Sunday, April 9, 2017

Morning Warm-Up: Long Beach 2017

Can Hélio Castroneves capitalize on his third consecutive Long Beach pole position?
Hélio Castroneves won his third consecutive pole position at the Grand Prix of Long Beach and broke the track record in the process. The Brazilian laid down a lap of 66.2254 seconds in the final round of qualifying. While starting from pole position the last two years, Castroneves has finished second and third at Long Beach. He hasn't won since Texas 2014 and hasn't won from pole position since Motegi 2010. Castroneves was the only Chevrolet in the final round of qualifying and still prevented Honda from winning its first pole position on a street circuit since Long Beach 2014. Scott Dixon joins Castroneves on row one for the second consecutive year at Long Beach. The New Zealander was 0.1869 seconds off Castroneves. Dixon has finished on the podium the last two years at Long Beach.

Ryan Hunter-Reay qualified third, his best starting position since second in the second Belle Isle race last year. Hunter-Reay has failed to finish in the top ten at Long Beach the last four years and has started in the top six in three of those. Hunter-Reay's former teammate James Hinchcliffe joins him on row two. Hinchcliffe's only street course victory came from fourth on the grid at St. Petersburg in 2013. Alexander Rossi qualified a career-best fifth. His previous best starting position was seventh at Pocono last year. This was also Rossi's first career appearance in the final round of qualifying. Graham Rahal rounded out the top six, his best starting position at Long Beach since he started fourth in 2007, his Long Beach debut with Newman-Haas Racing. Rahal's average finish at Long Beach is 13.3 with only two top ten finishes in ten career starts.

Charlie Kimball qualified seventh, a career-best for him at Long Beach and this was the third time Kimball made it to the second round of qualifying at Long Beach but his best finish on this street circuit is 11th. Josef Newgarden joins Kimball on row four. This will be the fifth time Newgarden has started in the top ten at Long Beach in six appearances Will Power and Marco Andretti will start on row ten. Power has won from ninth position twice, Barber 2012 and the second Houston race in 2013. This was the first time Andretti advanced to the second round of qualifying since Sonoma 2015, which was also his most recent top ten start. Tony Kanaan and Sébastien Bourdais rounded out the drivers that made it to round two of qualifying and will start on row six. This is the first time Kanaan and Bourdais have started on the same row since Sonoma 2014. They have started on the same row six times prior to this weekend; four of those came in the 2014 season.

Ed Jones will start 13th in his second career IndyCar race. This is a five-position improvement for the Emirati driver from his debut at St. Petersburg last month. Carlos Muñoz joins Jones on row seven in 14th position. This is Muñoz's worst starting spot at Long Beach but his average start at the track is 11.75. J.R. Hildebrand's return to Long Beach will see him roll off from 15th on the grid. Hildebrand's career best starting position at Long Beach is 12th and he has started 20th and 27th in his other two appearances at the track. He has finished fifth in his last two Long Beach appearances from 20th and 12th on the grid. Mikhail Aleshin will start 16th, a career-best for the Russian at Long Beach. The only Long Beach race won from row eight was by Michael Andretti in 2002 when he started 15th.

Conor Daly will start 17th. This will be the third time in Daly's career he has started 17th. He fell from 17th to 20th at Barber last year but he finished fourth at Watkins Glen last September from 17th on the grid after stretching fuel mileage and was in contention for a podium. Takuma Sato rounds out row eight. This is the first time Sato has started on row eight since Sonoma 2015, where he finished eighth. Spencer Pigot's Long Beach debut will come from 19th on the grid. Pigot's only other IndyCar start at California was from 19th last year at Sonoma. That race ended early because of a gearbox issue. Max Chilton will start on row ten and 20th will be Chilton's second-worst starting position in his career. He started 22nd for last year's Indianapolis 500.

Simon Pagenaud will start last after being penalized for blocking Hélio Castroneves in group two of round one in qualifying. This is the first time Pagenaud has missed the second round of qualifying in consecutive races since he failed to advance from round one in the first four races of 2013. This will be the eighth time Pagenaud has started outside the top twenty in his career. Pagenaud's best finish when starting outside the top twenty was fifth at Iowa in 2012 when he started 25th.

NBCSN's coverage of the 43rd Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will begin at 4:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 4:30 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 85 laps.