Alexander Rossi has an idea of what’s to come this weekend in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, the third race of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES season.
Figure it to be fast and furious, again, he said.
“Yeah, it’s an easy two-stop race,” said Rossi, a two-time winner of the event. “Everyone is kind of flat out from the drop of the green flag.
“The tire life is usually pretty good there. There's not a whole lot of strategy or saving (fuel). Everyone does the same thing, so you can push pretty hard from the green.”
NBC and Peacock’s broadcast of the 85-lap race begins Sunday at 3 p.m. ET, with the INDYCAR Radio Network also providing coverage. When that green flag waves, it will be game on.
Rossi won the Long Beach races held in 2018 and 2019, and as a native Californian he considers it a home race given so many friends and members of his family attend.
The vibe of the street circuit bonanza just adds to the energy on the grounds, Rossi said. Attendance for the three-day downtown event is estimated at 180,000, creating an atmosphere that is the closest thing the INDYCAR SERIES has to the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, and it’s been like that almost since the first event in 1975.
“It's an awesome event, one of those where you feel kind of like a superhero when you get to go do driver introductions,” Rossi said. “It's annoying sometimes how busy pit lane is, but that's just a testament to the excitement and energy that exists at that track.
“It's certainly (an event) that we try and model as many of our street courses after it. I think (St. Petersburg) comes close. Nashville comes close. I think Detroit this year is going to be phenomenal. Yes, the pedigree it has in terms of its history, just the location, all of the extracurricular activities that you can find throughout the weekend just makes it pretty unique.”
This will be Rossi’s first Long Beach race driving the No. 7 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet after spending seven years with Andretti Autosport. This version of Rossi’s new team still doesn’t have a victory on the 11-turn, 1.968-mile street circuit – James Hinchcliffe won in 2017 when Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson led what was known as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports – but Pato O’Ward finished fifth in last year’s race and is off to a strong start this season.
Driving the No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet, O’Ward is the series points leader on the strength of second-place finishes in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding and the PPG 375 at Texas Motor Speedway. He led 23 laps in the opener, and teammate Felix Rosenqvist (No. 6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet) joined him in qualifying in the top eight with Rossi 12th, a promising sign for the team as it moves to this street circuit. Six of the past seven Long Beach winners have started in the first two rows.
Like Rossi, O’Ward figures to be a strong contender this week in SoCal.
“Quite honestly, Pato, you could argue, he maybe should have two wins to start the year,” Rossi said.
Rossi enters the weekend ninth in the standings, and the opportunity to excel at Long Beach based on past performances is encouraging. After all, his two wins at the venue came from the pole, so he qualified and raced equally well with Andretti Autosport.
If anything, Rossi said he would like INDYCAR to lengthen the race distance by enough laps to give teams the option to either race conservatively while making only two pit stops or attacking in a three-stop approach.
However, he conceded fast and furious tends to work at Long Beach, and that’s good for both the fans and the competitors.
“It’s been this length for a long time, and it's put on some great shows,” he said. “Colton (Herta), I think it was '21 or '20, where he started 14th and ended up winning, no yellows to help him.
“If you have a strong car, like always in INDYCAR, you can usually have a pretty good result.”