Thursday, April 12, 2018

Track Walk: Long Beach 2018

Another April and another Grand Prix of Long Beach is upon us
The third race of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season is the 44th Grand Prix of Long Beach. Five different teams have won the last five years at Long Beach and Team Penske enters fresh off its 198th IndyCar win at Phoenix. Team Penske is tied with Newman-Haas Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing for most Long Beach victories as all three team have won the event six times. Andretti Autosport is the only other active team to have multiple Long Beach victories. Twenty-four cars are entered for this year's race, the most entries since 27 cars entered the 2013 Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Time: Coverage begins at 4:00 p.m. ET on Sunday April 15th with green flag scheduled for 4:40 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be in the booth. Kevin Lee, Katie Hargitt, Marty Snider and Robin Miller will work 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)
Third Practice: 1:45 p.m. ET (45-minute session)
Qualifying: 6:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN will have live coverage of this session)
Warm-Up: 12:00 p.m. ET (30-minute session)
Race: 4:40 p.m. ET (85 laps)

Will Wickens Wilt?
Through two races the driver that has drawn the most attention is rookie Robert Wickens. He took a surprise pole position at the St. Petersburg season opener during a session that feature slippery conditions. Wickens backed it up in the race with the Canadian leading 69 laps, the most in the race but contact with Alexander Rossi at the start of the penultimate lap put Wickens into the barrier and left him with an 18th-place classification.

Race two saw Wickens make his oval debut and despite the lack of experience and lack of pace in February testing he qualified sixth for the 250-mile race. He did not fade in the race and spent most of the night in the top ten before pit strategy cycled him into contention for the race victory. Wickens was responsible for one of the two lead changes that did not occur during a pit cycle when teammate James Hinchcliffe walked up the racetrack. Wickens was running third at the time of the final caution and the decision not to take tires put him into the lead. He held off Josef Newgarden for a few laps before the American took control and the lead with a pass on the outside turn one with seven laps to go. Despite the worn tires Wickens would pick up his first career podium finish as he crossed the line in second position.

After two races, Wickens sits eighth in the championship on 57 points, twenty behind championship leader Josef Newgarden. Wickens heads to one of the few tracks he has experience on this weekend as he made one start at Long Beach during the 2007 Atlantic Championship season. He finished third that day behind Raphael Matos and Jonathan Bomarito.

The good news for Wickens is Schmidt Peterson Motorsports is heading to a favorable racetrack for the team. James Hinchcliffe won last year's race and in the seven previous years at Long Beach the team has put a car on the podium twice and has had a car finish in the top five on four occasions. Hinchcliffe sits two positions and four points ahead of his teammate in the championship after Hinchcliffe finished fourth and sixth in the first two races. Last year, Hinchcliffe started the season with three consecutive top ten finishes and if he gets a podium finish this weekend he will at least match his best career start through three races. Hinchcliffe is attempting to become the first driver to win successive Long Beach races since reunification.

Newgarden Back on Top
It only took two races but the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champion is back on top. Josef Newgarden's victory at Phoenix vaulted him from seventh in the championship to first with the Tennessean holding a five-point lead over Alexander Rossi. Last year, Newgarden did not take the championship lead until Mid-Ohio and he led through the final five races of the season.

Newgarden won the third race of the 2017 season but that race took place at Barber Motorsports Park. He finished third last year at Long Beach, which was the second race of the season, and not only was it Newgarden's first Long Beach podium finish but it was his first top five finish at the famed street circuit. His Long Beach results have been improving since his first Long Beach started ended in the turn one barrier despite starting second on the grid. He has three consecutive top ten finishes at Long Beach.

Not only is Newgarden on top of the IndyCar championship but he has distanced himself from his Team Penske teammates. Simon Pagenaud is the closest to Newgarden and the 2016 champion trails him by 39 points in 11th. Will Power's retirement dropped the Australian to 14th in the championship and 46 points behind Newgarden. Pagenaud and Power are both past Long Beach winners with Power being one of eight drivers with multiple victories on Shoreline Drive and he is only one of two active drivers to have accomplished that feat.

Since Power's 2012 Long Beach victory he has only one podium finish and three finishes outside the top ten in five Long Beach starts. Pagenaud has six consecutive top ten finishes at Long Beach and five of those have been top five finishes including the last four.

Andretti Autosport Looks to Make Up For Mechanical Mishaps
All four Andretti Autosport cars retired from last year's Grand Prix of Long Beach due to mechanical issues including two who were contending for the race victory. It has been a rough spell for Andretti Autosport at Long Beach during the DW12-era. The team has two podium finishes, a third with James Hinchcliffe in 2012 and a third with Carlos Muñoz in 2014. Those are the team's only top five finishes at the track in the last six years while the team has had nine retirements in the same time period.

