After beginning the season on the East Coast, with races at St. Petersburg and Barber Motorsports Park, the IndyCar Series jaunts West to the familiar Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. This event is the longest tenured “street” race in the United States, having begun in 1975. (For more information on its history, go here). The race is on April 21, at 4 ET, and can be found on the NBC Sports Network.
Teams tested at Pocono Raceway in preparation for the race later this summer. But other than that significant return to the track, the past couple weeks have passed by in a somewhat quiet manner. With James Hinchcliffe winning the opener and Ryan Hunter-Reay the second race, a dominant driver has yet to emerge for 2013. From an organizational standpoint, however, the Andretti cars seem to be off to a spirited start. It’s rather unusual for Penske and Ganassi to be playing a bit of catch-up early in the year, but that’s what they seem to be facing.
Situated just off the Pacific Ocean, the Long Beach track is a temporary 1.98-mile street course that features 11 turns. The straightaway on Shoreline Drive features the highest speeds, coming just after a hairpin turn. The tight track allows for little passing, but that’s not to say it doesn’t offer a couple of zones for doing so. The average speeds for the past four races have hovered between the upper 80s and low 90s in MPH. Will Power took the trophy last year.
What’s the Points – Drivers?
Helio Castroneves leads the way, having posted two top-5 finishes so far. But the next three drivers, Scott Dixon, Hunter-Reay, and Marco Andretti (yes, you read that right) are all within 18 points. Hinchcliffe, who endured a miserable race at Barber, stuck in a car waiting to return to racing, finishes out the top 5.
What’s the Points – Engines?
Well, as there are only two engine manufacturers this year, this competition is a bit muted. To make matters less interesting, Chevrolet has powered the first two victors.
Driver to Watch: It’s funny to choose Dario Franchitti as a driver to watch. Not only is he a four-time champion, but he’s also a former LBGP winner. But his season is off to a horrible start, with two DNFs. He sits in a baffling position of 26th in the points. If he has any hope of placing himself in the championship talk, Franchitti needs to earn a podium finish this weekend.
Relatively little has happened since Barber. There is still curiosity about AJ Allmendinger’s return to open-wheel racing, and now that Penske is giving him more support his car will be one to watch.
Who Ya Got?
There are a number of former winners in this race, though some of them won during the CART-Indy split. It’s difficult to go against Hunter-Reay, who is following his championship season with a determined start and won this race in 2010. Our Matt Stallknecht, meanwhile is looking for Will Power to win the Grand Prix in back-to-back years and get his season righted. Editor Toni Montgomery is opting for Marco Andretti to break through and solidify himself as a driver in contention for the championship.
The IndyCars take another week break before heading to Sao Paulo, Brazil. That race, held on May 5th, with coverage on the NBC Sports Network and Sirius 211 beginning at 11 EST, will be the final one until the Indy 500 in late May.
Connect with Huston!
Contact Huston Ladner