I’m finally settled in winter headquarters after a journey that took a bit longer than expected. We just missed cold temperatures in Indianapolis and passed Nashville just before their big snowstorm. Now on to the big news of the week.
The Long Beach City Council approved the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach through 2028. This is an unusually long extension and shows how much the city appreciates Indycar’s presence as part of the community. The council’s action should permanently put to rest the attempts to by groups wanting Formula 1 to return to the venue.
2022 will mark 47 years of racing on the streets of Long Beach. The first race, a Formula 5000 event founded by Chrism Pook and Dan Gurney in 1975, became a staple of F1 from 1976 through 1983. In 1984, CART began racing on the downtown streets. Indycar in its various sanctions has raced there ever since, until the pandemic halted the race in 2020. The race returned last year with the title deciding event in the fall. In 2022 the race returns to its traditional April slot. After the 2028 race, Indycar will have raced at Long Beach 45 times, making it the third oldest event in series history, I believe, Behind Indianapolis and Milwaukee. 2025 will be the 50th race of some form on the street circuit.
The usually busy Long Beach weekend just got a bit busier. Indycar IMSA, Porsche Cup, and Stadium Super Trucks will be joined by the Historic IMSA GTP Challenge, a vintage sportscar prototype series. I am excited to see these cars, which have never raced at Long Beach. Track time will be at a premium April 8-10.
As races at Long Beach go, today was one of the better ones. Yellows forced pit strategy, the winning pass came on the track, and there was early doubts as to who would win the championship. Hometown driver Colton Herta won the race after starting 14th. He should have won pole yesterday, but a mistake in qualifying pushed him back on the grid.
Herta led every session except for qualifying. He held off Josef Newgarden on the last restart to win by 0.5883 seconds. The sad thing about eing the winner of the last race of the year is that no one cares. It is a shame in this instance. Herta grew up in Southern California and first went to this race when he was 2 years old to watch his father Bryan race. Winning here is very special for him, but everyone focused on seris champion Alex Palou.
Herta will have to win here next April when the 2022 edition of the Long Beach Grand Prix runs. Don’t bet against him. He won California this year.
A Deserving Champion
Alex Palou won the NTT Indycar series championship with consistent driving and an unflappable focus. he reminds me of Scott Dixon in his approach to a race. I don’t think this will be the last of his titles. I will have more on him tomorrow.
Ed Jones had been racing well the last few weeks, but today we the Jones of old. I was concerned after qualifying yesterday when I saw that he would line up between title contenders Pato O’Ward and Alex Palou. Unfortunately, he ended O’Ward’s race and the chain reaction nearly took Palou out of the race. Jones seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time more often than not.
I have never seen so much tension and anger in the paddock as I did this weekend. I loved it. Indycar felt alive. I hope the tension continues all season in 2022.
Three drivers I felt for today- Pato O’Ward, who didn’t get a fair shot to fight for the championship. This team will be even stronegr next year and O’Ward will be in the title mix as long as he drives in the series.
Romain Grosjean, an instant fan favorite from the moment he started his Indycar career this spring, felled by wall contact and dropped out of the race with 10 laps left. He had some amazing races this year, and while not officially the Rookie of the Year, he was the first timer that was the most fun to watch.
Ryan Hunter-Reay, whose last drive for Andretti Autosport ended as the last car running at the end. Hunter-Reay was involved in the Ed Jones incident on lap1 and struggled with a poor handling car the rest of the day.
Sebastien Bourdais recovered from an early spin to finish eighth in what may have been his last drive for A. J. Foyt Racing.
Congratulations to Scott McLaughlin, the Rookie of the Year. McLaughlin had a steady, if unspectacular year. Like the other rookies in the series, he had to learn a completely different type of car. I think we will hear his name a lot more in 2022.
I hope the new deal with NBC doesn’t include Rutledge Wood. His pieces are insipid and interrupt the race broadcast unnecessarily.
Josef Newgarden’s last three seasons- Champion in 2019, second in 2020, and second in 2021. Newgarden was also champion in 2017.
Thanks for following along this weekend. I will have a story about Alex Palou’s season and a season wrap up this coming week.
I hope the PA was playing the Bee Gees “Stayin’ Alive” as Josef Newgarden won the pole for tomorrow’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach is to earn the maximum 54 points. He got the first one of those today. he still needs Palou to finish near the back of the field. Palou can still win the championship no matter what Newgarden does by finishing as low as 23rd. Newgarden holds the tie breaker over Palou of more second places. If Newgarden wins tomorrow the two drivers will each have three victories.
