IndyCar heads back to the street courses for the next three races, first up is Long Beach. We’re at round number three and there is still no definitive order with the previous races at St Petersburg and Phoenix giving rather contradicting results.
The last race was just a weekend ago at Phoenix, the first of the April triple-header. It was won by Josef Newgarden in about as dominant fashion as you’re going to get this season. Rookie Robert Wickens shined again to lead much of the race but was ultimately out-done by Newgarden at the final restart. Newgarden’s win was the first for both Penske and Chevrolet this season to make it one all in the battle of the manufactures. With the first two races down, it’s last year’s champion, Newgarden, who sits at the top of the standings tree, closely followed by Alexander Rossi and Sebastien Bourdais – not exactly the top three we expected coming into the season!
After the excitement, and challenge, of their first oval, the rookies are back on more familiar turf as IndyCar hits the streets on Long Beach however, learning the track is still going to be a hard ask for the first timers.
Long Beach is a temporary street circuit which is renowned for being tight, twisting and rather bumpy. The first corner is a very popular overtaking zone while the famous fountain and following section of corners usually provides some sort of action, especially on the first laps and restarts – as Will Power knows all too well.
Last year Long Beach was the second race of the season, as opposed to the third, and was won by James Hinchcliffe who took his first race win since his near fatal Indy 500 crash in 2015. The weekend was not dominated by either Honda or Chevrolet but Honda did take the brunt of the retirements, mostly through accidents. Power was lucky to get anywhere near the end of the race after he was shown the wall by Charlie Kimball on lap one with the latter’s race being ended by the rear suspension damage caused by the incident. Pole didn’t do much for Helio Castroneves who slipped to sixth in the opening laps before finishing tenth; that has been a common theme for all recent Long Beach pole sitters with the last conversion coming back in 2007 by Bourdais.
There are just two driver changes for this weekend; Zachary Claman De Melo is back in the #19 Dale Coyne after Pietro Fittipaldi took the wheel for Phoenix while Jordan King takes over the #20 Ed Carpenter car from Ed Carpenter himself.
As we’re back on the streets, we’re back on the street and road course weekend format so Practice 3 will play a pivotal role in qualifying which, be warned, doesn’t carry much meaning into the race. Pit strategy, accidents and cautions all shake up the order massively so where you start bears little resemblance to where you finish!
As always seems to be the way with IndyCar, predicting who will shine this weekend feels a bit like pulling names out of a hat! After Penske came back fighting at Phoenix, you’d expect them to carry this form through to Long Beach, preferably on more than one of their cars. If what we’ve seen so far this season if anything to go by, only a fool would count out Wickens, Rossi, Bourdais and probably Hinchcliffe as well but there will certainly be some surprise contenders thrown into the mix with them.
Practice and qualifying will be streamed on IndyCar’s various outlets as per usual while the race will be live on the BT Sport/ESPN channel. If you’re looking to catch the action, your timings, in BST, for the weekend are as follows…
Practice 1 – 6:00pm
Practice 2 – 10:00pm
Practice 3 – 6:45pm
Qualifying – 11:30pm
Final Warmup – 5:00pm
Race – 9:30pm