Alexander Rossi heads to Long Beach off the back of two consecutive third place finishes and it has him second in the championship on 72 points. Prior to the first two races of 2018, Rossi had never had successive podium finishes in IndyCar and he has stood on the podium after five of the last eight races dating back to last season.

Ryan Hunter-Reay has had a strong start to the season as well with the 2011 Long Beach winner having finished fifth in each of the first two races. It is the first time Hunter-Reay has started a season with two consecutive top ten finishes since 2004 and it is the first time he has had two top five finishes from the first two races. Hunter-Reay opened the 2004 season with three consecutive top ten finishes with the third race being a victory at Milwaukee. Since his Long Beach victory in 2011, Hunter-Reay's best finish in this race was sixth in 2012 and he has finished outside the top ten in the last five races with four of those finishes being outside the top fifteen.

Marco Andretti rounds out the top ten in the championship on 40 points after his season started with a ninth place finish at St. Petersburg and a 12th place finish at Phoenix. Andretti has only started a season with two top ten finishes from the first three races four times in his career. While having four top ten finishes at Long Beach he has finished outside the top ten five times including the last two seasons.

Lack of American Long Beach Winners
Long Beach became an IndyCar race in 1984 and 12 of the first 13 races were won by American drivers with six different winners in that timeframe. In the last 21 Long Beach races, only twice has an American taken victory with a total of 14 different winners.

The American victories came with Michael Andretti in 2002 and Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2011. Excluding the United States, nine different nations have won at Long Beach in the last 21 races including six different nationalities in the last six races.

Americans have even struggled to get on the Long Beach podium with Hunter-Reay's 2011 victory, Graham Rahal's runner-up performance in 2014 and Josef Newgarden's third place finish last year being the only podium finishes for Americans in the last 15 Long Beach races. The last time multiple Americans stood on the podium was in 2002 when Andretti won and Jimmy Vasser finished second. American drivers have not swept a Long Beach podium since 1996 when Vasser took the victory, Parker Johnstone finished second and Al Unser, Jr. finished third.

For Which Driver Will Long Beach be Third Times the Charm?
Seven drivers enter Long Beach without a top ten finish through the first two races. Long Beach has been a place where a driver has gotten a surprise top ten in recent seasons.

Mario Moraes finished sixth in the 2010 race from 15th on the grid after the Brazilian's best finish through the first three races of that season was 13th. In 2011, Mike Conway not only had a surprise top ten but was the surprise winner despite finishing outside the top twenty in the first two races of that season. The 2013 race had five of the top ten finishes start outside the top fifteen including third place finisher Justin Wilson from 24th, Oriol Servià go from 18th to sixth and Marco Andretti finish seventh after starting 25th. Two drivers picked up their first career top ten finishes at Long Beach in 2014 with Mikhail Aleshin finishing sixth and Carlos Huertas finishing tenth and those two started 20th and 21st respectively for that race.

Takuma Sato is the top driver in the championship without a top ten finish but the 2013 Long Beach winner is trending in the right direction as he has finished 12th and 11th in the first two races of the season and he sits on 37 points, 12th in the championship.

Gabby Chaves and Spencer Pigot are tied on 31 points as each driver has a 14th and 15th place finish this season. Chaves is a past Indy Lights winner at Long Beach while Pigot finished second in the 2015 Indy Lights race. Pigot finished eighth last year in Long Beach while Chaves has not raced here since his rookie season in 2015 and he finished 16th that day. Chaves' best street course finish was ninth in the second race of the 2015 Belle Isle doubleheader. Pigot has not had a top ten finish in his last eight starts.

Zach Veach has been consistent in his first two races with Andretti Autosport. The Ohioan has finished both races in 16th position. However, his pair of 16th place finishes has him 17th in the championship on 28 points. Veach has not raced at Long Beach since 2014 in Indy Lights. His first Indy Lights start at Long Beach ended just before the start/finish line after a three-car incident coming to the green flag. The following year would see Veach start on pole position and pick up fastest lap but he would finish second to Chaves, who led all 45 laps.

The first two races have been rough for Carlin. Charlie Kimball has finished 20th and 17th with Max Chilton finishing 19th and 18th and neither driver has a lead lap finish. Both drivers are tied on 23 points and neither driver has a great track record at Long Beach. Kimball's best finish in seven Long Beach starts is 11th and he has finished outside the top twenty four times, all of which were retirements, including last year. Kimball has only completed 426 of 575 laps or 74.1% of laps since 2011. Chilton has finished 14th in both his Long Beach starts but he has also started on row ten each year.

