Counting Blue Cars- Long Beach Preview: Will Honda Stay Strong?

Round 2 of the Verizon IndyCar Series starts Friday in Long Beach.  This is my favorite street event on the circuit.  The entire community embraces the race, the fans are knowledgeable, and the amount of activities and displays are unsurpassed at any street event.  This race has a 40 year plus history, and it shows. They know how to do this event properly.  Every Indycar fan needs to go to Long Beach at least once.

The best advice for watching this year is get a spotter’s guide. Sponsor and livery changes abound.  Ed Carpenter Racing has Spencer Pigot sponsored by Loki the Wolf Dog and J. R. Hildebrand is in the Preferred Freezer Services livery this week. Scott Dixon’s car will look like Tony Kanaan’s carrying both carrying NTT Data colors.  Helio Castroneves is in the AAA car this week.  Simon Pagenaud has Menard’s livery and Josef Newgarden is wearing the Hum colors.  Graham Rahal’s car is sponsored by Mi-Jack this week. Last, Marco Andretti has switched to UFD, which will be his sponsor for 7 races this year, as H. H. Gregg is out as a sponsor.

If you like blue and white cars, don’t miss this race.  Eleven cars carry this combination in some form.   I can’t remember such a large change in two consecutive races.

This race will tell us more about Honda this year. Was St. Pete a fluke? Is Honda for real? I think the latter is true.  Do they have enough for the pole? Probably, but Will Power and Simon Pagenaud have to be the favorites.  For the race itself, there is an even more motivated Will Power after his race debacle at St. Pete, and Scott Dixon, hoping to build on his third place finish  in Florida. Dixon also wants to correct his qualifying error that cost him the pole.

Drivers to watch closely this weekend are Sebastien Bourdais, Graham Rahal, and Josef Newgarden.  After his convincing win at St. Pete, a good Long Beach result could put Bourdais in the thick of the title hunt. Rahal typically starts the season slowly, but could use a top 5 in the race after his collision in St. Pete. Newgarden, in his second race for Penske, looks to improve on his 8th place at St. Pete.  He has qualified on the front row at Long Beach before, so a crucial good starting spot is possible.

Passing is challenging here, so pit strategy is crucial. Only two drivers, Mike Conway, who started 17th in 2014, and Will Power,12th on the grid in 2012,  have won from outside the top 5 in qualifying..  I see this coming down to a race between Pagenaud and Dixon, like last year, with Dixon prevailing this time.

Bonus Coverage:  NBCSN is airing practice live tomorrow at 5 pm . The network did this several times last year.  Qualifying is at 6:30 pm Saturday, and race coverage begins at 4 pm Sunday.  Practice sessions not on TV are streamed.

Notes:

Remember the good old days when Penske and Ganassi were known collectively as the red cars?  The only red left are the numbers on the 2 and 12.

I can’t remember the last time Fuzzy’s Vodka was not a primary sponsor on an ECR car.

This is the 34th Indycar event at Long Beach.  Mario Andretti won the first event in 1984.  Before Indycar ran here this was the venue for the Formula 1 US Grand Prix.

IMSA and Pirelli World Challenge also are racing this weekend.

 

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