Thursday, April 16, 2015

Track Walk: Long Beach 2015

IndyCar heads to Southern California for the third round of 2015
The third round of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series Championship takes us to the streets of Long Beach. The race dates back to 1975 and the last four races have been won by four different teams and only one team has won multiple times at Long Beach since 2008. Honda enters Long Beach fresh off their first victory in eight races while Chevrolet looks to defend their Long Beach victory from last year.

Time: Coverage begins at 4:00 p.m. ET on Sunday April 19th. Green flag at 4:37 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Brian Till (Leigh Diffey is still on Formula One duty. He will make his season debut at Barber), Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy are in the booth with Kevin Lee, Robin Miller, Kelli Stavast and Marty Snider working the pit lane.

Back to Reality?
IndyCar puts the rain and swampy conditions of New Orleans behind them and the series returns to the sunshine and history of Long Beach.

Juan Pablo Montoya retained the championship lead after a fifth place finish at New Orleans. The Colombian sits on 84 points and leads a Penske 1-2-3 in the championship as Hélio Castroneves trails by ten points with defending champion Will Power 14 points back. Montoya, Castroneves and Power are all past winners at Long Beach. Other past Long Beach winners entered are Sébastien Bourdais, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Takuma Sato. Bourdais won three consecutive years from 2005-2007 and was currently tied with Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti for 12th in the championship on 37 points. Hunter-Reay was deducted three points following the accident between him and Simon Pagenaud at NOLA. Hunter-Reay's 2010 Grand Prix of Long Beach victory is his only top five finish at Long Beach. Sato is tied for 19th with Charlie Kimball on 25 points. Sato has not finished on the podium since São Paulo 2013, 35 races ago.

James Hinchcliffe jumped to fourth in the championship after his NOLA victory. The Canadian has 65 points with Tony Kanaan two points behind Hinchcliffe. Former teammates Graham Rahal and James Jakes are tied with 43 points. After consecutive top ten finishes, Luca Filippi sits on 42 points with Simon Pagenaud finding himself sandwiched between CFH Racing drivers with Josef Newgarden a point behind the Frenchman.

Scott Dixon sits on 34 points, tied with Hunter-Reay and Carlos Muñoz for 14th, and heads to one of his worst tracks. The New Zealander lone top ten was a fourth place finish in 2010. He has finished outside the top fifteen at Long Beach in four of his eight starts on Shoreline Drive. Dixon has failed to finish in the top ten through the first two races. Dixon has never started a season with three consecutive finishes outside the top ten.

Reality Bites
Simona de Silvestro and Sage Karam will not be competing at Long Beach. Andretti Autosport did not enter the #25 Honda for Long Beach. De Silvestro finished fourth at NOLA in her second start with Andretti Autosport. She is slated to return to attempt to make the Indianapolis 500 in the #29 TE Connectivity Andretti Honda.

Karam will be replaced by Gary Peterson's Automatic Fire Sprinklers sponsorship and Sebastián Saavedra in the #8 Ganassi Chevrolet. Saavedra will be in the car at Long Beach, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Sonoma. Karam is set to return for Barber, will attempt to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 and run in the #8 until Pocono. Saavedra will attempt the Indianapolis 500 in a fifth Ganassi entry. Saavedra has made 56 starts, his best finish is eighth at Baltimore 2013 and has three top ten finishes. Saavedra has an average starting position of 18.91 and average finish of 18.32.

Francesco Dracone will return in the #19 at Dale Coyne Racing. Dracone hit Dale Coyne Racing crew member Todd Phillips at New Orleans. The Italian was fined $10,000 and placed on probation for the next six races. In four career starts Dracone has finished 22nd, 20th, 23rd and 23rd.

