by Frank Santoroski @seveng1967
The first two 2015 race weekends for the Verizon IndyCar Series fell far short of expectations and fell just short of embarrassing.
The Grand Prix of St. Petersburg started with the debut of the much-anticipated aerokits. With drivers that had to endure an agonizingly long off-season, the racing on the track was as aggressive as I’ve seen, causing a number of caution periods to collect up the bits and pieces of broken aerokits off the racing surface.
In New Orleans, we had a race that started off nicely despite very wet conditions. However, once the cautions started, they never stopped coming and we had, essentially, a non-race on our hands until the clock expired. IndyCar should award the pace car driver with the bonus point for leading the most laps.
With questionable races and increasingly mounting bad press, IndyCar is dearly in need of some good mojo this weekend. Perhaps that will come in the form of one of the crown-jewel races on the calendar, The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
The longest running street race in North America, the Long Beach Grand Prix first came into existence in 1975 as a Formula 5000 race. The following season, it became part of the Formula One schedule. The 1977 Grand Prix was the one that put Long Beach front and center as a racing event worthwhile of international attention.
Mario Andretti held off charges from Jody Scheckter and Niki Lauda becoming the first and only American driver to win a Formula One race on U.S. soil. From there, the event gained momentum and cemented its place in auto racing history.
Long Beach remained as a Formula One race through 1983, and then joined the CART schedule. The event stayed with that series through their transition to ChampCar in 2003 and was the site of the final ChampCar event in 2008. A young Australian driver named Will Power took the win on that day.
A staple on the calendar of the Verizon IndyCar Series since 2009, the event has produced surprise winners such as Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2010, Mike Conway in 2011 and Takuma Sato in 2013. Given the competitive nature of the Series, it is not out of the question that we will see another new face in victory lane.
The CFH Racing team took the win here last year with Mike Conway. Although Conway has left the series to run Sports cars, the current CFH drivers, Josef Newgarden and Luca Filippi, excel on this type of racetrack. With Chevrolet power, both drivers must be penciled in as dark-horse candidates.
Of course, all eyes will again be on the Penske team with their power-house driver lineup. Three of Penske’s drivers have prior wins at Long Beach: Montoya in 1999, Castroneves in 2001 and Will Power in 2008 and 2012. The fourth driver, Simon Pagenaud, took a second at Long Beach in 2012.
Penske will be on top of their game, but the little voice in my head tells me that the team to beat in Long Beach will be Chip Ganassi Racing. Tony Kanaan took home third place at St. Petersburg, but an off-track excursion ruined his day at NOLA.
Scott Dixon experienced air-jack problems in the St. Pete race leaving him with a 15th place finish. At NOLA he had the fastest car in practice, but when qualifying was rained out, he was forced to start deep in the field. With precious few green flag laps to improve his position, the three-time champion remains mired 15th in the point standings.
I can’t help but think that the Ganassi drivers both have something to prove and are going to be strong at the beach. Other drivers you may want to keep an eye on include Ryan Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais, Takuma Sato, Jack Hawksworth, Charlie Kimball and the rookie Stefano Coletti.
At Long Beach we will not see Simona de Silvestro in a car due to funding issues. The Andretti AutoSport team has only entered three cars for the event, but are hard at work trying to secure sponsorship to keep Simona in that car as often as possible.
Also on the sidelines will be Ganassi driver, Sage Karam, who will be replaced for the weekend by Sebastian Saavedra. Karam will split the seat time with Saavedra for the remainder of the season with Saavedra running the #8 car at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and at Sonoma, in addition to the Grand Prix of Long Beach.
As an event, the Grand Prix of Long Beach has held up for forty-plus years and is showing no signs of stopping. With a festival-like atmosphere on the Pacific shore the weekend draws large crowds year after year. Hollywood celebrities are everywhere in the pit and paddock in the Southern California beach community.
As a race, Long Beach has traditionally been an exciting and action-packed weekend. The layout of the track has changed a few times over the years as the community has grown up with this race.
As the circuit stands today, the track features eleven turns over 1.968 miles. Two of the features that the track has always retained include the sweeping full speed run down Shoreline Drive, and the first gear hairpin that is currently tum eleven.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the Verizon IndyCar Series will have a weekend at Long Beach that channels some of the great racing in the fine history of this event.
Tune into NBC-SN on Sunday April 19 at 4:00 PM Eastern for television coverage. Keep up to date on all the IndyCar news through the weekend with the IndyCar 15 mobile app by Verizon. To attend in person, go to www.gplb.com and purchase tickets to the race.