It’s been a fast and challenging weekend for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES as it returns one of the series’ most prestigious races: The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach from the Streets of Long Beach, California, during its rightful April date.
A grid of 26 cars makes up the second NTT INDYCAR SERIES field at Long Beach in seven months as this event served as the 2021 season finale. The race was postponed to September due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This weekend’s race marks the 38th INDYCAR SERIES race at the Southern California street circuit.
Firestone is supplying more than 1,400 tires for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. The tires feature the same technology that Firestone Racing used at the season opener at St. Petersburg, which is also a street circuit that features a mix of concrete and asphalt surfaces. Each entry has received six sets of primary (black) tires, four sets of alternate (red) tires and five sets of rain (gray) tires.
It’s a perfect day for a race along the Rainbow Harbor in Long Beach. Temperatures are expected to be near 66 degrees by the time the green flag drops, a marked turn from the beginning of the weekend when Practice 1 was held in temps in the mid-90s. The partly cloudy day is expected to feature 67 percent humidity and 10 mph winds.
You can catch the action live on NBC, Peacock Premium and INDYCAR Radio Network beginning at 3 p.m. (ET). You can listen to the radio broadcast live on network affiliates, SiriusXM 160, INDYCAR.com and INDYCAR Mobile App powered by NTT DATA.
Here’s what you need to know to get ready for today’s action:
Track Changes Challenge Drivers
There are a lot of things that make the Streets of Long Beach a challenging racetrack, and maybe one of the biggest is that the track is always changing.
It’s a natural result of street courses, which are rebuilt on city streets leading into each race and torn down after the race is completed. It’s virtually impossible to make the track exactly the same year-over-year.
This year, however, track officials made an intentional change to the wall in Turn 6 to help the NTT INDYCAR SERIES cars navigate the course. Normally, Turn 6 features two straight walls that make the corner. This time around, track officials built a more rounded wall, because NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers have historically clipped the two straight walls and found themselves in the tire barriers on corner exit.
The change is a positive development, but it does mean the wall runs deeper into the corner and changes the way drivers approach that corner. Defending winner Colton Herta struggled with it in Practice 2, spinning on corner exit and tapping the wall with his rear wing.
Drivers are also noticing that the track features much more grip than expected, which is resulting in higher speeds. There are several theories as to what is different, including additional rubber from the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Robby Gordon Stadium Super Trucks that are also competing on the streets of Long Beach this weekend, as well as the idea that more sealant has been put down on the course this weekend.
While speeds have increased, the changes have resulted in several drivers going off course or hitting the tire barriers, including: Herta, Romain Grosjean, Dalton Kellett, Jimmie Johnson, Scott Dixon, Jack Harvey, David Malukas, Graham Rahal and Pato O’Ward.
Speeds…They’re Going Up!
The streets of Long Beach are incredibly fast this weekend.
Herta won the NTT P1 Award for pole to start first in today’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach with a best lap of 1 minute, 5.3095 seconds, breaking the track record of 1:06.2254 set by Helio Castroneves in 2017.
Likely due to a combination of factors previously mentioned, such as more rubber on the track and more sealant, it’s still surprising given the increased temperatures seen in the early part of the weekend.
Even with temperatures in the mid-90s during first practice Friday, which typically results in a hot racetrack with less grip, NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers were putting down fast laps.
In Practice 2, the top nine drivers on the speed charts unofficially broke the track record. The session was led by Romain Grosjean, whose best lap time of 1:05.6520 eclipsed the record by more than half a second.
What does that mean for today’s race? Well, the drivers that make up the first two rows of today’s starting grid are the immediate favorites to win the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach: Herta and Josef Newgarden, who start first and second, and Alex Palou and Felix Rosenqvist, who start third and fourth, respectively.
Specifically, though, Herta is the odds-on favorite, as the streets of Long Beach has the highest success rate of pole sitters winning the race of any other street course on the schedule. The most recent driver to do so was Alexander Rossi, who won this race from the first starting spot in 2018 and 2019.
Herta Heads Warmup
Colton Herta sealed his status as the favorite to win today after leading the morning warmup with a top lap of 1:05.8645 in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda.
Scott Dixon jumped to second on the speed chart at 1:06.1923 in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, followed by teammate Marcus Ericsson at 1:06.3934 in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing.
Series leader Scott McLaughlin encountered mechanical trouble that forced his No. 3 Snap-on Team Penske Chevrolet to the paddock early in the session, where Team Penske and Chevrolet officials changed his engine due to a suspected electrical problem, a Chevrolet spokesperson said. McLaughlin will retain his ninth spot on the starting grid.
Graham Rahal tapped the wall with the left rear and right front of his No. 15 Quartz Engine Oil Honda later in the session, requiring repairs in the pits.