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Winners and Losers: IndyCar Grand Prix of Long Beach

Written by Archie O’Reilly & Dan Jones


Six weeks on from the opening points-paying race of the season, the NTT IndyCar series was back on track with championship action on the streets of Long Beach last weekend. But who exits the Californian streets with credit in the bank and who will be searching for more at Barber Motorsports Park? Here are DIVEBOMB’s weekend winners and losers…


Winner: Scott Dixon


Scott Dixon may turn 44 this year, but he still shows absolutely no signs of slowing down, and still cements himself amongst the very best in IndyCar, and his Long Beach performance was classic Scott Dixon, a performance which no-one else in the field would be able to replicate.


Moving to the alternate strategy after Christian Rasmussen’s accident was a brave decision, but even after he overtook Will Power and cycled to the front, he still had a lot of work to do. But a combination of a fuel saving masterclass and a defensive masterclass, utilising the traffic to gain crucial carlengths, Dixon was able to hold off both Josef Newgarden and Colton Herta.


Dixon may not be the fastest over one lap, and is very rarely the quickest on any given day. But his racecraft is second-to-none, and incomparable to anyone else in the field. He makes the impossible regularly look possible, we saw it in Indianapolis last year, we saw it at Gateway, we saw it at Laguna Seca, whatever obstacle you through at Scott Dixon, he will find a way to manage it.


You compare him to Will Power, a driver who has been in the series for a similar period of time, he was lifting halfway down the straight to save fuel - and still wasn’t saving enough. Dixon would still have enough for the cooldown lap and a burnout.


Year after year, Dixon continues to prove why you can never count him out, and his continued hunger for a seventh championship. Whatever doubters he may have, if any, have been proved wrong once again.


Dan


Winner: Theo Pourchaire


Heading into his debut weekend in IndyCar, Theo Pourchaire’s priority was to learn and get the best out of himself. That could have been a 20th-place finish - so long as he was progressing in a car he had never even driven before embarking on the tight streets, he would have been as content as can be for a racing driver that doesn’t win.


It was a late-notice move for Pourchaire to replace the injured David Malukas for Long Beach in Arrow McLaren’s No.6 Chevrolet amid a World Endurance Championship clash for early-season deputy Callum Ilott. Pourchaire had only one simulator session, with most of his learning coming from the team - namely Tony Kanaan - plus fellow drivers and onboards.


The opportunity was one that Pourchaire - known for his passionate character - has continually described as being “amazing” for him. And he visibly embraced the learning process throughout the weekend, which quickly saw him competitive in practice. A 21st-place finish in Friday’s session, despite no clean alternate lap, was laudable.


It was a baptism of fire, no doubt. It was a bumpy street track, unlike those Pourchaire has experienced success elsewhere, and even veteran drivers were falling foul of the close proximity between the track and walls. But Pourchaire was quickly testing the limits, hustling the car but crucially keeping things clean.


He qualified 22nd but only half-a-second off experienced teammate Pato O’Ward. And, come the race, he displayed a combination of racecraft, management and ability to weather the IndyCar-typical attrition to progress 11 places - the most gained in the race - en-route to an 11th-place finish on debut.


When you consider he had never driven an Indy car heading into the weekend on one of IndyCar’s toughest tracks, Pourchaire’s rate of learning was rapid. An 11th-place finish in his maiden race puts him in the argument for the standout driver of the weekend.


Archie


Winner: Felix Rosenqvist


The high note of Meyer Shank Racing (MSR)’s first four years in IndyCar was an Indianapolis 500 victory with Helio Castroneves in 2021. Fast forward almost three years, there is an argument that Felix Rosenqvist putting his No.60 car on pole for the team’s maiden NTT P1 Award slots nicely into second-place.


The MSR team have probably not experienced a high like it since Simon Pagenaud finished second in the first of two races on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2022. And it was in keeping with an outstanding start to the season in qualifying.


