Sunday, April 21, 2024

Morning Warm-Up: Long Beach 2024

Felix Rosenqvist claimed Meyer Shank Racing's first IndyCar pole position with a lap of 66.0172 seconds in the Fast Six session for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. It is Rosenqvist's sixth career pole positions. This is the third consecutive season Rosenqvist has won pole position for the second round of the season. In the previous two years, those races were at Texas Motor Speedway. The Swede finished outside the top twenty in each of those races, and Rosenqvist's average finish in races where he has started first is 16.6 with his best finish being eighth. Rosenqvist picked up his best Long Beach finish last year when he was seventh.

Will Power fell 0.0039 seconds short of his 71st career pole position and the 300th for Team Penske in IndyCar competition. This is Power's first front row start in a road/street course race since he was on pole position for the 2022 season finale at Laguna Seca. It is his first front row start on a street course since the 2022 season opener at St. Petersburg. Power has finished fourth in the last two races. Once before has Power had three consecutive fourth-place finishes. Those occurred over Texas, Long Beach and Barber in 2022.

Josef Newgarden made it three cars within 0.0887 seconds at the top of qualifying, Newgarden starts third. He is attempting to win consecutive races in a third consecutive season. Newgarden could become the 12th driver to win consecutive races to open since 1946, and the first since Scot Dixon won three consecutive races to open the 2020 season. Eight of the 11 drivers to open a season with cosnecutive races have gone on to win the championship. Long Beach marks the 200th start of Newgarden's career. He is the 28th driver to reach 200 starts. No driver has ever won in their 200th career start.

Colton Herta ended up 0.3612 seconds off Rosenqvist for fourth on the grid. This is the fourth time in the last five starts Herta has qualified in the top five, but he has only one top five finish in that span. He was fifth at St. Petersburg last month. Herta has not had consecutive top five finishes since he won the final two races of 2021 and then finished fourth in the 2022 season opener at St. Petersburg. He has not finished better than his starting position since he went from 14th to third at Toronto, eight races ago. 

Marcus Ericsson took fifth on the grid after falling 0.3867 seconds off his fellow Swede Rosenqvist. Ericsson has finished outside the top ten in his last two races. Ericsson has not had three consecutive results outside the top ten since he had an eight-race slump spanning the 2019 and 2020 seasons. He was third last year at Long Beach. It has been 12 starts since Ericsson's most recent podium finish, his runner-up result in the Indianapolis 500.

Álex Palou rounded out the top six. Palou won The Thermal Challenge held three weeks ago at The Thermal Club in Palm Springs, California. The previous non-championship race held in IndyCar was the 2008 Gold Coast 300, which Ryan Briscoe won. Briscoe followed that up with a victory in the succeeding IndyCar race, the 2009 season opener at St. Petersburg. Palou will look to replicate Briscoe winning the championship race following a non-championship race victory.

Christian Lundgaard was 0.0193 seconds off advancing to the final round of qualifying, and the Dane will take seventh instead. While Lundgaard won at Toronto last year, it is his only top five finish on a street course in his IndyCar career. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver has four top ten finishes in 11 street course starts.

Scott Dixon finds himself eighth, as Dixon was 0.0305 seconds behind the sixth-place time, which would have advanced him to the final round of qualifying. Dixon has finished in the top five in the second race of the season in four consecutive years and in seven of the last eight seasons. The only time Dixon has won from eighth in his career was at Mid-Ohio in 2019.

Marcus Armstrong makes it three Chip Ganassi Racing drivers in the top ten, ending up ninth. Armstrong suffered his career worst finish at St. Petersburg, ending up 27th. Since 1946, only three times has a driver finished last in the season opener and gone on to win the championship. Tom Sneva was the first to do it after finishing 22nd in the 1978 Phoenix opener. In 1987, Bobby Rahal was 24th at Long Beach but clinched the title a race early with a victory at Laguna Seca. The following year, Danny Sullivan was 23rd at Phoenix but Sullivan went on to clinch the championship with a race to spare. 

Kyle Kirkwood rounded out the top ten, but Kirkwood was 0.0758 seconds off advancing to the Fast Six. This ends a slump of five consecutive races starting outside the top ten for the American, the final four of which were starts outside the top fifteen. Kirkwood won last year's Long Beach race from pole position having led 53 of 85 laps. Kirkwood is attempting to become the eighth driver to win consecutive Long Beach races. 

Scott McLaughlin had a streak of his own end with his 11th place qualifying effort. McLaughlin had started ten consecutive races in the top ten prior to this result. The New Zealander has two consecutive podium finishes dating back to last season. Only once has McLaughlin had three consecutive podium finishes in his IndyCar career. He was second, third and first over Nashville, Gateway and Portland in 2022. He was second at Laguna Seca last September and third at St. Petersburg last month.

Graham Rahal rounded out the second round qualifiers in 12th. This is Rahal's best starting position at Long Beach since he qualified sixth in 2019. This is his ninth time in 17 Long Beach appearances he has qualified outside the top ten. Rahal has not had a top five finish on a street course since he was fourth at Toronto in 2022, seven street races ago.

