Well, it’s tough to go wrong with a race at Long Beach, isn’t it? IndyCar has had two great races to start the season, and will be carrying a pretty good head of steam into one of the premiere street courses on the schedule. There are no less than six previous Long Beach winners in Sunday’s field (even more if you count Atlantics and Lights). Looking back over the years, this is a course that has often produced a hodgepodge of winners. If you’re going to have someone break out for an unexpected victory, this is one of the places to look for it.
Here are just some of the storylines to watch heading into the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach:
Andretti Tries To Make It 3/3: Obviously, you can’t talk about the season so far without discussing the big success Andretti Autosport has found. Will we see more of the same Sunday? It’s very possible. Ryan Hunter-Reay always is up for this race, and James Hinchcliffe has been great here. Marco Andretti may be a bit more of a question mark; this course has not been kind to him overall, and EJ Viso’s Long Beach results have also been up and down. If Andretti can fight through the admittedly strong competition this week and get the win, expect a) a very happy Michael Andretti, and b) increased ulcer medication for Chip Ganassi.
Dario’s 250th Drive: Dario Franchitti will be making his 250th IndyCar start this weekend, and I’m sure he’s hoping it goes better than 248 or 249 did. Granted, a header failure doesn’t fall at Dario’s feet, but there’s been the perception for a while now that he is simply not in a comfortable spot right now. If he wins here as he did a few years ago, that perception could go out the window very quickly.
Penske Pride: As mentioned last week, we’re coming up on a year without a Will Power victory. He’s a two-time winner at Long Beach, so obviously that could change in a hurry, but for as dominant as he’s been in that time frame, he has no wins to show for it. Meanwhile, teammate Helio Castroneves is leading in points, but will have plenty of competition from drivers such as James Hinchcliffe, Scott Dixon, and Ryan Hunter-Reay if he wants to stay up there. Let’s not forget, Penske will also have AJ Allmendinger in the #2 car this weekend—his last race before Indianapolis.
One-Off Wonder: Mike Conway won the 2010 Grand Prix, but of course more recently ended last season by stepping out of the Foyt car and writing off any idea he’d ever compete on an oval again. However, he’s back with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for a Long Beach one-off, and he very well could turn some heads. Conway is extremely fast when it comes to Long Beach, so his participation could spell a very good result for RLLR.
Pags and T-Vau Show: Simon Pagenaud drove a great race here last season, coming up just short against Power. His pairing this year with rookie Tristan Vautier has seemed to be chock full of potential, and it’s not hard to imagine either driver have a very good weekend. We’re going to begin to get a gauge of where the Schmidt team is this year in terms of consistency; let’s see if either of the French Connection lads can pull off the big win here.
Speaking of France: Let’s not forget, Sebastien Bourdais has also won on these streets. Dragon Racing is always a tough one to puzzle out in terms of how their weekend will go, but Seb should be in good shape so long as he has a halfway decent car underneath him for the weekend.
Can Kimball Keep It Going?: We’ve seen mid-pack drivers have good results before, only to fade into the background the following week. That said, Charlie Kimball is not a mid-pack driver, or at least, he shouldn’t be, not with the expectations that come along with a Ganassi ride. CK was brilliant last race, and it would seem that his progression of the past few years is finally bearing fruit. The question is, can he do that on a regular, consistent basis? Long Beach will be the first test of precisely that.
Lights Update: There will be a few new faces in Lights this weekend, with Canadian Mikael Grenier taking his turn in the car for Team Moore, and his countryman Matthew Di Leo making his Lights debut with his own team. We’ll see how his MDL Racing does in their first outing, but Di Leo had some very impressive moments last season in USF2000. Meanwhile, Jack Hawksworth enters Long Beach 12 points ahead of Carlos Munoz and two dozen or so ahead of Peter Dempsey and Sage Karam, so we’ll see if he can keep his lead with the oval Firestone Freedom 100 looming next month. Also, if you missed Wednesday’s interview here with Munoz, be sure to check it out—he’ll be making his rookie attempt at the 500 next month, so you’d better get acquainted with him.
Livery Watch: Tony Kanaan is back in the very busy Hydroxycut scheme this week, while Mike Conway will be sporting the “blu” e-cigarette colors. Oriol Servia is back in the now-familiar Charter Communications green-and-blue livery, while Tristan Vautier will have Lucas on his sidepods. Josef Newgarden will have Hartman Oil on the side of the #67 car for this one.
Pole Prediction: You know, I’m feeling the Andretti power. Let’s go with Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Winner Prediction: I think Hinch gets it done this week, but Penske won’t be shut out forever.
Dark Horse: Just for fun, Josef Newgarden.
Don’t forget, fantasy picks are due by Friday 10am Eastern! Have a great weekend!