Race Weekend Central

Grand Prix of Long Beach: 5 Drivers to Watch

The NTT IndyCar Series will once again set the streets of Long Beach ablaze on April 10, with Team Penske sophomore Scott McLaughlin sitting atop the points standings when the green flag drops.

IndyCar last visited Long Beach just over six months ago and saw Colton Herta complete a SoCal sweep after winning the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey two weeks prior. The 2021 Long Beach round also decided the title in favor of Alex Palou when his title rival Pato O’Ward was struck with a barrage of misfortune throughout the race.

The relationship between Long Beach and the highest level American open-wheel racing dates back to 1984, and 19 different drivers have taken home the victory since then. Of these 19 winners, six will start Sunday’s race. So who should have your attention?

See also
IndyCar XPEL 375 at Texas 2022: What We Learned

1. Will Power

Will Power’s post unification career features 30 wins, 80 podiums and 57 poles. The 2014 champion’s presence as a winning contender is understood at this point, for good reason.

But this year looks to have the makings of something particularly special for the Australia native. Through St. Petersburg and Texas Motor Speedway, Power has finished third and fourth, the best average finish in the field behind only his teammate McLaughlin.

Through 2021, Power’s performance on street courses was strong, albeit not perfect. Tenth place was the best Power could manage in Long Beach, and St Petersburg wasn’t much better with an eighth-place run. Power finished 20th and sixth in the Detroit doubleheader, but was in firm control of the first race of those two before his ECU melted while sitting under red flag conditions on pit road, ending his race on a particularly sour note.

Power currently holds two wins (2008, 2012) at Long Beach, with four podiums to boot. Having not gone winless since his 2007 Champ Car campaign, and with his strongest start to a season since 2014, Power ought to be kept in mind for the 2022 Grand Prix of Long Beach.

2. Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden’s name rings a few bells: two-time champion, back-to-back series runner up, etc. Newgarden has proven himself capable of winning pretty much anywhere. He has won three of the last five races at World Wide Technology Raceway, and has stood on the podium at Texas for four races in a row with his win in this year’s XPEL 375.

Newgarden has never won at Long Beach, but enters the 2022 edition of the race with a best finish of second, achieved twice in the race’s two most recent iterations. He was firmly in contention for the win in 2021, breathing down Herta’s neck through the final stage of the race and crossing the finish line barely a half second behind the winner.

While Newgarden wasn’t a factor at St Petersburg, his win at Texas — barely edging out McLaughlin — suggests the No. 2 camp hasn’t lost its touch. At this point, we know better than to count Penske out, and it’s safe to say they’ll be in the picture as the laps wind down on April 10th.

3. Alex Palou

No introduction is necessary for Palou. The 2021 champion began his IndyCar career in 2020, running for Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh after competing in Japan’s SuperFormula series in 2019.

After showing flashes of brilliance in his rookie campaign, Palou was promoted to the No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing machine after the departure of Felix Rosenqvist. This investment by Ganassi paid off quickly when Palou won his first race at the opening round of 2021 at Barber Motorsports Park. Palou went on to win at Road America and Portland, and came within two laps of winning the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500.

Palou’s form on road courses in 2021 was mixed. But when he was in form, he was in form. Parity in IndyCar racing has been high over recent years, making Palou’s collection of four additional podium finishes on road courses worth noting.

Though Palou has only run at Long Beach once in IndyCar competition, it’s fair to say we’ve yet to see his true form around this tight circuit, as he went in to the last running of the Long Beach Grand Prix carrying the weight of a championship on his shoulders and only needed a fourth-place finish to seal the deal.

With much more time left to run this season, and already sitting second in points in 2022, Palou may well be free to let loose when the green flag drops. And maybe, just maybe, there will be a plate of fried chicken on Palou’s agenda Sunday evening.

4. Takuma Sato

The first three of these picks are rather run of the mill, names the average person would be expecting. But through his 14 year IndyCar career, Takuma Sato has displayed a habit of appearing out of nowhere at sporadic intervals.

Sato, now 45 years old, has moved to Dale Coyne Racing for 2022 following a four-year stint with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, during which he won four races including the 2020 Indianapolis 500. Sato also won the 500 in 2017 for Andretti and became the first Japanese IndyCar winner by taking the 2013 Long Beach Grand Prix by a comfortable margin.

Outside of this win, Sato’s Long Beach results are less than ideal. His 2013 win is one of only five top-10 finishes, with sixth finishes of 18th or lower.

Dale Coyne Racing, likewise, has a habit of putting on shocking performances without much warning. Tristan Vautier at Texas 2017 and Sebastien Bourdais’ back to back St. Petersburg wins come to mind.

On their day, Sato and Dale Coyne Racing may prove a formidable pairing.

See also
Techbench Tuesday: IndyCar at Long Beach in 2022

5. Jack Harvey

For Jack Harvey, 2022 looked set to be a breakout year, finally setting the 28-year-old British driver’s career into proverbial maximum overdrive. Unfortunately, the start of his 2022 campaign has been somewhat sidetracked by a hard crash in practice at Texas, which left Harvey unclear to race in the second round of the season. But Harvey has been medically cleared and will return at Long Beach.

Harvey spent the first five years of his IndyCar career with Meyer Shank Racing and was in the conversation on road courses more often than not. Harvey brought the team its first podium at the 2019 IndyCar Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Last year he earned a best finish of fourth in St Petersburg and Portland.

Having moved over to RLL for 2022, Harvey should be in the best equipment of his career. His form was comfortable and clean at St. Petersburg, though a bit behind his teammates Graham Rahal and Christian Lundgaard. As Harvey continues to acclimatize himself to his new team, we may see a new high from the Briton in Long Beach.

The 2022 Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach will take place on Sunday, April 10 with coverage beginning at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.

About the author

Open-wheel Contributor at | alexmgintz@gmail.com

Alex joined Frontstretch in March of 2021 and currently serves as an Open-wheel Contributor with a focus on IndyCar and Formula 1. Alongside writing for Frontstretch he also pursues his passions in international affairs and teaching English as a second language.

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