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(Photo: Richard Dowdy / IndyCar)

Preview: IndyCar Series Returns to Famed Long Beach Circuit

When it comes to history and tradition, few street circuits in America can compete with Long Beach, California.

It was on the streets of Long Beach in 1975 that a man named Chris Pook staged a Formula 5000 race, the first major street race in North America. It was on those same streets in 1976 that Formula One held the United States West Grand Prix. However, while the 1976 Grand Prix, won by Clay Regazzoni, was the first at Long Beach, it was the second that made the city famous.

In 1977, Mario Andretti survived a multi-car incident and drove through the field to claim the United States West Grand Prix, the first F1 win for an American in the United States. F1 would continue to race at the circuit until 1984, when CART took over the event.

Fittingly, Andretti would claim the inaugural CART event in 1984, along with wins in 1985 and 1987, with son Michael Andretti taking the victory in 1986. The thrill of Americans winning, along with great racing on the streets, gave Long Beach a great boost in the eyes of fans and critics. The city has held an event every year since 1975, fielding CART and, after the merger, Verizon IndyCar Series events from 1984 to the present day.

The track has also played host to other series, including Indy Lights, IMSA, Trans-Am and, in recent years, FIA Formula E.

For much of it’s CART days, Long Beach was dominated by some of Indy car racing’s finest. The Andretti’s took the first four events at the city. However, the winningest driver at the circuit is Al Unser, Jr. Unser has an astounding six victories at Long Beach, including four straight triumphs from 1988-1991, and back-to-back victories in 1994 and 1995.

Paul Tracy (4), Sebastién Bourdais (3), Alex Zanardi (2) and Michael Andretti (2) also tallied multiple victories in CART’s history at Long Beach. Currents drivers Juan Pablo Montoya (1999) and Helio Castroneves (2001) also won during this time.

While the track was largely dominated during the CART days, IndyCar’s brief history at the track has been a much different story. The series has seen seven different winners in eight races at the California track, with only Will Power earning victory more than once. The sudden parity stands in stark contrast to the track’s history – Long Beach saw only 10 different winners in 24 years before the CART-INDYCAR merger.

Still, while more names have found their way to victory lane in recent years, the pressure is still high on each team to add their names to the legendary list of victors in Long Beach. Many of the recent winners, including Power, Dario Franchitti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and defending winner Scott Dixon, either were or went on to be champions of the series.

The April 17 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will serve as round three of sixteen for the IndyCar Series, and will be the second of six street course races. The field will compete for 80 laps on the 1.968-mile, 12-turn street circuit surrounding the Long Beach Convention Center.

The weekend could be pivotal for one of the series’ manufacturers. The beginning of 2016 has played out much like 2015, with Chevrolet running off often leaving Honda behind. Only one Honda – Hunter-Reay – has managed to stay inside of the top five in points through two events, and the 2014 Indianapolis 500 champion still sits 27 points back from leader Simon Pagenaud.

Speaking of Pagenaud, Sunday offers a chance for the Frenchman to make a statement and establish himself as a championship favorite. Pagenaud leads the points after rattling off two podiums to start the season, but the 31-year-old is still looking for his first victory since joining Team Penske prior to 2015. Three of Pagenaud’s four career IndyCar victories have come at street circuits, indicating that Sunday may be the Team Penske driver’s best shot at a victory before the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500.

(Photo: Bret Kelley / IndyCar)
Simon Pagenaud was in the grass in New Orleans last season at this time. This year, he’s hunting for a victory. (Photo: Bret Kelley / IndyCar)

Pagenaud and the rest of the IndyCar field will get their shot at Long Beach greatness this Sunday for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The Motegi Racing Super Drift Challenge, Pirelli World Challenge, IMSA Weathertech Sports Car Series and SPEED Energy Super Trucks will join the weekend as support series, along with the fan-favorite Toyota Pro / Celebrity Race.

 

SCHEDULE: 

 FRIDAY

Practice 1: 1:00 p.m – 1:45 p.m. ET

Practice 2: 5:00 p.m. – 5:45 p.m. ET

SATURDAY

 Practice 3: 1:00 p.m. – 1:45 p.m. ET

Qualifications: 5:00 p.m. – 6:15 p.m. ET

SUNDAY

Warm-Ups: 12:00 p.m – 12:30 p.m ET

Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach: 4:30 p.m. ET

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About Aaron Bearden

Aaron Bearden
A graduate of Ball State, Aaron rejoins Frontstretch for his second season in 2016 following a successful year that included covering seven races and starting the popular "Two-Headed Monster" column in 2015. Now in his third year of covering motorsports, Aaron serves as an Assistant Editor for Frontstretch while also contributing to other popular sites including Speed51 and The Apex. He encourages you to come say hi when you see him at the track.

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