The qualifying session was appropriately unpredictable way to put a cap on an unpredictable season. There have been some dramatic qualifying days this year. Today was off the charts.
Pato O’Ward’s chances for the title are hurt a bit by his not winning the pole. He will start eighth, two spots ahead of Palou.
Where did Helio Castroneves come from? The four time Indianapolis 500 winner may have given us a preview of 2022. Castroneves held the top spot in the Fast Six until the last lap, when Newgarden and Dixon both beat his time.
If there is any consolation for Palou, it is that he hasn’t had two bad days in a row all season. The team struggled all day in practice, and they went into qualifying not knowing what they had.
Simon Pagenaud is ending his time with Team Penske on a good note. He has qualified well in the last two races.
Hats off to the crew of Will Power’s car. After his huge collision with Jack Harvey at the end of Round 1, they got the car running for Round 2.
Indycar has to review incidents and timing faster. Two rounds had unnecessary lengthy delays. It seemed to me O’Ward and Palou were the only two cars that slowed down for Power’s incident, but i agree that Palou was too far behind to advance. O’Ward, I felt, should have made the Fast Six.
I didn’t understand what Colton Herta’s strategy was, but it wasn’t the correct one. It’s puzzling what happened to him and Alexander Rossi.
If Romain Grosjean can keep his car off the walls tomorrow, he may be a factor in the race.
Colton Herta continues his dominance of California, leading the second practice for the Acura Grand prix of Long Beach. Herta was the only driver to turn a lap in less than 68 seconds on the track that has been a skating rink so far this weekend, with cars sliding towards the wall, locking up brakes, and making varying degrees of contact.
Romain Grosjean had at least three incidents of locking up and missing the turn. he had had contact with the wall near the end of the session. In the final minute of practice, Rinus VeeKay and Scott Dixon spun stalled on track.
Points leader Alex Palou worked on race setup most of the session, ending with the 16th fastest time. His closest competition, Pato O’Ward, was eighth. Josef Newgarden, with a very slight chance at the the title, was fourth. The previous two weeks saw Newgarden strong in practice, but fade to the back in qualifying.
The top 12:
Mark Miles said that despite Penske taking control of Indy Lights, the Freedom 100 will not return to Carb Day. It was always a fun race with several close finishes, one of which was four wide, but there was always some first time drivers who weren’t ready for that level. It did not end well for them, and I always felt that part of it was very dangerous.
Team Penske put all four of their drivers in the top 10. They will be a factor in qualifying.
Qualifying begins at 3 pm Eastern and is on both Peacock and NBCSN.
“Going into qualifying I think it’s important to find a good package because this place is, from my experience, I’ve only done one race here, if I remember it was a lot of fuel save, not a lot of passing. Just in the pit stop sequences. I feel like you need to focus on that. Qualifying up front will probably pay off a lot more than if you qualify in the back, unless it’s Portland .”
Pato O’Ward stated the importance of qualifying near the front today for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. The track for the final race of the NTT Indycar Series season is difficult to pass on, and pit strategy is crucial. Oddly, the race has only been won 10 times from the pole by just five different drivers.
Qualifying order could have an effect on who wins the championship Sunday. Points leader Alex Palou needs to finish 11thg or better Sunday to win the title. O’Ward needs to earn the maximum points available (54) to have a chance to take the Astor Cup. If O’Ward does not win the pole, Palou will just need a 12th place or better finish. Don’t look for Palou to aim for a result that low.
Olivier Boisson, will be going with Romain Grosjean to Andretti Autosport in 2022. Boisson has been Grosjean’s crew chief this season, and the pairing has clicked.
Palou said he has spent about 15 hours on the simulator preparing for Long Beach. This is his first time driving the track. Palou had not driven any of the three final tracks, Portland, Laguna Seca, or Long Beach. he has done okay at the first two.
I’ll be back after the noon practice to set up qualifying, and then have a qualifyinq wrap up tonight.
Colton Herta at LongBeach. Indycar photo by Chris Jones
Colton Herta is looking to win California. He backed uop his dominating performance at Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca by having the fastest time in today’s only practice session for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Andretti Autosport cars showed a lot of strength as the cars of Herta Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, and James Hinchcliffe were in the top our spots late in the session. Hunter-Reay finished fifth, Hinchcliffe eighth, and Rossi ninth.
