The NTT INDYCAR SERIES races into high gear this weekend with the third event of the 2023 season, the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.
After Long Beach is the Indy 500 Open Test on April 20-21 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval and the Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix at Barber Motorsports Park on Sunday, April 30.
SEE: Event Details
You “may” know what follows thereafter. That’s right, the Month of May at IMS, with the GMR Grand Prix on the road course Saturday, May 13 and the buildup to the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Sunday, May 28.
Long Beach is one of the cornerstone events on the NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule, a historical event which traces its roots to Mario Andretti’s win in 1984. The series has contested 38 races on the 11-turn, 1.968-mile street circuit, making it the longest-running event on the current schedule after the “500” and the race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Headlined by the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, the Long Beach action over the next three days includes seven different sanctioning bodies and many more classes of cars. The NTT INDYCAR SERIES stages its first practice at 6 p.m. ET Friday, with another practice at 11:45 a.m. Saturday and NTT P1 Award knockout qualifying at 3:05 p.m. All those sessions can be viewed on Peacock.
Sunday opens with a warmup session at noon ET, with live coverage on Peacock. The live race telecast on NBC and Peacock begins at 3 p.m. The INDYCAR Radio Network will have the call for all on-track sessions.
A look at five categories featuring key elements to pay attention to this weekend:
Setting the Weekend’s Table
Twenty-seven car-and-driver combinations comprise the entry list, continuing a trend of high-level participation in Southern California’s marquee motorsports event.
Since the resumption of action following the global pandemic, Long Beach has seen NTT INDYCAR SERIES car counts of 28, 26 and now 27. This year’s field includes seven former event winners and four rookies.
Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) and Alexander Rossi (No. 7 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet) are two-time Long Beach winners, with Power’s wins coming in 2008 and 2012. Rossi won in 2018 and 2019. Colton Herta (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda) won in 2021, Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet) won last year. The other former winners: Helio Castroneves (No. 06 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda) in 2001, Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) in 2015 and Simon Pagenaud (No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda) in 2016.
Castroneves holds the event record for career poles with four, including three in succession from 2015-17. Power also won three consecutive poles in the event (2009-11).
The Team to Watch
Team Penske holds the Long Beach record for INDYCAR SERIES victories with seven, and it will be the defending champion of this event thanks to Newgarden’s victory last year. But keep an eye on Andretti Autosport, which has four cars entered.
Michael Andretti’s organization has won three of the past four races – two by Rossi, another by Herta – and Herta won the pole last year while teammate Romain Grosjean (No. 28 DHL Honda) finished second in the race.
There have been 13 races in Long Beach since the sport unified in 2008. Andretti Autosport leads all teams with five wins, and it has done so with four different drivers (Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2010, Mike Conway in 2011, Rossi and Herta). Team Penske has three wins in that period: Power’s in 2012, Pagenaud’s in 2016 and Newgarden last year.
Since unification, no event on the calendar has been better at seeing different teams reach victory lane. Count them: Six teams in 13 races. In addition to Andretti Autosport and Team Penske are Chip Ganassi Racing (two wins) and single wins by AJ Foyt Racing (Takuma Sato in 2013), Ed Carpenter Racing (Conway in 2014) and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (James Hinchcliffe in 2017).
Long Beach Winners Start Fast
It’s always advantageous for a driver to start near the front of an NTT INDYCAR SERIES race, but it’s particularly important at Long Beach, where the 38 races have been won by 10 pole sitters.
That trend extends to the first two rows, where 30 of the 38 race winners – and seven of the past eight -- have started. Since unification, four races have seen the top three qualifiers become the top three finishers, although none in that order.
There is one interesting outlier to that trend, which should give drivers who don’t qualify well hope. In 2014, the podium finishers were Conway, Power and Carlos Munoz, and they had started 17th, 14th and 11th, respectively.
Herta won from the 14th starting position in 2021. Otherwise, the winner has come from the front row since the first of Rossi’s pole-to-checkers drives in 2018.
Rookies to Get First Long Beach Look
In part because INDY NXT by Firestone has not been part of the Long Beach weekend since 2015, the four drivers new to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES will make their first starts on the circuit.
The surprise of the season is Agustin Canapino (No. 78 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet), who is the early leader for Rookie of the Year. In the first two open-wheel starts for the Argentine driver, he finished 12th in each of the season’s first two races (the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding and the PPG 375 at Texas Motor Speedway). Canapino has 36 points and ranks 12th in the overall driver standings.
Benjamin Pedersen (No. 55 AJ FOYT RACING/SEXTON PROPERTIES Chevrolet) and Sting Ray Robb (No. 51 biohaven Honda) each have 20 points through two races. Pedersen’s best race of the season was a 15th-place finish at Texas. Robb also drove well at Texas, but his car has been involved in contact in each of the season’s first two races.
Marcus Armstrong (No. 11 The American Legion Honda) is only scheduled to compete in the road courses and street circuits for Chip Ganassi Racing, so he did not compete on the Texas oval. He finished 11th in St. Petersburg, the highest finish for a rookie driver this season. He is back in the field this weekend.
Long Beach Honors Two Former Winners
Today, Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe were inducted in the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame. The Walk of Fame is located on a palm-lined public sidewalk in Long Beach’s downtown waterfront next to the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center.
Hunter-Reay’s victory in 2010 was noteworthy and arguably career-defining. At that point he was only signed with Andretti Autosport through the early part of the season, but that win helped the team secure sponsorship for the rest of the season. Hunter-Reay continued with the team through 2021, winning the series championship in 2012 and the Indianapolis 500 in 2014. The Long Beach win was the first of Hunter-Reay’s 15 wins with Andretti Autosport.
Hunter-Reay’s Long Beach win also came just a few months after the passing of his mother, who suffered from colon cancer and was the inspiration for the forming of his foundation, Racing for Cancer. At Andretti, Hunter-Reay used No. 28 to represent the 28 million people who live with cancer.
Hunter-Reay will return to the series next month for the “500” in a car fielded by Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.
Hinchcliffe also won an INDY NXT race in 2010, and he will again be part of the NBC broadcast team this weekend.