Long Beach Preview-Another New Winner?

Above: Can Alexander Rossi repeat? A tall order given the event’s history the last six years.

There is no better place for a street race than Long Beach, and no better street course event.  It has the feel of the Indianapolis 500. Its rich history includes Formula 1 as well as the NTT Indycar Series and the other  Indycar  iterations.  The city completely embraces the race, one of the key elements for a successful sustainable street race.

There are some noticeable changes for the 2019 event. Acura is the new title sponsor, replacing longtime sponsor Toyota. Jack Harvey’s number 60 will carry Acura decals in place of the Honda markings.  No, this is NOT the third OEM

The  Acura Grand  Prix of Long Beach has seen six different teams and six different drivers win since 2013.  If the trend continues we could see another win from one of the smaller teams in the 45th edition of America’s longest running street race. So far this season no one has really stood out. Josef Newgarden has been the most consistent, winning at St. Pete and finishing second at COTA and fourth at Barber.  Here are some  things to look for this weekend.

Penske Turnaround From Alabama?

Will Power has been frustrated the last two races. He won the pole at COTA and was leading late but was sidelined by a drive shaft problem.  At Barber he failed to make the Fast Six, spun early in the race, and fought back to finish 11th.  He sits an uncharacteristically low 9th in the standings.  Power has won twice here. I see him back in the Fast Six and possibly on the pole again.

Newgarden qualified 17th last weekend but recovered to finish fourth and increase his championship lead. He should return to the front of the grid as he seeks his first victory at Long Beach.

Simon Pagenaud appears ready to move up in the standings. He has two top tens this season and seems to have become comfortable with the new car. This could be the weekend he returns to contention.

Rossi Needs a Repeat Victory

Alexander Rossi has been good, but not great so far this season.  He has made the Fast Six every race this season and has two top five finishes but his race pace just seems a little off. Returning to the venue he dominated last year could be where he can begin challenging for the points lead.

Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay is also a past winner at Long Beach. He has made a nice recovery from his engine issue at St. Pete.  with a podium at COTA and an eighth at Barber. Hunter-Reay could also figure in the winning equation this weekend

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Momentum

A pole, a front row lockout, and a win was the best the Rahal team could do last weekend. The only blemish was Graham Rahal’s throttle issue which knocked him out of the race.  Takuma Sato has won two of the last five races going back to Portland last September. Sato also has won here.  Look for another strong showing from both drivers.

The Rookies

This class continues to impress me.  Colton Herta had an ignition problem at Barber which prevented another possible top ten finish.  Marcus Ericsson finally earned a result without issues last weekend as well.

Felix Rosenqvist was very strong at St. Pete and should be strong again this weekend. He seems to have a knack for street courses, probably due to his time in Formula E. I could see him on the podium Sunday.

This will be the first street race for Pato O’Ward this season. Don’t dismiss his chances because of that. O’Ward has an uncanny talent for being fast around any circuit. I wpould not be surprised to see him in the Fast Six and have a solid finish.

Scott Dixon

His footsteps are getting louder already. Dixon is actually ahead of where he was at this point in the season last year. He led two laps at Barber. In 2018 he didn’t lead a lap until Detroit. He has already had one of the likely two races out of the top ten.  Another former Long Beach winner, Dixon will probably finish on the podium this time. He should gain some ground on Newgarden.

Sponsor Moves

GESS has moved to Pato O’Ward’s car for Long Beach. The company is supporting the younger drivers in the series by switching their sponsorship from Colton Herta.  Herta, meanwhile, will carry King Taco colors for the race. King Taco usually finds its way onto a car for the race every year. I wonder if Herta’s win at COTA influenced their decision this year.

Totally In(Acura)te Predictions

Pole- Power

Race- Dixon

Top Rookie- Rosenqvist

Back Saturday evening with Qualifying Quick Thoughts. Full qualifying coverage will be on Wildfire Sports Sunday morning.