Alex Palou led the championship contenders in third. Pato O’Ward, who trails Palou by 35 points was 16th, and Josef Newgarden, who is barely hanging on to a chance at the crown, was10th.
The session was disjointed with two red flags and several yellows. Josef Newgarden spun and lightly tapped the tire barrier. Oliver Askew had two incidents of wall contact, the second one breaking the rear suspension arm.
Turn nine was troublesome as a bump just before the turn had cars airborne and caused several drivers to take the runoff area.
The top 12:
The track looked great. Perhaps i was just nice to see the Long Beach course again after 17 months.
O’Ward sounded very subdued and frustrated in a post practice interview with NBC.
Indy lights points leader Kyle Kirkwood hinted at having an Indycar ride for next year, but said he can’t say what it is for a couple weeks. The Indy Lights season ends next weekend at Mid Ohio. Your favorite blogger is planning to be there. So am I.
The Astor Cup will add a first time name Sunday. Indycar Photo by Chris Owens
Today’s Schedule: Eastern Time
Indycar Practice 6:00 pm-6:45pm
I am always shocked when the weekend of the last Indycar race of the season arrives. I’m excited for the race, but sad that I have to wait several months for the cars to hit the track again. Fortunately the gap until next season is shorter than in most years with St. Pete coming up in February.
Indycar returns to the longest running street race in the United States. In a normal season, Long Beach would be the third race of the year, but the event has been hit hard by the pandemic. The race was cancelled last season, and the promoters moved it to the fall in hopes that the COVID restrictions would ease enough to run the race. The Acura Grand pPx of Long Beach will go on with the specter of the Delta variant still lurking.
To gain entrance to the track, fans must show proof of vaccination or a negative test result no earlier than 72 hours prior to the day of entry.
The championship is all but over although most writers have amused themselves this week presenting scenarios in which Alex Palou could lose the title. This has been a crazy year, but I don’t think he is in danger. If neither Josef Newgarden nor Pato O’Ward win the pole Saturday, the chase is essentially over. There is still a points battle to keep an eye on.
Tight Battle for Rookie of the Year
The 2021 rookie class, though small, has impressed. Scott McLaughlin leads Romain Grosjean by 20 points. Grosjean has won a pole and been on the podium three times. McLaughlin has one podium and a couple of top fives. McLaughlin has run every race, while Grosjean skipped the first three ovals.
The Long Beach will not allow Grosjean to make some of the spectacular passes he did last week, but he will still do well. I’m not sure he can catch McLaughlin in points, but I have been most impressed with Grosjean.
I have a new level of respect for Jimmie Johnson. After a long career in NASCAR, to step in an Indycar and try to learn on the job, takes courage I’m not sure I have. He has improved tremendously since the start of the year, and he has been racing people the last two weekends.
The Kids Did All Right
The new Indycar champion will be no older than 24 years old. Alex Palou, who has a fairly comfortable lead, has shown patience and maturity despite two consecutive hard luck DNFs late in the season.
Pato O’Ward has had one the three fastest cars on the grid in 2021. Pato has a reputation for overdriving the car at times and using up his tires too quickly. A couple of bad results early in the year may have cost him a better chance at the title going into this weekend.
Palou needs to finish 11th or better to clinch the championship.
Ryan Hunter-Reay will drive his final race for Andretti Autosport Sunday. The 11 year affiliation produced an Indianapolis 500 win and a series championship. Hunter-Reay will most likely be driving in the 500 next season, but whether he runs full time is not known.
James Hinchcliffe will also have his last run in the 29 car for Andretti. I think his Indycar options are limited.
Is this Takuma Sato’s last drive for Rahal Letterman Lanigan? We should know next week. Sato won the 500 for the team in 2020.
Simon Pagenaud will leave Team Penske after Sunday. I believe he has another team lined up for 2022. Pagenaud won the 500 in 2019 and the series title in 2016.
Before the pandemic, Long Beach belonged to Alexander Rossi. In 2018 and 2019, Rossi won the pole and the race. In 2019, he won by 20 seconds. I look for him to be strong again. Rossi has had a frustrating season, but the last few races he has qualified well, but hasn’t always had the results to show for how he raced. He is especially hungry after the first lap incident last week put him out of contention for the win.
Rossi will win for the third straight time at Long Beach. Grosjean will make the rookie race even tighter but McLaughlin will prevail for the season.
