‘Friendly’ Tires Restrain Long Beach Action

Josef Newgarden rounds hairpin turn of Long Beach IndyCar street circuit

Limited on-track action during the 45th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach was abundantly clear to trackside fans, television viewers and all who loaded INDYCAR’s Event Summary document after the race.

Viewing Long Beach against the only other street circuit race completed in 2019, the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg — which itself saw a 74% reduction in year-over-year position passing — featured 45% more passing than the race on the marginally longer temporary racetrack out West.

Factoring in the total distance covered by the field during each of the first two street races of the year to determine position passes per mile, Long Beach becomes the new season low: A meager 0.019 position passes per mile at St. Pete fell to 0.011 position PPM when Indy cars took to the Southern California street circuit.

The reduction of passing by 70% ensured the swapping of title sponsorship from Toyota to Acura wasn’t the only year-to-year change at Long Beach and its impact was felt by not only fans but the competitors, too.

“This is honestly a very straightforward race,” second-place finisher Josef Newgarden said. “Maybe it needs a small adjustment.”

Arguments against street circuit races were put to rest when an astounding 283 passes for position translated to an equally impressive 0.03 position PPM in last year’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The expected result of strapping 23 competitive drivers into Indy cars and sending them onto the Long Beach street circuit could be similarly unrelenting action, especially given the racetrack’s multiple passing zones.

Alexander Rossi leads Scott Dixon around Long Beach street course
More laps and more full-course cautions may have made Alexander Rossi a participant in a battle for the win rather than the day’s dominant driver. | Photo: Andy Clary / Spacesuit Media

Though Scott Dixon admitted after qualifying that passing in the pits is the easiest way to move forward at Long Beach, focus quickly turned to competition elements that could be to blame for the way Sunday’s race played out.

“The tires are pretty friendly here,” Newgarden continued. “It’s a pretty simple two-stop. All that added together, you’re not going to get as much action as you get at other tracks. Yeah, maybe there’s a little bit of room to think about it.”

To match the distance of the St. Pete race, which demands 110 laps of the 1.8-mile street circuit, the Long Beach race would have to be extended 31 laps, making it last well over 100 laps instead of its current duration of 85. The other road course races in 2019 at COTA and Barber Motorsports Park kept the cars on track for 204 and 207 miles — significantly more than the 167 miles Alexander Rossi completed before his competitors in Southern California.

“I think INDYCAR were trying to make it a longer race, but they kind of got turned down on that effect,” Dixon said. “It is an easy two-stopper for everybody, so it makes it pretty bland. Both tires are good. You see a little more deg on the reds if you use a used set. All in all, they make the 30 laps, if you need to get them, pretty easy.”

An 30-lap increase, forcing a third visit to the Long Beach circuit’s long pit lane, is likely the missing component to routinely exciting races at the historic venue, though four full-course cautions in 2018 became just one in 2019, simplifying Rossi’s commanding run.

Twenty seven days after Long Beach, the NTT IndyCar Series will race next on the road course inside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

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