Race Weekend Central

2024 IndyCar Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach Preview

Finally, the first of this season’s two four-week gaps is over, and the NTT IndyCar Series is back on track Sunday (April 21) with the 49th running of the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. This is the second most prestigious race on the calendar, and every driver wants to add this trophy to their collection. It is a tough, 1.9-mile street circuit, with various stretches of new asphalt mixed with aging pavement that make the entries for all 11 turns some of the most challenging all year. 

It’s one of the most scenic and captivating tracks the series visits, with the iconic run down Shoreline Boulevard followed by the funneling through the Aquarium Fountain the second greatest moment of the year, only bested by the first turn at Indianapolis.

Last Year

Kyle Kirkwood took advantage of his new opportunity with Andretti Global and new strategist Bryan Herta, winning for the first time in IndyCar in just his third race with the outfit. It was a dominating performance, as he took his first pole and then later beat out his competitors during the last round green flag stops to maintain his lead. 

Does he do it again?

Andretti has shown a great knack for nailing the setup on street courses, and Long Beach is the greatest example of that. Since 2018 and the universal aero kit era, the team has won four of the five editions run. In the race they didn’t win in 2022, one of their drivers – Romain Grosjean – finished runner-up.

If not Kirkwood, no doubt the rest of the Andretti trio could easily pick up the win. Their longest-tenured driver Colton Herta won in 2021 and led the field from the pole in 2022, but is on a 30-race dry spell since his last victory. 

The in-house competitor that Kirkwood should worry about is newcomer Marcus Ericsson. During his tenure with Chip Ganassi Racing, three of his four wins were on street circuits. So it’s not a certainty that Kirkwood will be the one leading the charge for Andretti when the green flag flies on Sunday. 

See also
Theo Pourchaire Filling In for David Malukas at Long Beach

Pato vs. Dixon

Will we see round 2 of the Pato O’Ward and Scott Dixon contact that took out the six-time champion in 2023?

Last year, O’Ward was coming off two frustrating ‘almost-wins’ at St. Pete and Texas to kickstart his season, so he was clearly pressing to put himself in victory lane. A late dive into turn 8 by the young Mexican driver put Dixon into a tire barrier and he later dropped out of the race. While the move was ambitious, no penalty was handed down which seemed more frustrating to Dixon than the move itself. 

Looking at how the rest of the year played out, Dixon really had the last laugh out of the affair. O’Ward never visited victory lane, and like Herta, is riding a lengthy victory drought, 23 races and counting. Meanwhile, Dixon continued doing Dixon-type things, racking up top 10s in every race since and adding three more wins to his career tally. For those keeping track, that’s Dixon, 55 – O’Ward, four. 

Both drivers eventually brushed off the event, Dixon even downplaying it further later on when he finished behind O’Ward at Road America in the summer. In a series that needs some on-track rivalries to spice up the competition, for a moment it seemed a six-time champ vs. young, hungry (and most popular) driver was on tap.

O’Ward hasn’t had fantastic results in his career at Long Beach, so his focus will be on trying to maintain momentum after his well-earned runner-up 213 40 days ago at St. Petersburg.

Palou’s Launchpad

Defending champion Alex Palou dominated the maligned Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge. While the format could have played into his hands, giving him the win, it has to be a bit worrisome to the paddock that the Spaniard has already found victory lane in 2024. 

Looking back just one year ago, when Palou shook off the rust that seeped in after a dismal 2022 campaign and took the GMR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, he launched what became his second championship season by winning four of the next five races. If not for the accident with Rinus Veekay in the pits at the Indianapolis 500 which ruined his dominating performance up to that point, he’d be looking at five wins in a row (not to mention his smiling mug on the Borg-Warner).

The rest of the field should be on edge. While he has no wins at Long Beach, it’s a matter of time. In his three tries, he’s finished fifth or better. The victory clouds at Long Beach are forming for Palou, and that lightning could strike this weekend. 

The Rest of the Field

With the long break since St. Pete, it’s almost like the season is starting for a second time, and everything is new again. It’s hard to know who really has hit the pavement, burning rubber better than anyone else. But’s lets try to figure that out.

St. Pete winner Josef Newgarden blistered the field with his performance, leaving little room to doubt the race was going to be his. He is the only non-Andretti car to win at Long Beach with this current car, and might show up with another dominating entry. Entering the season, he’s clearly focused on one thing – winning a third championship.

Felix Rosenqvist has qualified on the front row both races this year, but needs to nail down a good result to prove that he can complete the package. 

See also
Entry List: IMSA Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach

Juncos Hollinger’s Grosjean finished second last year at Long Beach and qualified fifth in his first race with his new team at St. Pete. He’s been pretty adept at running the street circuits after transitioning to IndyCar, but it seems his story ends up more negative than positive by race’s end. 

Two-time Long Beach winner Alexander Rossi is starting his 19th race with Arrow McLaren Racing but only has a best finish of third to his name. With multiple drivers trialing the No. 6 while full-time driver David Malukas continues rehabbing his wrist injury, McLaren is able to assess possible replacements for Rossi’s seat next year, if they so desire.

This is a team that expects to win, and isn’t afraid to jettison drivers after one year, let alone multiple years like Rossi. I’m not saying he’s on a hot seat, but getting a good result to show the suits that they have two top-dogs will be a good thing. 

Frontstretch Race Prediction

Do I even want to look back at my predictions for Thermal Club? Oh, I did. And they were ‘cringe’ as the kids say.

Two of the drivers I picked (Grosjean and Will Power) didn’t even make the final heat, and the last one, Newgarden, was never in contention. Lets chalk that up to the freshness of the event and no historical data to back it up. Right, that sounds good.

This week it’s all about the street course packages.

  1. Palou – like I mentioned above, the Spaniard has lit his torch and is going to be a problem. He takes his first win at Long Beach.
  2. Kirkwood – backs up a great qualifying effort with his first runner-up of his career.
  3. Newgarden – Astor Cup or bust for this two-time champion. So he continues to be fast and finishes on the podium.

The 40th running of the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach will start at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, April 21, with coverage on USA.

About the author

Tom is an IndyCar writer at Frontstretch, joining in March 2023. He also works full-time for the Department of Veterans Affairs History Office and is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. A native Hoosier, he's followed IndyCar closely since 1991 and calls Fort Wayne home. Follow Tom on Twitter @TomBlackburn42.

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