Thursday, April 6, 2017

Track Walk: Long Beach 2017

IndyCar returns to one of the crown jewels of American motorsports
After three weeks off, IndyCar returns to competition to a familiar stop on the calendar, the Grand Prix of Long Beach. This will be the 43rd Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach; the 34th time IndyCar has been the premier event. Since 2009, seven different drivers have won the famed street race and this year's race will be 85 laps, five laps longer than the previous four Long Beach races. Last year, Simon Pagenaud scored his first victory of five in his championship season but it came with a bit of controversy with a blend-line violation that allowed the Frenchman to exit the pit lane ahead of Scott Dixon. Last year's race was the fastest in the history of the Grand Prix of Long Beach with an average speed of 100.592 MPH.

Time: Coverage begins at 4:00 p.m. ET on Sunday April 9th. Green flag will be at 4:30 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Rick Allen, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy in the booth with Kevin Lee, Marty Snider, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller working the pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice- 1:00 p.m. ET (45-minute session).
Second Practice- 5:00 p.m. ET (45-minute session. NBCSN will have live coverage of this session).
Third Practice- 1:45 p.m. ET (45-minute session).
Qualifying- 6:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN will have taped coverage of this session at 7:30 p.m. ET).
Warm-Up- 12:00 p.m. ET (30-miunte session).
Race- 4:30 p.m. ET (85 laps)

Can Dale Coyne Racing Remain King?
The 2017 season opener will be remembered as the day Sébastien Bourdais and Dale Coyne Racing went from last to first and for the first time in Dale Coyne Racing's 34-year history the team leads the championship. This isn't Bourdais' first time on top but this is the four-time champion's first time leading the championship since the day he won the 2007 Champ Car title. 

The good news for the Illinois-based team is IndyCar is heading to the right place for the team to remain as the championship leader. Long Beach has been favorable to Bourdais, where he is a three-time race winner, tying him for third all-time in Long Beach victories with Mario Andretti and he trails only Al Unser, Jr. and Paul Tracy in Long Beach victories. Bourdais has finished in the top ten the last two years at Long Beach but in his four prior starts averaged a finish of 18.25. Bourdais could win consecutive races for the first time since his final two starts in 2007. 

Not only does have Dale Coyne Racing have Bourdais to be proud about but the team bookends the top ten in the championship after Ed Jones finished tenth on his debut in St. Petersburg. Like Bourdais, Jones benefitted from the debris caution and he ran in the top five most of the day before losing some positions after the final pit stop. Jones won the 2015 Indy Lights race at Long Beach. Jones could become the first driver to finish in the top ten in his first two starts since Neel Jani finished tenth at Las Vegas and seventh at Long Beach in 2007.

Dale Coyne Racing has had at least one car participate in 29 Long Beach races. The team's best finish was third in 2013 with Justin Wilson. Three times has the team had a double top ten finish. The first occurred in 1995 when Éric Bachelart was seventh with Alessandro Zampedri in eighth. In 2006, Cristiano da Matta finished fifth with Jan Heylan in seventh and in 2007 Bruno Junqueira finished sixth with Katherine Legge in tenth.

Another Place of Honda Heartache
While Honda had a breakout weekend to start the 2017 season, St. Petersburg was also a first for the manufacture, as Honda had not won at St. Petersburg in the DW12-era. Now Honda heads to another place where victories have been hard to come by since Chevrolet rejoined the series. Chevrolet has won four of five Long Beach races since 2012 with the lone Honda victory being Takuma Sato's lone IndyCar victory in 2013. 

In the first three years of the DW12-era Honda had five podium finishes out of a possible nine and swept the podium in 2013 but since the introduction of aero kits in 2015, Chevrolet has swept the podium the last two years at Long Beach with Honda having only one top five finish and four top ten finishes in those races. 

The good news for Honda is Takuma Sato, who finished fifth last year at Long Beach is still on the grid, with Andretti Autosport and he is coming off a top-five finish at St. Petersburg. Sato's teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay nipped him for fourth in the season opener and he won at Long Beach in 2010 but he has had a rough string of Long Beach races since then with his best finish being sixth and an average finish of 17.333 in the last six races. Long Beach has been hit or miss for Marco Andretti. He has four top ten finishes but his other four finishes have been 14th, 19th, 25th and 26th. Alexander Rossi finished 20th last year, one-lap down in his Long Beach debut. 

Chip Ganassi Racing has won at Long Beach six times and five of those have been with Honda but the team's most recent Long Beach triumph was with Chevrolet two years ago when Scott Dixon got his first victory on the famed streets in his ninth attempt. That victory was also Dixon's first career podium at Long Beach and he finished second last year. Tony Kanaan heads to Long Beach for the 14th time this year but he has only finished on the podium there once, a third in 2009. Charlie Kimball got his best-career Long Beach finish last year but that was 11th and he has finished outside the top twenty in three of his six starts. Max Chilton finished 14th in his Long Beach last year. 

Long Beach has been kind to James Hinchcliffe. He finished fourth at Long Beach in his second career start in 2011. The following year, Hinchcliffe would get his first career podium when he finished third. He did have finishes of 26th, 21st and 12th but last year Hinchcliffe was the only other Honda in the top ten besides Sato when he finished eighth. Like his teammate, Mikhail Aleshin's second career start was at Long Beach and he finished sixth in that race in 2014. Last year, he finished 16th. Graham Rahal finished second to Sato in 2013 but his only other top ten finish at Long Beach was an eighth in 2007 and his average finish on the street circuit is 13.3. 

Entering this year's race, Honda and Chevrolet each have won at Long Beach 11 times. 

Chevrolet Seeking Redemption 
For the first time since Ryan Hunter-Reay led after the first Belle Isle race in 2014, a Chevrolet driver is not leading the championship entering an IndyCar race, ending a streak of 44 consecutive races. Not only did Honda take the victory at St. Petersburg but it had four of the top five and seven of the top ten. 

Simon Pagenaud gave it a valiant effort at St. Petersburg to beat his fellow countryman but for the second consecutive year Pagenaud left St. Petersburg second in the championship. Pagenaud has five consecutive top ten finishes at Long Beach with four of those being top five finishes. Hélio Castroneves is the second-best Chevrolet driver in the championship in sixth. The Brazilian has won pole position the last two years at Long Beach but he has finished second and third in those races and his only Long Beach victory was in 2001. 

Josef Newgarden started his Team Penske career with an eighth-place finish. His best finish at Long Beach was seventh in 2015 and he finished tenth last year. He has led one lap in his career at Long Beach and has started in the top ten in four of his five appearances. Will Power's season opener ended early and his last three finishes have been 20th, 20th and 19th, the worst three-race stretch for Power since 2013 when he averaged a finish of 19.667 from Long Beach to São Paulo to Indianapolis. Long Beach hasn't been kind to Power lately. While he has won there twice, he hasn't led a lap the last three years and has failed to make it out of the first round of qualifying in two of those three years. 

Ed Carpenter Racing won at Long Beach in 2014 but one of its drivers has never raced at Long Beach in IndyCar and the other hasn't raced there since 2013. J.R. Hildebrand makes his first Long Beach appearance in four years and he finished fifth in his last two Long Beach starts. He finished 13th at St. Petersburg. Spencer Pigot will be making his Long Beach debut. He finished second to Ed Jones in the 2015 Indy Lights race in his only Long Beach appearance. 

While A.J. Foyt Racing had a car finish fifth last year and the team won with Sato in 2013, it has had at least one car finish outside the top twenty the last three years and four of the last five. Conor Daly finished 15th at St. Petersburg and his average finish at Long Beach is 15th and he started and finished 13th last year. Long Beach is also the site of Daly's only Indy Lights victory. Carlos Muñoz finished third in his Long Beach debut in 2014 but he has finished ninth and 12th the last two years. The Colombian has completed all 240 laps contested at Long Beach in his IndyCar career and he won the Indy Lights race at Long Beach in 2013.

For the first of two times in 2017, IndyCar and IMSA will spend the weekend together at a street circuit and Long Beach marks the third race of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season with 35 entries across the Prototype, GT Le Mans and GT Daytona classes. 

Ricky and Jordan Taylor started the season with victories at Daytona and Sebring and the drivers of the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac lead the championship by five points over the #5 Action Express Racing Cadillac of Christian Fittipaldi and João Barbosa with the defending champions Dane Cameron and Eric Curran trailing by 14 points in the #31 Action Express Racing Cadillac. The Taylor brothers have won at Long Beach the last two years and could become the first duo to win three consecutive Long Beach races since Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr won 2011-13.

