LONG BEACH, Calif. – Round 3 of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series calls for a visit to the bright lights and sunshine of Southern California and the premier street circuit in North America: the 42nd annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
The April 17 race (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network) around the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street course will pose a challenge to rookies and veterans alike throughout the 21-car field, on a course where more than a few of the sport’s greatest have found victory lane.
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Mario Andretti won the first Indy car race at Long Beach in 1984, and over the course of its first eight races, only two last names took the checkered flag: Mario (1984-1985, 1987) and son Michael Andretti (1986), and Al Unser Jr. (1988-1991). Unser Jr.’s six trips to victory lane are the most all-time at Long Beach, where he stands as one of nine multiple time winners at the circuit and 16 all-time winners. This weekend’s field is special in that seven of those 16 past winners are set to compete – one-third of the field – two of whom have won at the legendary street circuit more than once.
KVSH Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais, driver of the No. 11 California Baptist University Chevrolet, is the only driver other than Unser Jr. to win three consecutive years at Long Beach (2005-2007), but is quick to acknowledge that victory is no easy feat.
“The Long Beach circuit is a challenge,” said Bourdais, the four-time Indy car champion. “There are all types of corners and different surfaces you have to contend with, so getting the right setup is challenging.”
Takuma Sato, driver of the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda for AJ Foyt Racing, concurred. “Long Beach is a low-grip track and it has the tightest hairpin in the series and a bumpier surface than (St. Petersburg),” said the 2013 Long Beach winner. “So the key is finding the balance with the right level of downforce, but you need to keep a good amount of downforce for the tires to stay in a good working range.”
Despite the challenging circuit, Sato has a strong affinity for the place where he won his first Verizon IndyCar Series race three years ago. “I simply love the venue, atmosphere, great restaurants, enthusiastic fans and, of course, I enjoy driving the track so much. It holds an incredible memory for me.”
Another past winner, Helio Castroneves, also understands the significance that the Long Beach event holds in Indy car annals.
“It’s always a lot of fun racing in Long Beach,” said Castroneves, the 2001 winner who is driving the No. 3 Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet for Team Penske this weekend. “There’s so much tradition and history with this race and it’s a pretty special event to have on our Verizon IndyCar Series calendar every year.”
Last year, Castroneves won the Verizon P1 Award by setting a track record of 1 minute, 6.6294 seconds in Firestone Fast Six qualifying. Leading from pole, Castroneves was leap-frogged by Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon during a Lap 29 pit stop. Dixon, who returns this weekend in his No. 9 Target Chevrolet, would go on to record his first Long Beach win in nine tries.
“It’s truly one of the best street circuits anywhere around and, more importantly, you actually get to race there,” said Dixon, who followed up the 2015 win with 11 top 10s in the final 13 races en route to his fourth Verizon IndyCar Series championship. “It took me forever to get to victory lane there, but we managed to accomplish that last year and I hope we can return to that form again this year.”
Dixon won the most recent race, the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix on April 2, but it’s Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud who holds the championship lead on the strength of consecutive second-place finishes to start the season.
Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach fast facts:
• Race 3 of 16 in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season. This is the 33rd Indy car race on the streets of Long Beach. The first was held April 1, 1984, won by Mario Andretti. Al Unser Jr. holds the record for most lifetime wins at Long Beach (six) as well as consecutive wins (four, 1988-91). Scott Dixon is the defending champion.
• Race distance: 80 laps/157.44 miles on the 1.968-mile temporary street circuit.
• Track record: Helio Castroneves during Firestone Fast Six qualifying, April 18, 2015 (1 minute, 6.6294 seconds/106.331 mph).
• Tickets and event information: www.gplb.com
• Twitter: @ToyotaGPLB, #TGPLB; @IndyCar, #IndyCar
• TV: NBCSN will televise the race live on April 17, beginning at 4 p.m. ET. It will also televise Verizon P1 Award qualifying on a tape-delay basis beginning at 6 p.m. ET April 16. Rick Allen is lead announcer, with Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy the booth analysts. Pit reporters are Katie Hargitt, Kevin Lee, Robin Miller and Marty Snider. ESPN International distributes Verizon IndyCar Series race telecasts through a combination of ESPN networks and syndication to more than 198 countries and 103 million homes.
• Radio: The Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network is led by chief announcer Mark Jaynes, with booth analyst Davey Hamilton. Turn reporters are Jake Query and Nick Yeoman, with Rob Howden and Michael Young reporting from the pits. All Verizon IndyCar Series races are broadcast live on network affiliates, Sirius 212, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app. Qualifying broadcasts are available on Sirius 212, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app. Practice sessions are on IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app.
• Video streaming: All practice and qualifying sessions will be streamed live at RaceControl.IndyCar.com and include timing and scoring.
• Fantasy league: The #INDYRIVALS Fantasy Challenge driven by Firestone allows fans to become a team manager by fielding a four-driver lineup for each Verizon IndyCar Series race, with a stockpile of prizes on the line each week. Sign up today at fantasy.indycar.com.