The 45th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach was more than a collection of racing events – as seems customary, it was a “happening” of the highest order. The April 12-14 edition of the USA’s longest-running street race was action-packed from start to finish, with highlighted NTT IndyCar Series, IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship, Pirelli GT4 America Sprint Series, Speed Energy Stadium Super Trucks, Motegi Racing Super Drift Challenge and Historic GTO IMSA Challenge races.
There was more to do surrounding the 1.968-mile, 11-corner Acura Grand Prix race track, with a lifestyle expo, go-kart racing, evening concerts and, of course, more to eat and drink than a single body could/should consume. The population of Long Beach swelled by about 177,000 people over the three-day affair, a slight rise from 2018; fans were enthusiastic and, for the most part, well-behaved. And the weather, as expected, was glorious.
In the highlight INDYCAR race, Californian Alexander Rossi notched his sixth series victory in the No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda-powered Dallara, and second in a row on the LBC streets. He did this, as in 2018, from pole position, this year leading 80 of the 85 laps and coming home a brazen 20.2359 seconds ahead of Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, the series’ 2017 champion, racing a Chevrolet.
After the trauma of losing his grandfather Donald Russell earlier in the week, Rossi did what racers do: He put his head down and kept driving at 10/10ths until he saw the checkered flag. With engineers Jeremy Milless and Brian Page calling an excellent race, “You always have some moments that are critical. The start and the restart,” Rossi noted. “We had to make sure we executed that. You want to make sure you keep your track position, but obviously don’t make a mistake. Those are hard.”
Five-time reigning INDYCAR champion Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi Honda) took third place ahead of Graham Rahal’s Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda, once race control decided the latter driver blocked in excess of the rules. Rossi’s Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay passed the twinned checkered flags in fifth place, 29.3447 seconds behind the leader. Newgarden’s teammates Simon Pagenaud and Will Power were sixth and seventh respectively, with Rahal’s teammate Takuma Sato in eighth. The balance of the top 10 were former Long Beach winner James Hinchcliffe (ARROW Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda) and Ganassi’s rookie racer, Felix Rosenqvist. The last driver on the lead lap was three-time winner here, Sebastien Bourdais, 11th on the day.
There was a single caution for the first three laps, involving ARROW SPM rookie Marcus Ericsson, Spencer Pigot and Jack Harvey, occurring at the fountain turn. All three would continue in the contest and be classified running at the end, with Harvey 23rd in his Meyer Shank Racing Honda, Pigot 18th (after starting last) with Ed Carpenter Racing’s Chevy and Ericsson in 20th, also a couple of laps down. There was a single retirement, for rookie Colton Herta, the COTA victor smacking a wall on the 51st lap; after leading the morning warm-up, Herta made a rookie mistake. it likely won’t be his last.
Rossi’s domination of this race for the second straight year says a lot about the focused driver and also about his Andretti Autosport team, which gave team owner Michael Andretti his 200th victory, spread over NTT IndyCar Series, Indy Lights, FIA Formula E and Global Rallycross. The former driver has, as an owner, earned five Indianapolis 500 victories, four NTT IndyCar Series championships, three Indy Lights championships – Michael Andretti ragged on his fellow INDYCAR owners for their lack of Indy Lights support – one Pro Mazda and a single USF2000 title.
Always a great driver who was racing in the shadow of his father, the (still) awesome Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti has turned into an exemplary racing businessman. Andretti’s 200 victories, over 15 years, have been achieved by a grouping of 38 drivers, many of them on-site for this auspicious occasion, ready to congratulate their current and former boss.
“I’m so proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish in, I think, a short period of time,” Michael Andretti said. “I’m just so happy for the whole team because they’ve earned it. To do it here in Long Beach even makes it that much more special because I won my very first race here and my very last race here. It’s very special.”
Albeit a lap down in 12th place, Sunday was a good day for rookie Patricio O’Ward, who’s racing a protracted schedule with Carlin this year. Qualifying ninth, the Mexican drove a measured race to finish well, the first car a lap down and one place in front of Marco Andretti. It was a tough weekend for ironman Tony Kanaan, making his 304th consecutive INDYCAR start. A shunt in qualifying left him badly bruised and a punt by teammate Matheus Leist in avoiding the first-lap crash broke his underwing and tore off the chassis’ strake, which left Kanaan unable to move forward.
Like many, Kanaan is looking forward to the month of May, which will begin with open testing on the historic 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval next Wednesday, April 24. At this time 28 cars are expected, including former F1 champ Fernando Alonso with McLaren Racing (Chevy) and three-time Indy 500 titleholder Helio Castroneves, returning to try for his fourth at Team Penske. Prior to that test, Herta will earn his oval approval at Texas Motor Speedway, so that he can join in Rookie Orientation Program scheduled 1-3PM.