Matheus Leist makes his Long Beach debut after what has been another challenging start to a season for a A.J. Foyt Racing driver. His two retirements have him on 17 points and 21st in the championship, the lowest driver to have run the first two races. The good news for Leist is Foyt has had at least one top ten finisher in three of the last five Long Beach races including the last two years.

This weekend sees IndyCar and IMSA paired together for the first of two street course rounds. This is the third race of the IMSA season and only the Prototype and GT Le Mans classes will participate this weekend. A total of 22 cars, 14 Prototypes and eight GTLM cars, are entered.

The #31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac of Felipe Nasr and Eric Curran lead the Prototype championship on 62 points after finishing second and third at Daytona and Sebring respectively. The #31 Cadillac is the only car to have finished on the podium in the first two races. The #54 CORE Autosport Oreca of Colin Braun and Jon Bennett trail by four points after finishing third and fourth in the two endurance races with 24 Hours of Daytona winners Filipe Albuquerque and João Barbosa rounding out the top three and six points behind its teammate.

Sebring winners Pipo Derani and Johannes van Overbeek sit fourth in the championship with the #22 Nissan on 48 points. Jordan Taylor has won three consecutive years with his brother Ricky but only one of those two could make it four consecutive victories as Renger van der Zande joins Jordan in the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac while Ricky shares the #7 Team Penske Acura with Hélio Castroneves. Team Penske and Acura had some teething problems in the two Florida races. The best finish for the team was ninth at Daytona with the #7 Acura while the #6 Acura of Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron finished tenth in that race.

JDC-Miller Motorsports is off to another good start with the #99 Oreca of Stephen Simpson and Misha Goikhberg tied with the #22 Nissan and #10 Cadillac on 48 points and the sister car, the #85 Oreca of Simon Trummer and Robert Alon is one point back.

The #38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca of James French and Kyle Masson sit on 41 points, one point ahead of the #55 Mazda of Jonathan Bomarito and Harry Tincknell. Sebastián Saavedra and Gustavo Yacamán form an all-Colombian pairing in the #52 AFS/PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier and sit on 39 points. The #77 Mazda of Oliver Jarvis and Tristan Nunez has 37 points while the #2 Nissan of Scott Sharp and Ryan Dalziel bring up the rear on 27 points.

In GT Le Mans, Daytona winners Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook lead on 63 points in the #67 Ford GT with Sebring winners Patrick Pilet and Nick Tandy second in the championship on 58 points in the #911 Porsche. The #912 Porsche of Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor sit on 55 points, one point ahead of the #66 Ford GT of Joey Hand and Dirk Müller and the #25 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing BMW of Alexander Sims and Connor De Phillippi.

The #3 Corvette of Jan Magnussen and Antonio García and the #4 Corvette of Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin are tied on 53 points with the #24 BMW of Jesse Krohn and John Edwards on 48 points.

As stated above, Wayne Taylor Racing has won the last three years overall while Milner and Gavin won last year in GTLM. Nissan and Mazda did give the WTR Cadillac a run for its money in last year's race Pilet and Tandy won in GTLM in 2016.

The BUBBA Burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach will take place at 4:00 p.m. ET on Saturday April 14th.

Pirelli World Challenge
Twenty cars across three classes are entered for this year's Pirelli World Challenge race at Long Beach.

Scott Hargrove leads the sprint and overall GT championship after he swept the St. Petersburg weekend in the #96 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche and finished fourth and third in the Sprint-X races at Austin. Toni Vilander swept the Austin weekend in the #61 R. Ferri Motorsport Ferrari and he trails Hargrove by seven points entering Long Beach. Daniel Morad finished on the podium in the first three races of the season and finished fifth in the second Austin race. Those results have the driver of the #2 CRP Racing Mercedes third in the championship on 82 points. Michael Christensen rounds out the top four on 63 points in the #28 Alegra Motorsports Porsche.

Álvaro Parente looks to bounce back after two rough weekends were the driver of the #9 K-PAX Racing Bentley's best finish was sixth. Daniel Mancinelli returns in the #31 TR3 Racing Ferrari after withdrawing from St. Petersburg and skipping the opening round. Alex Udell is back in the #41 GMG Racing Audi.

Martin Fuentes leads the GTA championship on 50 points after sweeping the class at St. Petersburg in the #07 Scuderia Corse Ferrari. Rodrigo Baptista finished second in both St. Petersburg races in the #3 K-PAX Racing Bentley and he trails Fuentes by four points. Yuki Harata is third in the championship on 40 points in the #55 Dream Racing Motorsport Lamborghini while Parker Chase sits on 21 points in the #19 TruSpeed Autosport Audi.