The top global LMP2 car is the #90 VisitFlorida Racing Riley-Gibson of Marc Goossens and Renger van der Zande on 55 points, one ahead of the #85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca-Gibson of Misha Goikhberg and Stephen Simpson. Goikhberg and Simpson won at Long Beach last year in the Prototype Challenge class. Scott Sharp won in LMP2 at Long Beach in 2008 and 2013 and his co-driver in the #2 Extreme Speed Motorsports Nissan Ryan Dalziel won at Long Beach in Atlantics in 2004 and in PC in 2012. The sister #22 Nissan of Ed Brown and Johannes van Overbeek return and finished second to Sharp and then co-driver Guy Cosmo in 2013.

Mazda is trying to recover after a rough first two races. Tristan Nunez and Jonathan Bomarito will be in the #55 Mazda with Tom Long and Joel Miller in the #70 Mazda. Tom Kimber-Smith will be in the #52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier-Gibson with former Road to Indy driver Will Owen making his IMSA debut. 

Ford and Corvette split the first two races and the last three Long Beach races have been won by three different manufactures. Dirk Müller and Joey Hand lead the championship with 67 points for the #66 Ford. The #3 Corvette of Antonio García and Jan Magnussen trail by four points with the #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari of Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander on 60 points. Patrick Pilet won last year at Long Beach and he and Dirk Werner round out the top four, ten points back. Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook are fifth in the #67 Ford on 50 points.

BMW has won on the odd-numbered years at Long Beach dating back to 2011 but Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing BMW hasn't won since Austin 2015. Bill Auberlen and Alexander Sims has 48 points from the first two races in the #25 BMW while the #24 BMW of John Edwards and Martin Tomczyk on 42 points.

The GT Daytona class makes its Long Beach debut and the #33 Riley Motorsports Mercedes of Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen leads the championship with 66 points after winning at Sebring, ten points of the Daytona winners Michael Christensen and Daniel Morand in the #28 Alegra Motorsports Porsche. Four behind the Alegra Motorsports Porsche is the #57 Stevenson Motorsports Audi of Lawson Aschenbach and Andrew Davis on 52 points. Two points behind the Audi is the #48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini of Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow. The #86 Michael Shank Racing Acura of Tom Dyer and Oswaldo Negri, Jr. is directly ahead of the defending class champions Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan in the #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari with the Acura on 49 points to the Ferrari's 47 points. 

BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix takes place at 4:05 p.m. ET on Saturday April 8th and Fox will have live coverage of the race. 

Pirelli World Challenge
Just like IndyCar, Pirelli World Challenge returns to action in Long Beach with the GT class and 23 entries.

Patrick Long started the season with a third and a first in the #58 Wright Motorsport Porsche and he leads the championship with 46 points, two ahead of defending champion, the #9 K-PAX Racing McLaren of Álvaro Parente, who finished first and fourth at St. Petersburg. Parente won last year at Long Beach. The 2014 Long Beach winner Johnny O'Connell sits third in the #3 Cadillac with 42 points. Alex Riberas is fourth, on 37 points in the #61 R. Ferri Motorsport with Michael Cooper rounding out the top five on 31 points in the #8 Cadillac. 

It will be a busy weekend for Bryan Sellers as he will contest both the IMSA and PWC race. He will drive the #6 K-PAX Racing McLaren in PWC and he is sixth in the championship on 29 points, two ahead of Alec Udell in the #17 GMG Racing Audi. Udell has been promoted from GT-A to GT for Long Beach. James Davison has 24 points and finished second in race one at St. Petersburg but he is not entered for Long Beach. Ryan Dalziel, Daniel Mancinelli and Michael Schein are tied on 19 points. Mancinelli took a surprise pole position at St. Petersburg in the #31 TR3 Racing Ferrari while Dalziel's best finish was seventh in the #2 CRP Racing Mercedes. Like Sellers, Dalziel will contest both IMSA and PWC races. With the reclassification of Udell, Schein is the top GT-A driver in the #16 Wright Motorsport Porsche. 