Dracone will have a new teammate this weekend. Carlos Huertas has been replaced by Californian Rocky Moran, Jr. in the #18 Honda. Moran, Jr. won two races in Toyota Atlantics back in 2001 and 2002. His last open-wheel start was the 2005 Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway where he started 18th and finished 17th due to gearbox issues. The 35-year old last competed professionally in 2011 when he and another second-generation driver, P.J. Jones, shared a Rocketsports Jaguar in the GT class. Moran, Jr.'s deal only goes for Long Beach and Huertas could return for Indianapolis. Plans for Barber are still to be determined.

Indy Lights
A dozen cars are entered for the third race of the 2015 Indy Lights season. Ed Jones swept the season opening weekend at St. Petersburg as the Emirati driver won in Carlin's first two races in the series. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports' Jack Harvey and Juncos Racing's Spencer Pigot finished second and third in both races at St. Petersburg.

Californian Kyle Kaiser is tied for fourth in the championship with Canadian Scott Hargrove. Hargrove will not be competing at Long Beach as 8Star Motorsport did not enter for the street race. Nissan LMP1 driver and former Marussia F1 driver Max Chilton is sixth in the championship and finished fourth in race two at St. Petersburg. Belardi Racing's Juan Piedrahita is a point behind the Chilton.

SPM's Scott Anderson and Andertti Autosport's Matthew Brabham are tied on 25 points. Brabham will race at Long Beach. He previously was just announced for St. Petersburg. Ethan Ringel rounds out the top ten in the championship. Félix Serrallés, Shelby Blackstock and R.C. Enerson round out the championship with a point separating the three drivers.

The last European driver to win the Long Beach Indy Lights race was Austrian Philipp Petter in 2000. Note from 2002-2008 Indy Lights did not run at Long Beach. South Americans have won the last three races (Esteban Guerrieri, Carlos Muñoz, Gabby Chaves). Since Indy Lights returned to Long Beach, four of their six races did not feature a lead change.

The Indy Lights races will take place Sunday at 11:45 a.m. ET.

Pirelli World Challenge
Forty cars are entered as the GT and GT Cup classes head to Long Beach for their third round of the 2015 Pirelli World Challenge season.

Olivier Beretta enters as the points leader driving for R.Ferri Motorsport. The Monegasque driver has won two of four races and holds a two-point lead over EFFORT Racing Porsche driver Ryan Dalziel. The Scotsman has finished runner-up in three of the four races. Third in the championship is K-PAX McLaren's Kevin Éstre. The Austin 2 winner is 16 points behind Beretta . Defending champion Johnny O'Connell is 89 points back as the Cadillac driver's best finish is third through four races. Fifth in the championship, Lamborghini driver Nicky Catsburg is not entered for Long Beach.

Acura's Ryan Eversley trails Beretta by 111 points after splitting the St. Petersburg weekend. Michael Lewis is top GT-A driver, seventh in the championship but the EFFORT Racing Porsche driver could be reclassified depending on his results. CRP Racing Audi's Mike Skeen, Nissan's James Davison and Cadillac's Andy Pilgrim round out the top ten in the championship.

In GT Cup, Colin Thompson has won three of four races and leads Lorenzo Trefethen by 79 points. Sloan Urry is 118 points behind Thompson. Preston Calvert is fourth, 151 points back and Phil Fogg, winner in St. Petersburg 1, rounds out the top five, six points behind Calvert.

Last year, Johnny O'Connell took won at Long Beach ahead of his teammate Andy Pilgrim and Anthony Lazzaro.

The PWC race will take place after the IndyCar Grand Prix of Long Beach at 7:30 p.m. ET Sunday night.

Seventeen cars are entered for the third round of the 2015 United Sports Car Championship season. Nine Prototypes and eight GT Le Mans cars are heading to Long Beach.

Action Express Racing's Christian Fittipaldi and João Barbosa lead the Prototype championship after a dominant victory at Sebring. The defending champions hold a seven-point lead over Spirit of Daytona's Michael Valiante and Richard Westbrook. Fourteen points back of Fittipaldi and Barbosa are their Action Express teammates Eric Curran and Dane Cameron. Ganassi drivers Joey Hand and Scott Pruett are a point behind Curran/Cameron.

