Apr 15, 2012
LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Of all the events that are part of the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule, one of the biggest is the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The event began in 1973 and has been part of the Formula One World Championship, the CART PPG IndyCar World Series, the Champ Car Series and since 2008 part of the IndyCar Series.
The winners of this race are among the greatest drivers ever to climb behind the wheel of a race car, but the 11-turn, 1.968-mile course that winds through the streets of Long Beach is among the most challenging on the schedule.
So let’s take a look at the “Hot Spots” that will influence the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
ENGINE PENALITIES SCRAMBLE THE STARTING LINEUP
For the record, Chevrolet driver Ryan Briscoe won the pole and Team Penske teammate Will Power was second quick in qualifications. But instead of starting first and second they will start 11th and 12th because of the 10-grid position penalties that have been assessed to all 11 Chevrolet entries because of an unapproved engine change.
That means fourth fastest qualifier Dario Franchitti will start on the pole in a Honda alongside fellow Honda driver and IndyCar rookie Josef Newgarden, who qualified seventh.
“You know, we just have to go with it,” Briscoe said. “You've got to trust Chevrolet's judgment in this position, and you know the important thing is we know we have got fast cars. It is tough trying to pass, but the first thing is having the fast car and the only fact, the decision is made to make sure that we have reliable engines. So, you know, I 100 percent support them in it, and we are doing the best of a situation. We just have to see what we can make of it tomorrow in the race.”
PIT STRATEGY COULD SAVE THE DAY FOR THE CHEVY 11
Because of the grid penalties assessed to the Chevrolet teams look for some alternate pit strategy to help put them in a position to gain a few positions in the race.
“We'll have to look at if it's going to be two-stop or three-stop race,” Briscoe said. “That's there's a pretty good chance it could be a two-stop race. That might affect how aggressive people run or how much people might want to save fuel at times. I think it will depend a lot on when the cautions fall. There are a lot of things that could happen. There are a lot of unknowns, but I think the important thing is you're going to want a fast car. I think as tires go off, you can pass around this place. It's tough, though. It's tough. You just need to be consistent and have good pit stops.”
DEFENDING COULD MAKE IT EVEN HARDER TO PASS
With IZOD IndyCar Series officials allowing a return to defending position, that will make it even more difficult for drivers starting further back in the field to weave their way to the front.
“There are some really good blockers,” Hunter-Reay said. “It's going to be one of those deals where you set up the pass and let them block the inside and you have to get them outside on the way out. We are going to have to get pretty creative for sure.”
A HAIRY RIDE IN THE HAIRPIN
Keep an eye on the hairpin because the drivers have to hit the binders to slow the car down before negotiating one of the trickiest parts of the racetrack.
“That's the second fastest straight of the track and we are going pretty fast in sixth gear,” E.J. Viso said. “It's pretty bumpy, as well, so the car is pretty much on the limit. It is in that corner specifically is where I lost my great lap in qualifying. It is a very challenging one, come from a very fast straight, and then it's very hard braking where you pretty much lose a lot of the vision; it's very bumpy. As you go through the bumps, obviously the car is getting upset.”
90-DEGREE TURNS MAKE IT POINT AND TURN FOR THE DRIVER
Viso also believes that with so many 90-degree turns on the course some of the drivers will create their own passing zones. Only time will tell if they succeed.
“This is a point-and-square track with lots of 90-degree angles so if the car is good you can be quick,” Marco Andretti said. “I think it will be a fun race to pass with some passing.”
TURN 1 IS THE ONLY LEGITIMATE PASSING ZONE
Sebastien Bourdais is a three-time winner of the Toyota Grand Prix in Long Beach during his sensational career in Champ Car and is prepared for his second attempt as a member of the IZOD IndyCar Series. He knows this course as well as any driver and knows that Turn 1 is the place to pass.
“Passing here is really difficult – nearly impossible,” Bourdais said. “If you are strong you can make the pass in Turn 1 – one of the places where you see most of the passing in this race. Unless someone else bobbles you won’t be able to pass anywhere else. But the only place you can pull another driver is in Turn 1. But if you get the braking wrong and still try to make it you can hit the wall.”