Gearing Up: Long Beach Starts Long Stretch of Exciting Action

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Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach

The NTT INDYCAR SERIES is ready to race back in action.

This weekend’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach is the first race in a back-to-back sequence for the series, with the Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix powered by AmFirst at Barber Motorsports Park following on Sunday, April 28. The season really gets intense after that.

SEE: Long Beach Event Details

Action in these next two weeks complete April, and then sights are set on the Month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Then comes the two-race stretch to open June. All told, cars and their drivers will be competing on seven of the next eight weekends.

Buckle up!

The trip to Long Beach is always fun, and it often is thrilling. Remember last year? Pato O’Ward tangled with Scott Dixon, prompting Dixon to say he would remember the Arrow McLaren driver’s optimistic move in Turn 8.

Following that were the fireworks on the restart. The lapped car of Callum Ilott came out of the pits in front of then-teammate Agustin Canapino, creating a stack-up that eventually led to O’Ward’s second optimistic move of the race. O’Ward tried to pass Kyle Kirkwood and Marcus Ericsson approaching Turn 8, but his late abort of the attempt led to him clipping Kirkwood and spinning into the same tire barrier that engulfed Dixon.

Long Beach’s concrete walls and assorted tire barriers loom everywhere. What will be the race-turning moment be this year? Consider this a table-setting primer for Southern California’s 200 mph beach party.

The Field

Again, there are 27 car-and-driver combinations. The changes from the season’s most recent points-paying race, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding on March 10, include rookie Jack Harvey driving Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 18 Honda and Nolan Siegel moving to the team’s No. 51 Honda.

An announcement from Arrow McLaren about the driver of the No. 6 Chevrolet still needs to be made as David Malukas remains on the mend from his wrist injury. Ilott, who drove the car in St. Petersburg and in The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge, isn’t available this weekend due to sports car racing commitments.

The Frontrunners

These things are often difficult to hone in on, but Andretti Global would be a good place to start. Kirkwood won his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES pole and race last year in this event, and he is excited for an opportunity to defend those.

Last year, two of Michael Andretti’s other drivers -- Romain Grosjean and Colton Herta -- finished second and fourth, respectively, so it stands to reason that the team will be one to watch, especially with Ericsson (third last year for Chip Ganassi Racing) having moved to the team during the offseason.

Other former Long Beach race winners in this field are Will Power (2008, 2012), Dixon (2015), Alexander Rossi (2018, 2019), Herta (2021) and Josef Newgarden (2022).

The Championship Focus

Five of the top six finishers in the St. Petersburg race – Newgarden, O’Ward, Scott McLaughlin, Power, Herta and Alex Palou – also finished in the top 10 of last year’s Long Beach race. So, figure they’re all optimistic about their chances this weekend.

Newgarden led 27 of the 85 laps on the West Coast, and he only drifted back in the pack last year and finished ninth because he had to go into late fuel-saving mode. Newgarden dominated the St. Petersburg race, leading 92 of the 100 laps. Count on him to be strong.

Reigning series champion Palou is coming off a commanding performance at The Thermal Club. Of course, it would also be foolish to count out O’Ward, who likely would have finished on the podium last year in Long Beach if not for the double issues in Turn 8.

Thunder Thursday

A special event is on tap at 6:30 p.m. ET Thursday.

The Thursday Thunder Pit Stop Challenge will feature teams going head-to-head in a two-round event in front of the grandstands between Turns 5 and 6. It will be McLaughlin of Team Penske against Marcus Armstrong of Chip Ganassi Racing in the first semifinal and Santino Ferrucci of AJ Foyt Racing against Ericsson of Andretti Global in the second. The winners will meet for the championship.

The Weekend Schedule

This is one of those weekends when there is barely time to breathe on the 11-turn, 1.968-mile temporary street circuit.

In addition to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, track activity includes the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, GT America, Robby Gordon’s Stadium Super Trucks, the Super Drift Championship and historic Indy cars. Several of those divisions have two races each.

The NTT INDYCAR SERIES activity begins with the first practice Friday at 5:50 p.m. ET. The weekend’s second practice will be Saturday at 11:25 a.m. ET with NTT P1 Award qualifying at 2:25 p.m. ET. The warmup practice will be at noon ET Sunday. All these sessions will air live on Peacock, INDYCAR LIVE and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

Sunday’s 85-lap race can be found on USA Network, Peacock, INDYCAR LIVE and the INDYCAR Radio Network at 3 p.m.