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IndyCar Grand Prix of Long Beach: Weekend Preview

by Chris Leone // Website // Twitter
Images via Chris Owens/IndyCar (1); Joe Skibinski/IndyCar (2)

It’s hard to imagine a more important street course to American open-wheel racing than the nearly two-mile layout constructed in Long Beach every April. Originally a Formula 5000 race before moving over to Formula 1 for nearly a decade and later hosting CART, Champ Car, and now the NTT IndyCar Series, the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach is one of the undisputed crown jewels of the series, and now enters its 35th year as an IndyCar event.

In recent years, Long Beach has been a terrific predictor of the driver who will end the season atop the championship standings. Scott Dixon (2015) and Simon Pagenaud (2016) each won the event on the way to taking the championship, and last year’s victor Alexander Rossi used the momentum he built with a Long Beach win to finish a career-best second in the IndyCar standings. It’s a trend with plenty of history: half the GPLB winners from 2001-2010 went on to win their respective series’ championships, including four of the last five CCWS title winners.

Through three rounds of the season, IndyCar has seen three different winners, with current points leader Josef Newgarden coming out on top in St. Petersburg, Colton Herta surprising the field at Circuit of the Americas, and Takuma Sato dominating last weekend at Barber Motorsports Park. Of the trio, only Sato has won here before; he took his first IndyCar victory, and A.J. Foyt Enterprises’ last to date, here in 2013. All three are in the top five in points, with Dixon (second) and Rossi (fourth) also contained in the mix.

Newgarden has a 27-point lead coming into the event, but his best IndyCar finish here is a third place in 2017, meaning Dixon and Sato (a further seven points back) need only to be their normal selves here to take a chunk out of the lead. 23 drivers will be on the grid this weekend, making 46 the maximum points swing between first and last place, assuming the winner also leads the most laps. That means that any of the current top five drivers could head into next month’s IndyCar Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the points lead.

Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach will air on the NBC Sports Network at 4PM ET/1PM PT. It’ll be the final race for the NTT IndyCar Series before the month of May, and the field expands for the IndyCar Grand Prix and Indianapolis 500. Helio Castroneves makes his IndyCar return in the former, while 500 regulars like Pippa Mann, Conor Daly, Sage Karam, and James Davison will join the full- and part-timers in trying to qualify for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

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