Not all street circuits are created equal.
The start of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season has demonstrated this clearly with two tracks carved out of city streets — St. Petersburg and Long Beach — yielding wildly different results.
While rookies came on strong to open the season in Florida, veteran drivers took center stage in Southern California where they reigned supreme at North America’s longest-running street race.
The 1.968-mile temporary street circuit in Long Beach provides several unique elements, including the scenic fountain turn and the speedy backstretch that leads into Turn 9. It’s the hairpin at Turn 11, however, that proved most crucial to Alexander Rossi who charged to his third career victory.
“Turn 11 is kind of the most important corner on the track anyways because it leads on to the longest straight,” said Rossi after his dominant performance.
“So we put quite a bit of focus on that throughout the weekend — even for a qualifying lap to be able to get a good drive out of there, and the Honda engines have pretty amazing drivability, and that allowed me to do what we were doing today.”
For those chasing Rossi, his car’s ability to tackle Turn 11 and get onto the long, curving Shoreline Drive that comprises the course’s front straight did not go unnoticed.
“Man, that was just absolutely driving as hard as I could go,” said second-place finisher Will Power. “On the restarts, I couldn’t get close. I think the Verizon Team Penske car had better top end, but their drive out of the hairpins was really good.”
Despite mastering the hairpin and the long run to Turn 1, Rossi wasn’t prepared to give all of the credit for his victory to one corner alone.
“It’s an important aspect of the race for sure,” said Rossi, “but then you obviously have to not only get a good drive out of the last corner, but you have to be clear on cold tires and all those things — and in order to do that, you have to have a car that allows you to, and obviously I did all weekend.”
That confidence has helped Rossi reach the points lead with three of 17 races completed. After he secured the fastest lap in two of three Long Beach practices and won the race from pole position, characterizing Rossi as a driver to beat isn’t much of a stretch.
“I think he’s going to be tough to beat in the championship,” said Power. “He’s definitely what I’d call a standout of the field right now in every respect.”
Rossi’s reaction to Power’s compliment put his philosophy — and his season so far — in perspective.
“You’re only as good as your last time on track,” Rossi said. “Until we hopefully are in the fight for a championship at Sonoma and we can come away with that, then everyone else is the person to beat, as well.”
The next time on track for Rossi, Power and the rest of the series’ drivers will come on Friday, April 20 at Barber Motorsports Park when practice begins for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.