For the first time ever, the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach will be the season finale of the NTT IndyCar Series Championship. With the prior two races happening on the West Coast in Portland and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, the vast majority of teams based in Indianapolis have not been home for about 3 weeks. Will that provide an opportunity for crews or drivers to make a mistake when the pressure is at its highest? We’ll know by the end of the weekend.
Most of the teams have deep knowledge of set-up data for Long Beach as this track has been a staple for these teams since 1984, however this is the first time here with the new aeroscreen. Typically you’ll find the first 22 cars separated by less than a second in qualifying! Are there favorites to win coming into this weekend? Scott Dixon, Will Power, Helio Castroneves, Alexander Rossi, Simon Pagenaud, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Sebastian Bourdais and Takuma Sato have all won here before with Rossi the winner of the last two in a row. That’s about a third of the field entered here listed as previous winners. Alex Palou hasn’t raced here before, but he hadn’t raced at Portland either and earned the pole position and the win. Pato O’Ward has been fast everywhere and has experience here as has Colton Herta who just beat everyone last weekend at Laguna Seca. Conor Daly and Ed Jones have won in Indy Lights at Long Beach so there’s no shortage of experience here. It’s going to be a three-way battle for the title with Palou the odds on favorite. O’Ward and Josef Newgarden are still mathematically in it.
The concrete walls are unforgiving so the drivers must have a car that “rotates” easily and is nimble to navigate their way through the tight corners. The car must also be supple enough in the suspension to be able to absorb the bumps and curbing to be able to “float” over the rough stuff and put the power down when rocketing off the turns.
If you’re going there to watch the race in person, I suggest you bring good walking shoes and walk around the entire circuit to see the drivers fight for grip and speed in the different sections of the track. You’ll see quick hands behind the wheel as the rear tires lose grip accelerating off of the corners. You’ll also see the drivers “throw” the cars into the corners letting the scrub of the front tires assist them in slowing down as they push hard looking for every fraction of a second. Bring a camera for some nice “pan” shots that will capture the speed and beauty of these land-based missiles without having a chain link fence visible in your shot. Also bring plenty of money for souvenirs and a wide variety of great track food.
By Larry Mason
Copyright © 2021 Larry Mason
Photo by Larry Mason