2019 race winner (most recent): Alexander Rossi (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda)
2019 NTT P1 Award winner (most recent): Alexander Rossi (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda), 1:06.4811, 106.569 mph
Qualifying lap record: Helio Castroneves, 1:06.2254, 106.980 mph, April 8, 2017
NBCSN telecasts: Qualifying, Saturday, Sept. 25 (3 p.m. ET, live); Race, Sunday, Sept. 26 (3 p.m. ET, live). Leigh Diffey will be the play-by-play announcer for NBCSN’s telecast of the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach alongside analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy.
Peacock Premium Live Streaming: This weekend’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice sessions and NTT P1 Award qualifying will stream live on Peacock Premium, NBC’s direct-to-consumer livestreaming product.
INDYCAR Radio Network broadcasts: Mark Jaynes will be the lead announcer alongside analyst Davey Hamilton. Jake Query, Nick Yeoman and Michael Young are the turn announcers. Ryan Myrehn and Alex Wolff will report from the pits. The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach will air live on network affiliates, SiriusXM 205 and 211, indycar.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app powered by NTT DATA. All NTT INDYCAR SERIES practices and qualifying are available on SiriusXM 205, indycar.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app.
At-track schedule (all times local):
Friday, Sept. 24
3-3:45 p.m. – NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice 1, Peacock Premium (live)
Saturday, Sept. 25
9-9:45 a.m. – NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice 2, Peacock Premium (live)
12:05 p.m. – NTT INDYCAR SERIES Qualifying for the NTT P1 Award (three rounds of knockout qualifying), NBCSN/Peacock Premium (live)
Sunday, Sept. 19
9-9:30 a.m. – NTT INDYCAR SERIES warmup, Peacock Premium (live)
Noon – Driver introductions
Noon – NBCSN on air
12:38 p.m. – Start engines command
12:45 p.m. – Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach (85 laps/167.28 miles), NBCSN (live)
Alex Palou leads the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship with one race to go for the first time in his career. Palou has led the point standings after 10 of the 15 races this season.
There are three drivers mathematically eligible for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship: Alex Palou, Pato O’Ward and Josef Newgarden. Neither Palou nor O’Ward has won the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship. Newgarden has won the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship twice in the last four seasons (2017 and 2019).
This is the 37th INDYCAR SERIES race on the streets of Long Beach and the first time that the INDYCAR SERIES championship will be decided at the track. The temporary street circuit routinely hosts an April race.
The winner at Long Beach has gone on to win the championship in the same season 14 times: Mario Andretti (1984), Al Unser Jr. (1990 and 1994), Jimmy Vasser (1996), Alex Zanardi (1997 and 1998), Juan Pablo Montoya (1999), Paul Tracy (2003), Sebastien Bourdais (2005, 2006 and 2007), Dario Franchitti (2009), Scott Dixon (2015) and Simon Pagenaud (2016).
KEY CHAMPIONSHIP POINT STATISTIC: This is the 16th consecutive year that the NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion will be determined at the final race of the season.
CHAMPIONSHIP WITH ONE TO GO (2008-2021)
Juan Pablo Montoya
There have been nine different winners in 15 NTT INDYCAR SERIES races this season. Alex Palou (Barber Motorsports Park, Road America, Portland International Raceway), Colton Herta (Streets of St. Petersburg, WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca), Scott Dixon (Texas Motor Speedway-1), Pato O’Ward (Texas Motor Speedway-2, Raceway at Belle Isle Park-2), Rinus VeeKay (Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course-1), Helio Castroneves (Indianapolis 500), Marcus Ericsson (Raceway at Belle Isle Park-1, Streets of Nashville), Josef Newgarden (Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, World Wide Technology Raceway) and Will Power (Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course-2) have all won in 2021. The modern record (1946-present) for most different winners in a season is 11 in 2000, 2001 and 2014.
There have been seven different winners in the last 10 NTT INDYCAR SERIES races (Helio Castroneves, Alex Palou, Marcus Ericsson, Pato O’Ward, Josef Newgarden, Will Power and Colton Herta). The only repeat winners in that stretch are, Ericsson (Raceway at Belle Isle Park-1 and Streets of Nashville), Newgarden (Mid-Ohio and WWT Raceway) and Palou (Road America and Portland).
This weekend’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach will mark the 37th INDYCAR SERIES event on the historic street circuit. Mario Andretti won the first INDYCAR race there in 1984. Alexander Rossi won the race in 2018 and 2019. No race was held in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sebastien Bourdais (2005-2007) was the last back-to-back-to-back winner at Long Beach.
