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AutoMatters & More: IndyCar racing at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach

Alex Palou (#10) racing into Turn 1 with Simon Pagenaud (#22)
Alex Palou (#10) racing into Turn 1 with Simon Pagenaud (#22)
(Jan Wagner)

The last time IndyCars raced on the streets of Long Beach, California was in April of 2019, due to COVID-19. An eager, enthusiastic crowd of over 180,000 race fans was more than ready for their late September 2021 return, in the 46th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

This event is much more than car racing. It is a party at the beach. Live entertainment includes a Saturday night outdoor concert and live music throughout the weekend. The large “Lifestyle Expo” in the Long Beach Convention Center is packed full of all sorts of exhibits — with giveaways, shopping and lots of things to see and do. Throughout the venue are many different food vendors. All of this, and more, contributes to a great party atmosphere.

Marcus Ericsson (#8) found the tire barrier in Turn 1
Marcus Ericsson (#8) found the tire barrier in Turn 1
(Jan Wagner)

IndyCar was the marquis series in a fantastic race weekend that included the IMSA Sports Car Grand Prix, Stadium SUPER Trucks (two races), Formula Drift Super Drift Challenge, Global Time Attack Competition and Historic Formula Atlantic Challenge.

Traditionally this event is held in April (as it will be again, on April 8 – 10, 2022) but, due to precautions related to COVID-19, this year’s Long Beach event was moved to being the final race in the 2021 Championship season. The excitement level was even higher than usual, since the IndyCar Series Champion had not yet been decided going into this race. Three drivers, representative of the truly international field of drivers — Josef Newgarden, from Nashville, Tennessee, driving the #2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet; Alex Palou, from Barcelona, Spain, driving the #10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda; and Pato O’Ward, from Monterrey, Mexico, driving the #5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet — all three went into the weekend with a chance at becoming the 2021 IndyCar season Champion.

Josef Newgarden (#2)
Josef Newgarden (#2)
(Jan Wagner)

The field of 28 IndyCars were on the 1.698-mile track for three days, with practice on Friday, qualifying and the Firestone Fast 6 on Saturday, and the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach IndyCar race on Sunday afternoon.

In practice, Colton Herta, from Valencia, California, driving the #26 Gainbridge Andretti Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda, was quick right from the get-go, setting the fastest lap time in Practice Sessions 1 (01.09.2680 with a speed of 102.281 mph) and 2 (01:07.9783 with a speed of 104.221 mph). Remember, this race is run on city streets!

Jack Harvey (#60)
Jack Harvey (#60)
(Jan Wagner)

Qualifying on Saturday was divided into three elimination rounds, with the quickest of the field of 28 drivers advancing to subsequent rounds, ultimately competing head-to-head in the Firestone Fast 6. The Fast 6 drivers, in order, were Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, Felix Rosenqvist and rookie (and former Formula 1 driver) Romain Grosjean. Colton Herta was buried deep in the field in 14th position — but he would not remain there for long after the race began.

In the race, Championship contender Pato O’Ward was eliminated from contention early, due to a collision with Ed Jones. Josef Newgarden ran a strong race, but ultimately his second place finish was not enough to deny Alex Palou the IndyCar Series Championship. He drove a smart race, not taking unnecessary chances, and finished in a solid fourth place.

Ed Jones (#18) catches some air under his inside front tire
Ed Jones (#18) catches some air under his inside front tire
(Jan Wagner)

Showing the same quick form that he showed in practice, Colton Herta led an impressive 43 laps, including the one that mattered most, winning the race with an elapsed time of 01:49:10.3764 at an average speed of 91.935 mph — ahead of Josef Newgarden in second place and Scott Dixon in third. NASCAR transplant and IndyCar rookie Jimmie Johnson had a good day, advancing from his starting position of 27th to finish 17th.

For complete race results, leader changes, cautions and penalties, visit https://gplb.com/results/

BREAKING NEWS:

“Porsche Motorsport North America, International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) and Grand Prix Association of Long Beach officials announced … that the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach will run two rounds of the Porsche Carrera Cup North America Presented by The Cayman Islands during its April 8-10, 2022 race weekend. Porsche Carrera Cup is one of the preeminent one-make racing series in the world and sanctioned by IMSA. Every car competing in the series is identical: the road car-based Porsche 911 GT3 Cup race car, which places the emphasis on driver and team talent to win.”

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Copyright © 2021 by Jan Wagner – AutoMatters & More #714


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