Ryan Hunter-Reay

LONG BEACH, California – Not only has the new Indy car for 2018 changed how drivers set up and drive their rocket ships in Verizon IndyCar Series races, strategy has been altered as well.

The cars possessing the universal aero kit generate better fuel mileage, which means today’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach can be completed in two pit stops without the need to go heavily into fuel-saving mode. The lower downforce levels generated from the aero kit also place greater demands on the Firestone tires, typically increasing tire degradation.

Fortunately for race fans, it all bodes well for an exciting 85-lap combat to win one of the most prestigious events on the schedule.

“I can tell you the fans will be on for an amazing show,” said Graham Rahal, who starts fifth today in the No. 15 Total Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. “The race was good here last year, and now with this car and the tire degradation that we're talking about, I think it's going to be a pretty awesome show.”

To which pole sitter Alexander Rossi added, “And just fuel burn, right? Last year saving (fuel) like crazy from the start, and this year you won't have to, so it'll be a lot better.”

Rossi has been a lot better himself this year. The Andretti Autosport driver has been the rabbit all weekend, leading three of four practice sessions and winning the pole position by more than three-tenths of a second – an eternity in these days of grid positions being decided by thousandths of a second.

Starting first at Long Beach has been a bit of an albatross the past decade, however. The last pole winner to drive to victory here was Sebastien Bourdais in 2007.

“The pole sitter hasn't won here since the mid-2000s or something crazy,” said Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, driver of the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda, the 2015 Long Beach winner. “We'll see if that still plays true, but I think this race definitely throws a bit of a curveball.

“Ideally, you want to start at the front. If you're not at the front, you have a pretty good chance coming from the back as we saw with Bourdais in St. Pete for the last two years, and we've seen it here many a times, too, with strategy.”

Josef Newgarden, winner of the last Verizon IndyCar Series race, the Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix on April 7, takes a five-point lead in the point standings into the race. Newgarden starts sixth in the No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, but seven rivals are within 20 points.


Race 3 of 17 on the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule

Track: 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street course. Today’s race will be mark the 35th consecutive year that Indy cars are racing on the streets of Long Beach, California. Mario Andretti won the first race in 1984.

Race distance: 85 laps/167.28 miles

Fuel: 60 gallons of Sunoco E85 ethanol

TV: NBCSN, NBCSports.com and NBC Sports app, live at 4 p.m. ET

Radio: Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network, 4 p.m. ET