The longest-running street race weekend in America stages its marquee race later this afternoon as the Verizon IndyCar Series takes to the grid for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The third of 17 rounds in the 2018 season, it’s one of the most prestigious races on the IndyCar schedule, and with seven past winners on the grid, Sunday’s starting lineup perfectly showcases the depth of the talent in the series.
After thrilling finishes in the first two rounds of the season, fans can expect another exciting dash to the checkered flag later today. Before the green flag flies from Long Beach, let’s take a look at some of the most interesting storylines to follow during the event:
What’s going to stop Alexander Rossi from taking the win this weekend?
Earlier this weekend, we focused on Rossi’s two-year journey from promising Formula 1 convert to IndyCar championship contender, and he rewarded us by scoring the pole on Saturday afternoon, directly ahead of three previous series champions. His Andretti Autosport squad had an off weekend here when he was a rookie, and a freak mechanical issue robbed him of a shot at the victory last year, but none of that matters right now; thanks to a blazing pace and what should be plenty of confidence, all the pieces seem to be coming into place for another signature victory for the 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner.
Will we see more magic from rookie Robert Wickens?
The breakout driver of the first two races of the 2018 season only qualified 10th on Saturday, but fans of IndyCar’s newest Canadian shouldn’t worry too much: four of the most recent 12 podium finishers in Long Beach qualified in the double digits, including the entire top three in 2014. While climbing through the field can be a daunting task on any street circuit, Wickens has shown plenty of poise so far this season as a contender for the win in both St. Petersburg and Phoenix. Taking a podium this weekend will be his toughest task since returning to open-wheel from DTM, but there’s reason to have faith.
How many cautions (and caution laps) will we see today?
Over the past 25 IndyCar races at Long Beach, only six have seen fewer than 10 caution laps—but two of those races came in 2015 and 2016 (which went entirely caution-free). In addition, there have only been three Long Beach rounds since open-wheel unification in 2018 that saw more than three cautions. If you want to play the law of averages, it’s probably fair to expect a few yellows today based on that alone. And with five of six rookies clustered between 10th and 17th place on today’s grid, the middle of the pack could be an interesting place as drivers adapt to traffic on Long Beach’s unique layout.