GT-A drivers Mike Hedlund and James Sofronas are tied on 15 points with the RealTime Racing Acuras of Ryan Eversley and Peter Kox tied on 13 points. Gainsco/Bob Stalling Racing Porsche's Jon Fogarty is on 11 points, one ahead of Bentley Absolute Racing's Adderly Fong. Magnus Racing's PWC debut did not go well as Pierre Kaffer and John Potter sit on eight and six points respectively. DIME Racing makes its season debut this weekend with Jonathan Summerton in the #111 Lamborghini. 

The Pirelli World Challenge race will take place at 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday April 9th. 

Fast Facts
This year's race will be the sixth to occur on April 9th. The most recent race on April 9th was Long Beach in 2006 and was won by Sébastien Bourdais.

An American has not won in the last six Long Beach races. If an American doesn't win this year, it will match the longest drought for American drivers, which happened from 2003-09.

The last two Long Beach winners have gone on to win the IndyCar championship. There have been two longer stretches of Long Beach winners going on to win the championship. From 1996-99, all four Long Beach winners won the title (Jimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi back-to-back years and Juan Pablo Montoya) and Bourdais won Long Beach and the title in three consecutive seasons from 2005-07.

Last year's podium was the reverse of the top three starters with Simon Pagenaud winning from third, Scott Dixon starting and finishing second and Hélio Castroneves finishing third after starting on pole position.

Simon Pagenaud could become the sixth different driver to win consecutive Long Beach races. He would join Mario Andretti, Al Unser, Jr., who did it on two separate occasions, Alex Zanardi, Paul Tracy and Sébastien Bourdais as drivers to accomplish the feat.

Last year's race was the closest Long Beach finish with Pagenaud beating Dixon by 0.3032 seconds.

Jimmy Vasser is the only Californian-born driver to win the Grand Prix of Long Beach. Alexander Rossi, J.R. Hildebrand and Spencer Pigot are the only Californian-born drivers entered this year.

Hélio Castroneves could tie Michael Andretti's record for most years between Long Beach victories. Andretti went 16 years between victories in 1986 and 2002. Castroneves' only Long Beach victory was in 2001.

Team Penske tied Newman-Haas Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing for most Long Beach victories last year at six. 

Seven drivers entered for Long Beach won at Long Beach in Indy Lights (Castroneves, Dixon, Hildebrand, Hinchcliffe, Daly, Muñoz and Jones).

In the last four years, the driver to set fastest lap at Long Beach did not finish in the top ten (E.J. Viso, 22nd (2013), Hélio Castroneves, 11th (2014), Stefano Coletti, 23rd (2015), Charlie Kimball, 11th (2016)).

The average starting position for a Long Beach winner is 4.333 with a median of three and the last two races have been won from third on the grid. 

The pole-sitter has not won at Long Beach since Sébastien Bourdais in 2007.

The furthest back a Long Beach winner has started is 17th by Paul Tracy in 2000 and Mike Conway in 2014.

Long Beach is the site of Honda's most recent pole position on a street circuit, which came in 2014 with Ryan Hunter-Reay.

The average amount of lead changes at Long Beach is 4.875 with a median of five. 

The average amount of cautions at Long Beach is 2.818 with a median of three. The average amount of caution laps is 11.484 with a median of 12. 

Last year's race went caution free, the first time that had happened since 1989.

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

Possible Milestones:
Should he start the race, Hélio Castroneves will tie Al Unser, Jr. for third all-time in starts on 329 starts.

Hélio Castroneves needs to lead 5 laps to reach the 5,600 laps led milestone.

Scott Dixon needs to lead 101 laps to reach the 5,000 laps led milestone.

Tony Kanaan needs to lead 4 laps to reach the 4,000 laps led milestone.

Marco Andretti needs to lead 10 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

Josef Newgarden needs to lead 21 laps to reach the 700 laps led milestone.

Will Power gets off the snide and not only does he win but he leads the most laps in the process and starts from pole position. Sébastien Bourdais doesn't leave Long Beach with the championship lead but he does finish in the top ten. There will be at least two caution periods. At least three drivers that finished outside the top fifteen at St. Petersburg finish in the top ten at Long Beach. There won't be any blend line controversies. The driver who sets fastest lap does finish inside the top ten. Sleeper: Carlos Muñoz.