The Grand Prix of Long Beach. It’s one of the premiere events in North American motorsport. Outside of the Indianapolis 500, it’s the event that every IndyCar driver wants to win.
A triumph at Long Beach, and you join a select group of world class drivers like Andretti, Unser, Zanardi, Montoya, Castroneves and Tracy. It’s a big-time event on one of the raciest street circuits in the world, and the forty-fourth running of the Grand Prix of Long Beach didn’t disappoint. Here’s everything you need to know about IndyCar’s annual Southern California street party.
This race win was a long time coming, and inevitable. After five podium finishes in his last eight starts, the native of Nevada City, California delivered on the promise he’d shown ever since unloading before Friday’s first practice.
It was Alexander Rossi first, and the rest of the field fighting for a distant second. He led 71 of 85 laps, survived a few key restarts and didn’t really look like being bested by anyone. It was as dominant a performance as we’ve ever seen at Long Beach.
On current pace, Rossi’s third career IndyCar Series win will be the first of many in 2018. And, when you can lay claim to the Indianapolis 500 and Grand Prix of Long Beach – the two most prestigious events on the IndyCar Series schedule – in your first three wins, you’ve already ticked some major boxes.
Rossi is going to be a hard man to beat for the championship. In fact, he’s my pick to deliver a series title to Andretti Autosport.
Power finishes second
A decent points haul for the Queenslander, who after the race acknowledged that Rossi was going to be the man to beat for the championship.
Pagenaud and Rahal clash on the first lap
Lap one, turn one at Long Beach always seems to produce something dramatic. This year, it was Graham Rahal’s Honda ploughing into the back of Pagenaud’s Chevrolet at the entrance to turn one, resulting in a drive-through for Rahal and an early end to the race for Pagenaud.
The first corner DNF makes is going to make it very difficult for the Frenchman to climb back into the championship hunt, short of a huge double-points haul at the Indianapolis 500. Rahal and Pagenaud are good friends off the track, but there’s likely to be some animosity between the two for a while. It wasn’t the smartest move we’ve seen Rahal make. Very early for such a bold attempt.
“It felt like he never broke,” Pagenaud said. He had a legitimate shot to win the race, too.
Wickens comes back to earth
After two brilliant performances to start his IndyCar Series career, Canadian Robert Wickens had a day to forget at Long Beach, suffering through a gearbox issue. He finished a distant twenty-second.
Sebastien Bourdais the Action Man
The Frenchman was a man on a mission, pulling off one of the most audacious passing manoeuvres in recent memory, going three wide to get around both New Zealand’s Scott Dixon and American Spencer Pigot, then slicing by Matheus Leist as well down the ultra-fast Shoreline Drive front straight.
It was an impressive move, but IndyCar deemed it ineligible, ruling that he’d crossed the pit exit line in the process of making the pass. No matter – Bourdais did it again, getting Dixon into turn one.
Things didn’t end all that well for the Frenchman – he came home thirteenth – but few who saw Bourdais’ pass at the track or on television will forget it.
Career-best days for Veach and Jones
In his third start for Chip Ganassi Racing, the second-year driver Ed Jones came home third. And rookie Zach Veach, driving for Andretti Autosport, was in fourth. These two are part of the IndyCar Series youth movement, and it was great to see them both having great runs at a notoriously difficult track.
Another Aussie in the Indianapolis 500
You might’ve missed the news on Saturday morning but James Davison, the cousin of Supercars star Will, will be attempting to qualify for the 10second running of the Indianapolis 500 in a car run out of AJ Foyt’s shop. Filling in for the injured Sebastien Bourdais last year, Davison led the race late before crashing, and if that speed is anything to go by, he’ll be one to watch at the speedway.
With thirty-five entries now confirmed (or basically confirmed) and only thirty-three spots on offer for the Memorial Day classic, we’re going to see all the drama of bumping on qualifying weekend. I, for one, can’t wait.
I’m quick to point out when ESPN Australia makes a mistake with it’s IndyCar coverage, so it’s only fair that I also congratulate them for doing the right thing. Last week, we endured the woeful ‘international’ coverage that omits lots of graphics and other information that you get with the NBC feed from America.
This week, we were treated to the full NBC broadcast, and the difference was night and day. Let’s hope this trend continues.
As an aside, the NBC crew of Australia’s Leigh Diffey and former IndyCar drivers Paul Tracy and Townsend Bell are as good as there is in any form of motorsport anywhere.
Next week: Alabama
The IndyCar Series keeps rolling, heading to the Alabamian countryside to Barber Motorsports Park for the third race in as many weeks. Barber is fast becoming one of the best events on the schedule, and the undulating natural-terrain road course has provided some great racing in recent years.