Rosenqvist has consistently been a front-runner in almost every session, qualifying second in St. Petersburg, then notching pole for his heat race at the Thermal Club and the team’s first genuine pole at Long Beach. For context, the team’s best qualifying position in 2023 was eighth on two occasions


Rosenqvist is thriving in a more condensed environment where his voice can really be heard and amplified within the team. He has continued his late-season form from 2023, when he picked up a podium in Portland and pole at Laguna Seca for Arrow McLaren.


The Swede ultimately succumbed to a braking issue during the race at Long Beach, which saw him tumble away from podium contention. But a ninth-place finish to back up now-fifth at St. Pete and third in the $1 Million Challenge still marks a major upturn for an MSR team that managed a best race finish of 10th - 11th on a road or street course - in 2023.


What ends up being regarded as a disappointing race day in early 2024 would have been regarded as a resounding success for MSR in 2024. Their instantaneous ascension so far this year, spearheaded by Rosenqvist relishing his role as team leader, has been nothing short of incredible. Any disappointment is only testament to their improvement.


Archie


Winner: Colton Herta


Colton Herta described his 2023 season as “for sure probably my worst” as he failed to pick up a race win for the first time, finishing on the podium only once en-route to a 10th-place championship finish. But only two points-paying races into his 2024 campaign, Herta has bettered his third-place finish at Toronto in 2023 by finishing second at Long Beach.


And, only days after the conclusion of the Long Beach weekend, Herta has learned he has been promoted to third in St. Petersburg after the disqualification of Team Penske winner Josef Newgarden and third-place finisher Scott McLaughlin. He has doubled his 2023 podium tally inside two races in 2024.


Along with his now-two podiums, a fourth in the exhibition event at the Thermal Club marks an upturn in consistency for Herta and his Andretti Global team. Having more consistency within weekends and from weekend to weekend was something Herta earmarked as needing improvement in the 2024 season.


The American driver has had the edge on his teammates in these early stages of the season, both in qualifying - twice making the Fast Six - and in race trim. This will no doubt have been important for him after Kyle Kirkwood entered the team as somewhat of a disruptor by taking Andretti’s only two wins in 2023 in his first year with the team.


The Long Beach race ended on a controversial note as a misjudgement saw him run into the back of Newgarden in the hairpin, causing his No.2 Team Penske Chevrolet to go into anti-stall, dropping him from second to fourth. Herta was not awarded a penalty, despite saying he would have understood if he was dropped behind Newgarden.


Regardless, Herta drove a strong race at a track he is a winner at and often goes well at. He now sits second in the standings after two rounds and the early stages suggest he could be on for a much better finish than 10th in the standings in the last two years.


Archie


Winner: The saving of Long Beach


In the weeks leading up the event there had been multiple rumours, that NASCAR had been sniffing around potentially trying to make Long Beach their own, after a 50% share of the event was made available after the passing of Kevin Kalkhoven, which could have quite easily put the IndyCar event into much peril.


However, that 50% share was sold to Gerald Forsythe, giving the ex-IndyCar team owner 100% ownership of the event, and having absolutely no interest in selling it to NASCAR. Forysthe stated: “It is the top street course in the United States, and as far as fans, it draws more than any other race but the Indianapolis 500. Next year is the 50th year and we’re doing a lot of new things to celebrate it. We’re planning big, big things for next year.”


It was a huge boost for IndyCar’s biggest event outside of the Indianapolis 500, and this weekend just solidified why it should remain IndyCar’s home for years to come. Once again, it highlighted what a perfect match it is with IndyCar, with cars that tested right to the limit at the venue, and once again produced excitement of the highest calibre.


It’s a tricky street circuit, with iconic sections, it’s one the drivers really do want to win, and Forsthye’s efforts to keep it in IndyCar territory is vital. It’s popular for drivers, teams and fans alike, and when the series continues to produce such entertainment as it did over the weekend, it’s an absolute necessity that it’s IndyCar’s home for years to come.


Dan


Loser: Pato O’Ward


Pato O’Ward’s annual Long Beach disaster occurred once again in 2024, in a messy weekend, which he will want to forget very quickly, especially if we wants to be involved in the title picture in 2024.


