Stats: Warmup Results | Starting Lineup, Tire Choice
If the morning warmup is any indication of how the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach will unfold this afternoon, here’s a bit of advice: Fasten your seat belts.
Colton Herta returned to the top of the time sheets Sunday morning after a disappointing NTT P1 Award qualifying session Saturday, turning a best lap of 1 minute, 8.4762 seconds in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda. Herta led the first two practice sessions of this season-ending event but brushed the wall during qualifying and will line up 14th on the starting grid for the 85-lap race (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN and INDYCAR Radio Network).
Six-time and reigning NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Scott Dixon was second at 1:08.6507 in the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda, with 2016 series champion Simon Pagenaud continuing a strong weekend by ending up third at 1:08.8029 in the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet.
2012 series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi rounded out the top five and ensured Andretti Autosport drivers would take three of the top five spots. 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner Hunter-Reay, in his final weekend with Andretti Autosport, was fourth at 1:08.8612 in the No. 28 DHL Honda. Rossi was fifth at 1:09.2465 in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda.
But the biggest story – by far – was the collision between Indianapolis 500 winners Rossi and Helio Castroneves 10 minutes into the 30-minute session.
Rossi exited the pits on cold tires and headed toward the tight, treacherous turn sequence at the famous fountain. Castroneves, on hot tires, tried to sneak past Rossi entering the fountain complex in his No. 06 Meyer Shank Racing Honda.
The two cars collided, with Castroneves’ left front wheel bouncing off the wall and his right front wheel hitting the left rear wheel of Rossi’s car. Rossi continued in the session after a quick check of his car in the pits, but Castroneves was unable to turn any more laps due to the damage to his car’s suspension.
Both drivers – quasi-teammates because of Meyer Shank Racing’s technical partnership with Andretti Autosport – were livid with each other. Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Castroneves’ anger reached a volcanic level not seen arguably since he was judged to have blocked his then-teammate Will Power on a late-race restart for the win in 2010 in Edmonton.
“I’m the old guy here,” said Castroneves, 46. “He’s the one that has the mirror, and he should take a look at what’s going on. It’s totally unnecessary. Totally unnecessary. It’s absolutely insane, so I’m pissed off about it. It’s ridiculous. It’s a (effing) warmup.”
Rossi disagreed with Castroneves’ interpretation of the accident.
“He likes to jump in line when we’re all trying to get gaps and everything,” Rossi said. “It happened yesterday. It happened in Portland. We’re teammates. We haven’t really talked about it. Now’s a good time to talk about it.
“The fact he thinks that any of that is my fault is hilarious. I guess when you’re a four-time Indy 500 champion, you can have your opinion. He’s entitled to it, but he’s wrong.”
That incident was the most prominent of many during the short session on the 11-turn, 1.968-mile circuit. A number of drivers, including Herta and NTT P1 Award winner Josef Newgarden, brushed the wall or went into runoff areas trying to find speed on the bumpy track that features concrete and asphalt.
Points leader Alex Palou was the quickest of the three championship contenders, ninth at 1:09.3364 in the No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Pato O’Ward, 35 points behind Palou in second, was 12th at 1:09.4789 in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet. Newgarden, 48 points behind Palou in third, was 13th at 1:09.5583 in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet.
Palou must finish 12th or better – or 13th or better if he leads a lap – to clinch his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship.