IndyCar’s annual whiff of SoCal’s insalubrious smog arrives Sunday and the pending outcome is as up in the air as a juggler’s balls.
Hinch, Pags and Dixie have won the last three Grans Prix, by far the series’ most atmospheric street race. That’s three different teams represented atop the podium since 2015. Go back far enough and some rather wispy outfits indeed have triumphed by the shore, including Ed Carpenter Racing. On a street course. Twice. That’s certainly some rarefied air out west.
Bourdais is a three time winner, stratospherically taking three in a row during the most polluted days of the split. Understandably though, after Phoenix his pit crew may still be a bit sore at him this weekend. Even Will “hot air” Power vaporized the entire field twice at the Beach, though that was several years ago. Heck, Sato won there for Foyt in 2013. Tellingly, it was under caution and the tentative team‘s last win.
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Unassuming Ed Jones stole the show last year with a sixth place finish and second consecutive top ten to start his career. It’s why Chip scooped him up, as demonstrated by a stout run Saturday – until he crashed late in the race after going high attempting to pass lapped traffic. Perhaps even more impressively in defense of his trophy last season, a streaking Pags advanced from last all the way to fifth after a qualifications penalty put him at the back in the dirty air.
Not to be overlooked is the soaring Josef Newgarden, defending champ and first place finisher at Phoenix. Nor should sky high Alex Rossi, as the 500 winner‘s been on a Canadian killing tear the first two races. Problem is, there was some friendly fire aimed at his own team last Saturday, as well. The breezy Californian sits second in points, behind only the high flying Newkid.
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Who’s started up front at Long Beach has been far less ephemeral, as Helio’s owned pole position, taking top spot the last three years. Unfortunately, like Dario who sat atop pole in 2013, he’s now retired. That is, apart from his coaching duties – and only until May. 2010 Long Beach winner Ryan Hunter-Reay started P1 four years ago, only to finish twentieth due to contact with Sato, Kanaan and others. Who’ll win pole among active drivers is anyone’s guess, although Team Penske always has an air of invincibility.
Margin of victory – it is a street course, after all – is usually at least a second or two, although in 2016 Pags edged Dixie by three tenths in a tight finish to a rare, caution free and exciting race at the Beach. We can only hope for such a clean, competitive contest this weekend. One half as exciting with a quarter of the passes as the Phoenix thriller would be pleasant. Like everything else about SoCal however, on the streets of Long Beach that’s highly uncertain.
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