Race Weekend Central

IndyCar Preview: The 2014 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

Fresh off a one-week break, the Verizon IndyCar Series is back in full force this weekend as the stars of America’s fastest motorsport tackle the fabled Long Beach Circuit. The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is one of the longest-running and most revered races in open-wheel racing, and currently stands as the most prestigious road/street race on the calendar. You can bet your house that the drivers will be all over each other trying to get a piece of tradition this weekend.

Will Power took the checkers in controversial fashion in last week’s season opener in St. Petersburg, with some accusing the Aussie of playing dirty on a late race restart. Perhaps such mind games signify that the 2012 title runner-up has rediscovered the swagger needed to embark on a championship run once more? It’s a possibility, but don’t pencil anyone in as a title favorite just yet, as Power’s rivals on his own team as well as those belonging to the Ganassi and Andretti outfits will all have a say in how this season will unfold, and with rain in the forecast for this Sunday’s race, the second chapter of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season looks to be every bit as compelling as the first.

What’s News

There wasn’t a whole lot of buzzworthy news this week past week in IndyCar land. Most folks were unfortunately discussing the televison ratings for the St. Petersburg race which, as many of you know, came back disappointing. The race, which was covered live by ABC, only managed to muster a 0.6 rating.

On a positive note however, there was some news of the brighter variety that released this week regarding 1996 Indianapolis 500 champion Buddy Lazier. Lazier and his business partners announced that his team, called Lazier Partners Racing, would field a car in this year’s 98th running of the Indianapolis 500, thus adding a crucial extra entry to what is expected to be a light entry list.

The Track

The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach has been contested since 1975 under a variety of sanctioning bodies, with the first race under IndyCar sanction occurring in 2009. The Long Beach Street Circuit is laid out over 1.968 miles and consists of 11 turns. The track is known for its long, sweeping straightaways and tight hairpin corners which put a premium on brake management and corner exit speed.

In last year’s event, Takuma Sato shocked the world by taking the checkered flag driving for an underdog A.J. Foyt Enterprises team.

What’s the Points? Drivers

Will Power is your points leader heading into the weekend on the strength of his dominating victory in St. Petersburg. Ryan Hunter-Reay sits in second place 13 markers behind Power, while Power’s Penske teammate Helio Castroneves enters the weekend sitting in the third position in points. Expect the points standings to change in a big way after Sunday’s race.

Can Will Power maintain his points lead this week with a strong charge expected by series rivals?
Can Will Power maintain his points lead this week with a strong charge expected by series rivals?

What’s the Points? Engines

Chevrolet is the current leader in the manufacturer standings courtesy of a 1-2-3 sweep of the podium in Long Beach. Honda is in second, but you probably already guessed that.

Driver(s) to Watch

It’s tough to pick against the Penske boys this weekend. Power and Castroneves are each former winners of the event and appear to have the inside track in terms of car performance at this early stage of the season. Their “other” teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya, ought to see some improvement this week after a rather paltry performance in St. Petersburg.

Outside of the Penske cars, the Ganassi tandem of Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan should be strong this week after both showed ample speed in St. Petersburg. I’d also hazard a guess that at least one of the Andretti cars will have a say in the outcome of the race as well, but with that team still in adjustment mode following its switch to Honda engines, it’s a crapshoot as to which of their drivers will be strongest.

All told, my gut is saying a Penske car will see victory lane for the second week in a row.

Other News?

Not much to say here. Keep an eye on Indianapolis 500/GP of Indianapolis announcements in the coming weeks as the sport edges closer to the month of May.

Who Ya Got?

I’m taking Helio Castroneves this week. Castroneves hasn’t won this race in the post-split era and my guess is that he is both hungry and well-equipped enough to make the first half of this sentence obsolete. My fellow IndyCar scribe Huston Ladner has drafted Castroneves’ teammate Will Power as his pick, while our other IndyCar expert, Toni Montgomery, has decided to go with Ryan Hunter-Reay for her pick.

What’s Next?

Another one week break is on deck for the series before business picks back up again on April 27 for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park. The race can be found for your viewing pleasure on the NBC Sports Network at 3 p.m. EST and can be listened to on the radio via Sirius/XM Channel 209.

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