2).

Winning drivers that are expected to be in Sunday’s field are Bourdais, Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Scott Dixon, Takuma Sato, Simon Pagenaud and last year’s winner James Hinchcliffe.

While Long Beach is celebrated as a great event, it does not have the reputation as being the most riveting race in the world. That being said, it seems to have it’s share of twists and turns – and I’m not talking about the track layout. There are several memorable images that come to mind.

I remember when Emerson Fittipaldi was cleared to exit his pit in the 1991 race. The problem was that Michael Andretti was barreling down pit lane. The video is labeled 1992, but it was 1991.

That incident was probably the deciding factor to enforce a speed limit in the pits. Now that we are used to it, it looks insane to see old videos from the eighties at the Indianapolis 500, where cars are going through the pits at over 200 mph. But when speed limits were introduced, it looked as if cars were crawling down pit lane.

There was also the incident I described earlier when Danny Sullivan spun out his teammate, Al Unser, Jr., as he proceeded onward for the win in 1992. Fast-forward to 2012, when Josef Newgarden started on the front row as a rookie alongside four-time IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti. Unfortunately for the rookie, he never made it past Turn One.

Many images from more recent years came from victory lane at Long Beach with many surprise winners. Ryan Hunter-Reay didn’t even have a fulltime ride in 2010, when he won at Long Beach for Andretti Autosport. He parlayed that victory into being the longtime leader on Michael Andretti’s team, giving him the opportunity to win the IndyCar championship in 2012 and the 2014 Indianapolis 500.

Mike Conway had two surprise wins – one for Andretti in 2011 and another for Ed Carpenter three years later. Takuma Sato gave AJ Foyt his first win since 2002 in 2013.

I want to go to Long Beach someday. I actually went there as a kid in 1971 and went aboard the Queen Mary, which still sits across the harbor from Shoreline Drive – the main straightaway. I’ve heard that this is one I need to go to before I hang up my keyboard. Like St. Petersburg, we always say we are going to go someday – but someday never gets here. I think that next year, we will make it a priority to attend at least one of these two races.

As for this year, I’m going to look at recent history to pick this week’s winner. A Ganassi car won this race in 2015 when Scott Dixon took his only win at Long Beach. The following year, Simon Pagenaud took the checkered flag for Team Penske. Aside from those two wins, the smaller teams of Foyt, Ed Carpenter and Schmidt Peterson have won races at Long Beach since 2013. Andretti Autosport has not won a race at Long Beach since Mike Conway did it in 2011. I’d say they’re overdue.

If you read my post on Wednesday, you can probably guess which of the four Andretti drivers I’m going to pick. Alexander Rossi will win Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. He’s hungry and he wants this year’s championship. He’s won at two legendary tracks already – Indianapolis and Watkins Glen. Long Beach will be the third.

George Phillips

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6 Responses to “Long Beach Preview”

  1. Thanks George for taking the time to write the blog . I think I will go with Will Power for the win at Long Beach this weekend .

  2. BrandonWright77 Says:

    No idea who will win but I’m hoping for a good race with the new body kit and not too many yellows (or leaders getting caught out by yellows). It would be great to see Wickens and Rossi battling at the front again, we need a good rivalry like that and it’s already shaping up nicely.

  3. S0CSeven Says:

    A little off topic maybe, but the sole coverage of Indycar racing in Canada is through Rogers Sportsnet and this weekend they decided to broadcast WWE reruns instead of Long Beach.

    After the hysteria died down, it appears we’re going to get to see the race after all http://norrismcdonald.ca/rogers-long-beach-decision/ but is this a glimpse of the future?????

    • I remember in the 90’s, I would cringe when I saw a race was on ABC instead of ESPN because there was a chance I wouldn’t see it. One year I missed Long Beach due to our local ABC affiliate choosing to preempt it for an Easter Seals Telethon. In 1993, I had to go to a sports bar with satellite (the days before DirecTV) to see the Milwaukee race because our local affiliate ran Bill Dance Fishing instead. So, this is not a new phenomenon.

    • Ron Ford Says:

      Norris is a good guy. He is in the Canadian Motor Sports Hall of Fame. I look upon him as the Canadian Robin Miller.

  4. Long Beach can become stale at times. But cautions breed cautions like nowhere else. Cars get bunched up and fight teeth to teeth for each position.

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