O’Ward was understandably frustrated after missing out on the Fast 12 - a rare occurrence for one of the most consistent qualifiers in the field. He would start 14th - but was quick to point out that was the same position that Colton Herta won the race from in 2021 - the race that O’Ward himself saw his championship run ended after being hit by Ed Jones.


And on Lap 10, O’Ward’s difficult weekend would turn disastrous, after misjudging his braking into the fountain section, piling into the back of teammate Alexander Rossi, which gave Rossi a puncture and O’Ward a drive-through.


There was some confusion initially over whether O’Ward had got a tap from Tom Blomqvist, but it was clear as day that it was O’Ward’s error. O’Ward would profusely apologise to Rossi, noting on Instagram that ‘he owes him a beer.’ It was notable how apologetic the Mexican was over his mistake - something that he has been criticised for previously with accepting responsibility.


But the more significant note is that after what looked like such a promising start to the season in St. Petersburg, results like this can easily hamper chances of a title over a 17 race season. However, after Wednesday’s news that he inherited the victory at St. Petersburg after Josef Newgarden’s disqualification, that title picture looks less challenging, and O’Ward can happily forget the Long Beach weekend.


Dan


Loser: Scott McLaughlin


Scott McLaughlin will probably come away from Long Beach as one of the most disappointed drivers - and in large part through no fault of his own. With 14 laps remaining, while running inside the top 10 having been on the unfavourable (for everybody but Scott Dixon) strategy, a mechanical issue saw him pull into pit lane and pick up only five points.


This was compounded by the news of his disqualification in St. Petersburg, where he finished third, shortly after the Long Beach weekend. He still has a second-place prize in the $1 Million Challenge to boot, but the outcome of the two championship rounds see him sitting bottom of the standings on only five points. 


There are 15 rounds for others to slip up, but no points loss is ideal in a championship as competitive as IndyCar. It has not been a fruitful start to the season for someone tipped as a genuine championship challenger off the back of a third-place finish in the 2023 standings.


McLaughlin had already been left frustrated by qualifying as an error saw him start 11th in Long Beach. He had ended 2023 with seven qualifying top-two finishes in eight qualifying runs but has failed to make the Fast Six in either race so far this year, ranking as the lowest Team Penske driver in both. 


Next up, McLaughlin heads to Barber as defending race winner - the first championship visit to a road course this season. On the road course at the Thermal Club for last month’s exhibition event, where the use of push-to-pass on restarts was legal unlike at St. Pete and his result could stand, McLaughlin did have the edge on his teammates.


The Kiwi will be eager to rebound after a disappointing weekend at Long Beach, where he has finished a best of 10th in four visits to the track, and the news of his St. Pete disqualification.


Archie


Loser: Rahal Letterman Lanigan


A weekend that showed so much promise for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLL), once again ended in frustration, after the promise gave little substance to the result. There’s no secret, that RLL’s form on street courses was improved through the course of 2023, which saw Christian Lundgaard claim his maiden IndyCar victory in Toronto, but Long Beach was an anomaly last season.


Things looked promising after qualifying too, both Graham Rahal and Lundgaard reached the Fast 12, Lundgaard qualifying 7th and Rahal 12th, but it was a race that completely fell apart for several reasons.


Lundgaard would run well, but he would collide with Kyle Kirkwood in the pits, forcing him to drop five positions. Lundgaard would use the same strategy that the likes of Power and Dixon would use, but he was unable to make his fuel save work, having to pit late on for a dash of fuel which saw him finish 23rd.


Graham Rahal’s strong day would also end in frustration, after issues re-fueling during one of his stops cycled him to the back, recovering to 17th. Pietro Fittipaldi’s day wouldn’t be much better, with yet another fuel issue on the No.45 car seeing him struggle at the back, with a 24th place finish.


For a weekend that had so much to offer, especially after Lundgaard’s comments post-qualifying on how the team performed compared to 2023, it ended in disappointment. The RLL’s came home 12th, 13th and 14th in 2023, with a miserable 17th, 23rd and 24th in 2024. A weekend with so much hope for a team who have drastically improved in street course form, several mistakes de-railed RLL into a miserable weekend.


Dan

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