LONG BEACH, California – The start of the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach is annually one of the most compelling on the NTT IndyCar Series circuit – and frequently fraught with action and frustration.
As the Indy cars roar in unison down Shoreline Drive after taking the green flag on the front straight – which, to be accurate, isn’t even straight since it bends right – before plunging into the 90-degree left Turn 1, the chances for two or more cars tangling increase.
ACURA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH: Race start tire designation
Last year’s race was a perfect example and provided hilarious banter Saturday among those who qualified in the Firestone Fast Six for the 36th straight grand prix for Indy cars on the circuit.
In the 2018 race, Simon Pagenaud started third, with Graham Rahal directly behind in fifth. As the field reached Turn 1, the typical accordion effect bunched the cars and Rahal made contact with Pagenaud. The former continued in the No. 15 TOTAL Honda but the latter was done for the day, sustaining enough damage to the No. 22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet that Pagenaud could not continue.
Assessed a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact, Rahal raced back to finish fifth.
On Sunday, the duo will start next to each other on Row 3 and could look back on last year with a laugh. Here’s the exchange that wound up including Pagenaud’s teammate, Will Power:
RAHAL (grinning sheepishly): “It (the 2018 contact) was like a very minor love tap. He was backwards (after the contact) – like a serious lack of power control. It's going to be a lot harder to hit him (this year) when he's next to me. So, if I'm going to do it again, I'm going to try really hard to do it.”
PAGENAUD: “I think you were next to me.”
RAHAL: “No, I was behind you. I was behind you, and …”
WILL POWER (interrupting): “It was like a torpedo!”
PAGENAUD: “Yes, it was like a torpedo.”
RAHAL: “That's Power's issue now, I think, right?”
Power’s No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet qualified third on Saturday and will start directly ahead of Rahal on the two-by-two starting grid.
POWER: “You behind me?”
POWER: “The difference is I'm from Toowoomba (Australia), see, and we fight.”
RAHAL (laughing): “I'm really not worried about you. I've got like 50 pounds on you.”
Power wasn’t convinced Rahal would have an advantage. Pagenaud then attempted to restore order.
PAGENAUD: “Hopefully, it doesn't happen again. I mean, it's that simple. Last year for sure, it clearly was not a good thing for him or us. We battled back hard, but it was not good by any stretch of the imagination.”
Then the Frenchman couldn’t resist a final jab at Rahal.
PAGENAUD: “I might not brake in Turn 1 just to make sure I don't get hit (again).”
RAHAL: “Actually, I would be perfectly fine with that. If you want to do that, that would help. You could take out everybody and I'll be good.”
To be fair, incidents don’t happen on the opening lap at Long Beach as often as some believe. Last year’s contact between Rahal and Pagenaud was just the sixth time it occurred on Lap 1 in the last 15 years
Alexander Rossi and Scott Dixon start on the front row, potentially ahead of any Turn 1 melee behind them. Rossi won the Long Beach race from the pole last year, Dixon was the race winner in 2015. Other past Long Beach winners in Sunday’s field are Power (2008, ’12), Sebastien Bourdais (2005-07), Ryan Hunter-Reay (2010), Takuma Sato (2013), Pagenaud (2016) and James Hinchcliffe (2017).
The race has seen a different driver win each of the past seven years.
Live coverage of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama starts at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com, the NBC Sports app and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.
The INDYCAR Mobile app powered by NTT DATA provides the perfect second-screen complement to the telecast. Select in-car cameras are available as well as all team radio communications, live timing and scoring and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network commentary. Download the app for smartphones at indycar.com/mobile-app.
ACURA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH:
Race 4 of 17 on the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series schedule
Track: Streets of Long Beach, California, an 11-turn, 1.968-mile temporary street course. This yer marks the 36th consecutive year that Indy cars will race on the iconic circuit that has become known as the Monaco on Indy car racing.
Race distance: 85 laps/167.28 miles
Fuel: Each car receives 60 gallons of Speedway E85 ethanol for the race
Push-to-pass: Each car has 200 seconds total duration for the race, with a maximum single use of 20 seconds. The push-to-pass overtake assist provides approximately 60 added horsepower when utilized.
Tire use rule: Every car that finishes the race must complete a stint of at least two laps on one set of the Firestone primary (black-sidewall) tires and one set of new Firestone alternate (red-sidewall) tires in a dry-condition event.