Alexander Rossi missed out on advancing from the first qualifying group by 0.0439 seconds, placing Rossi 13th. Only once has Rossi finished better than his starting position at Long Beach, and that was him going from 15th to sixth in 2021. Both of his Long Beach victories were from pole position. Rossi has finished outside the top twenty in the second race of the season in the last four years. In his previous eight seasons, Rossi has finished in the top ten only twice in the second race of the season.

Patricio O'Ward makes it an all-Arrow McLaren row seven, as O'Ward was 0.0449 seconds off advancing from group two. This is O'Ward's worst starting position at Long Beach, and it is the first time he didn't make it out of the first round of qualifying here. O'Ward opened last season with consecutive runner-up finishes. In four Long Beach starts, O'Ward has an average finish of 15.25.

Tom Blomqvist's first IndyCar race at Long Beach will see him start 15th, the best starting position of the Brit's brief IndyCar career. Blomqvist made three IMSA starts at Long Beach, but Blomqvist never finished better than fourth in class. That includes finishing seventh of eight GTLM cars in 2019 and sixth out of eight GTP cars last year.

Romain Grosjean finds himself starting 16th, his worst Long Beach starting position. Grosjean had made the final round of qualifying the previous two years here. The Frenchman could become the second driver to finish runner-up in three consecutive Long Beach races. Bobby Rahal was second at Long Beach in 1991, 1992 and 1993.

Linus Lundqvist makes his Long Beach debut from 17th on the grid. Lundqvist has finished outside the top twenty in his first two street course races in IndyCar. Lundqvist was 25th at Nashville last year and 23rd at St. Petersburg last month. Lundqvist's last three Indy Lights victories came on street courses. He swept the Detroit doubleheader and won at Nashville in 2022.

Agustín Canapino starts directly behind his Juncos Hollinger Racing teammate in 18th. Canapino was 25th in last year's Long Beach race after Hélio Castroneves squeezed Canapino into the barrier while the Argentine was leading. Canapino had stayed out and led three laps, the first laps led in his IndyCar career.

Pietro Fittipaldi makes his Long Beach debut this weekend in 19th position. Fittipaldi's grandfather Emerson made 13 Long Beach starts in IndyCar and five Formula One starts. Emerson's best Long Beach finish was second on two occasions, and his final Formula One podium was third in the 1980 race. Pietro's cousin Christian made seven Long Beach starts. Christian's best finish was fifth.

Rinus VeeKay rounds out the top twenty. This is the seventh consecutive street course race VeeKay has started outside the top ten. VeeKay was tenth at St. Petersburg. VeeKay has not had consecutive top ten finishes since the first two races of the 2022 season where he was sixth at St. Petersburg and tenth at Texas. 

Christian Rasmussen is a spot behind his Ed Carpenter Racing teammate in 21st. Ed Carpenter Racing has not had a top ten finisher in the last five Long Beach races. The team's most recent top ten here was eighth with Specner Pigot in 2017. ECR has had both cars finish 20th or worse in three of the last four Long Beach races. In 16 street course starts in Rasmussen's career, he won only three times and had six podium finishes.

Théo Pourchaire's IndyCar debut sees him start 22nd. Pourchaire becomes the first reigning champion from Intenational Formula 3000/GP2/Formula Two to start an IndyCar race since Sébastien Bourdais joined Newman-Haas Racing for the 2003 CART season after winning the 2002 International Formula 3000 championship.

Jack Harvey is back for his second race of the season after initially not being in Dale Coyne Racing's plans for Long Beach, and it sees Harvey take 23rd on the grid. Harvey has finished in the top fifteen in four of his five Long Beach starts. Dale Coyne Racing not had a top fifteen finisher the last two years at Long Beach, and DCR has not had a top ten finisher here since it had a double top ten day in 2017 with Sébastien Bourdais in second and Ed Jones in sixth.

Santino Ferrucci starts 24th, the 11th time in 19 races with A.J. Foyt Racing Ferrucci has started outside the top twenty. Ferrucci has not finished in the top ten in 12 consecutive races. Ferrucci was 11th in last year's Long Beach race, his first Long Beach appearance since 2019.

Sting Ray Robb's streak of four consecutive races starting 24th ends because Robb will start 25th at Long Beach after he lost his fastest two laps for causing a red flag. Robb has never started inside the top twenty for an IndyCar race. The Idahoan was 26th at St. Petersburg. It was Robb's worst finish on a street course. His previous worst was 22nd at Detroit last year.

Kyffin Simpson rolls off from the outside of row 13. Simpson was the best finishing rookie in the St. Petersburg season opener. Since 1979, in 54 applicable seasons of IndyCar competition between CART, Champ Car, the Indy Racing League and a unified IndyCar Series, only 22 times has the best finishing rookie in the season opener went on to win rookie of the year.

Nolan Siegel makes his IndyCar debut from 27th. Siegel becomes the 88th driver to race for Dale Coyne Racing in IndyCar competition. This is the fifth consecutive season DCR has given at least one driver their IndyCar debut, and it is the second time in four seasons Coyne has given multiple drivers a debut in a single season. 

USA's coverage of the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach begins at 3:00 p.m. ET with the green flag scheduled for 3:45 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 85 laps.