Al Unser Jr. has won the most times at Long Beach (six), while Sebastien Bourdais, Will Power and Alexander Rossi are the only entered drivers with multiple wins. Bourdais won three straight races from 2005-2007. Power won in 2008 and 2012, and Rossi won in 2018 and 2019. Other former race winners scheduled to compete are Helio Castroneves (2001), Ryan Hunter-Reay (2010), Takuma Sato (2013), Scott Dixon (2015), Simon Pagenaud (2016) and James Hinchcliffe (2017).
Five drivers have won the race from the pole – Mario Andretti (1984, 1985 and 1987), Al Unser Jr. (1989-90), Helio Castroneves (2001), Sebastien Bourdais (2006-07) and Alexander Rossi (2018-19).
Twenty of the 28 drivers entered have competed in INDYCAR SERIES races at Long Beach. Sebastien Bourdais, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power each have 14 starts, most among all entered drivers. Eleven entered drivers have led laps: Helio Castroneves 179, Bourdais 173, Power 170, Hunter-Reay 151, Alexander Rossi 151, Scott Dixon 103, Takuma Sato 67, Simon Pagenaud 54, James Hinchcliffe 25 and Josef Newgarden 4.
Four California natives are entered: 2018 and 2019 race winner Alexander Rossi is a native of Nevada City, while Andretti Autosport teammate Colton Herta hails from Valencia. Charlie Kimball is from Camarillo, and NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie Jimmie Johnson is from El Cajon.
Four NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookies – Romain Grosjean, Callum Ilott, Jimmie Johnson and Scott McLaughlin – are expected to compete. The four rookies, along with veteran drivers Oliver Askew, Dalton Kellett, Alex Palou and Rinus VeeKay, will all make their first INDYCAR SERIES start on the Streets of Long Beach.
7:30 AM Gates Open 9:00 AM – 9:20 AM Historic Formula Atlantic Challenge Practice 9:45 AM – 10:45 AM IMSA Practice 11:10 AM – 11:30 AM Stadium SUPER Trucks Practice 12:35 PM – 1:00 PM Global Time Attack Practice 1:20 PM – 2:35 PM IMSA Practice #2 3:00 PM – 3:45 PM INDYCAR Practice #1 4:00 PM – 4:20 PM Historic Formula Atlantic Challenge Qualifying 4:30 PM – 5:30 PM NTT INDYCAR SERIES All-Driver Autograph Session (INDYCAR Paddock – Open to all race attendees) 4:45 PM – 5:55 PM IMSA Qualifying 6:15 PM – 6:35 PM Super Drift Challenge Practice 6:45 PM – 8:15 PM Formula D Super Drift Challenge Competition #1
Saturday, September 25
7:30 AM Gates Open 9:00 AM – 9:45 AM INDYCAR Practice #2 10:05 AM – 10:35 AM Stadium SUPER Trucks Race #1 10:40 AM IMSA Race Pit Set Up 11:05 AM – 11:20 AM Global Time Attack Competition #1 12:05 PM – 1:20 PM INDYCAR Qualifying & FIRESTONE FAST 6 1:30 PM IMSA Pre-Race Ceremonies Begin 2:06 PM – 3:46 PM IMSA SportsCar Grand Prix of Long Beach (100 min) 4:30 PM – 4:50 PM Historic Formula Atlantic Challenge Race #1 5:30 PM – 5:50 PM Super Drift Challenge Practice 5:30 PM Vince Neil Concert Presented by Acura and ASM Global 6:00 PM – 7:30 PM Formula D Super Drift Challenge Competition #2
Sunday, September 26
7:30 AM Gates Open 9:00 AM – 9:30 AM INDYCAR Warm Up 10:10 AM – 10:25 AM Global Time Attack Competition #2 10:45 AM – 11:05 AM Historic Formula Atlantic Challenge Race #2 11:10 AM – 11:20 AM Acura NSX Hot Laps 11:25 AM – 11:40 AM Mothers Exotic Car Parade 11:54 AM INDYCAR Pre Race Ceremonies Begin 12:05 PM Indy Cars to Grid 12:38 PM “Drivers Start Your Engines” 12:39 PM INDYCAR Pace Laps 12:45 PM – 3:00 PM ACURA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH (Season Finale of the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES – 85 Laps) 3:30 PM – 4:00 PM Stadium SUPER Trucks Race #2
TIME CERTAIN SCHEDULE – All sessions, except as noted, to start and finish on schedule