Black Swan Racing has entered two Porsches for Long Beach. David Calvert-Jones will be in the #12 Porsche with Tim Pappas in the #54 Porsche. Rocky Moran, Jr. was a late addition to the entry list and he will drive an Audi for TruSpeed Autosport.

There will be six GTS invitational entries to boost the grid and the most notable entry is former IndyCar driver Jeff Ward in the #7 Black Swan Racing Porsche. Spencer Pumpelly is in the other Porsche in class as he will drive the #66 Porsche for TRG. Racers Edge Motorsports has entered two SIN R1s with Harry Gottsacker in the #69 SIN and Bob Michaelian in the #45 SIN. Paul Horton will drive the #78 McLaren for Compass Racing and George Kurtz rounds out the class in the #07 GMG Racing Audi. GTS entries will not be scoring points in this race.

The PWC race will take place at 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday April 15th.

Fast Facts
This will be the eighth IndyCar race to take place on April 15th and first since 2012 when Will Power won at Long Beach. The 2007 Grand Prix of Long Beach also took place on April 15th and was won by Sébastien Bourdais.

Four of seven Long Beach races in the DW12-era have had at least seven different teams finish in the top ten including ten different teams represented in the top ten in 2013.

There are six rookies entered for this year's race. Juan Pablo Montoya is the only driver to win at Long Beach as a rookie.

Montoya is one of five drivers whose first career IndyCar victory has come at Long Beach. The others are Michael Andretti, Paul Tracy, Mike Conway and Takuma Sato.

Eleven drivers are looking for their first career IndyCar victory.

Alexander Rossi, Spencer Pigot and Kyle Kaiser were all born in California. Jimmy Vasser is the only California-born driver to win at Long Beach.

Scott Dixon has seven consecutive top ten finishes at street course races dating back to the second Belle Isle race in 2016. Sébastien Bourdais has seven consecutive top ten finishes at street course races in his last seven street course starts. Josef Newgarden has six consecutive top ten finishes at street course races dating back to last year at St. Petersburg Graham Rahal has five consecutive top ten finishes at street course races dating back to last year at Long Beach.

Tony Kanaan has 14 starts at Long Beach. The only driver with more Long Beach starts not to win the race is Bobby Rahal, who made 15 Long Beach starts. Alex Tagliani also has made 14 Long Beach starts without a victory.

Ed Jones has four top ten finishes in six street course starts in his IndyCar career. He has yet to score a top five finish on a street course with his best finish being sixth last year at Long Beach.

Jack Harvey made two starts at Long Beach in Indy Lights with finishes of fourth and tenth in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Zachary Claman De Melo has finished 17th in his first two IndyCar Starts.

Jordan King made 19 starts on street courses between his Formula Three and GP2/Formula Two careers. His two street course podium finishes came in the 2014 European Formula Three season at the Norisring when he finished second and third in the second and third races of the weekend. Max Verstappen swept that weekend and Esteban Ocon finished second in the third race. King had a total of three top five finishes and nine top ten finishes on street courses.

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

The average starting position for a Long Beach winner is 4.32 with a median of three.

The last three Long Beach races have been won from the second row on the grid.

The last time a Long Beach winner started on the front row was 2010 and last time the pole sitter won at Long Beach was Bourdais in 2007.

The average number of lead changes in a Long Beach race is 4.9 with a median of five.

Seven of the last eight Long Beach races have had five lead changes or more with the fewest in that time frame being four in 2014.

A Long Beach winner has led every lap twice. Mario Andretti did it in 1984 and 1987.

The average number of cautions in a Long Beach race is 2.82 with a median of three. The average number of caution laps is 11.47 with a median of 12.

Possible Milestones:
Josef Newgarden needs to lead one lap to reach the 1,100 laps led milestone.

Takuma Sato needs to lead 23 laps to reach the 800 laps led milestone.

Graham Rahal needs to lead 43 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Charlie Kimball is one top ten finish away from 50 career top ten finishes.

Josef Newgarden is one top ten finish away from 50 career top ten finishes.

Alexander Rossi wins the race with at least one other American driver on the podium. Andretti Autosport will have zero cars retire because of a mechanical issue. Robert Wickens will be the top finishing rookie but does not finish in the top ten. Matheus Leist finishes this race. At least two of the seven drivers not to have a top ten finish in the first two races finish in the top ten. Carlin has at least one car finish in the top fifteen. Six different teams are represented in the top ten at the end of the race. There will be at least 100 more passes than last year's Long Beach race. Sleeper: Tony Kanaan.