Ricky and Jordan Taylor trail by 20 points after finishing runner-up at Sebring. Shank Racing's Oswaldo Negri and John Pew are three back of the Taylor brothers. The other three entries are the DeltaWing, featuring Katherine Legge and Memo Rojas and the Mazda prototypes with Tristan Nunez and Jonathan Bomarito in one car and Tom Long and Joel Miller in the other.

Corvette's Antonio García and Jan Magnussen won the first two rounds of the season and lead the GTLM championship by 14 points over the RLLR BMW drivers John Edwards and Lucas Luhr. Second through sixth in GTLM are covered by four points. Third in the championship is the other RLLR pairing of Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner. Giancarlo Fisichella and Pierre Kaffer are fourth with Falken Tire Porsche's Bryan Sellers and Wolf Henzler rounding out the top five.

Corvette's Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner are tied with Porsche's Patrick Pilet. Frédéric Makowiecki will join Pilet as co-driver with Richard Lietz joins Jörg Bergmeister. Makowiecki and Lietz replace Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber, who will focus on their upcoming LMP1 duties at Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans.

Ganassi won last year in Prototypes with Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas while Antonio García and Jan Magnussen won in GTLM.

The IMSA race will take place on Saturday night at 7:05 p.m. ET.

Fast Facts
This will be the tenth IndyCar race to take place on April 19th. The most recent race on April 19th was in 2009 and it is the only Grand Prix of Long Beach to fall on April 19th. Dario Franchitti took the victory, his first with Chip Ganassi Racing and first since returning after running in NASCAR.

The last four Grands Prix of Long Beach have been won by four different teams (Andretti Autosport, Team Penske, A.J. Foyt Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing). Since reunification, six teams have split the seven races held at Long Beach. The other teams to win were KV Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing. Andretti Autosport is the only team with multiple victories at Long Beach post-reunification.

Five of the last seven Long Beach races have had over 10 laps run behind the pace car.

Five of the last seven Long Beach races have had five or more lead changes.

Can you name the top five finishers in the Grand Prix of Long Beach during the IndyCar-era?

Will Power has been running at the finish of every one of his Long Beach starts. Sunday will mark his tenth start on Shoreline Drive.

This year's Grand Prix of Long Beach falls on Townsend Bell's 40th birthday.

This will be the 41st Grand Prix of Long Beach, 32nd-time IndyCar as the headliner. Eight times it was a Formula One Grand Prix and the inaugural edition was a Formula 5000 race.

Toyota has never won the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

In the IndyCar-era, Honda has won the most Grands Prix of Long Beach with eleven victories. Chevrolet and Cosworth are tied with nine victories. Mercedes-Benz and Illmor each have one victory.

In last year's race, eight of the top ten finishers started outside the top ten. The two exceptions were Simon Pagenaud (started sixth, finished fifth) and Marco Andretti (Started and finished eighth).

Possible Milestones at Long Beach:

A victory for Scott Dixon will be his 36th and move him into sole possession of fifth all-time in IndyCar victories.

Marco Andretti needs to lead 70 laps to join the 1,000 laps led club.

Takuma Sato needs to lead ten laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Simon Pagenaud needs to lead 18 laps to reach the 200 laps led milestone.

Graham Rahal needs to lead 50 laps to reach the 200 laps led milestone.

Sébastien Bourdais needs one podium to reach 50 career IndyCar podiums.

No rain means Will Power gets his first victory of 2015 at Long Beach. There will be a new points leader after this race. Scott Dixon gets his second career top ten at Long Beach. There are at least four Hondas in the top ten including Marco Andretti. A rookie finally gets a top ten finish. Josef Newgarden finishes ahead of Luca Filippi. Sébastien Bourdais is the top finishing Frenchman. There are at least 65 green flag laps. Sleeper: Jack Hawksworth.