The IndyCar Afterburn: The pitfalls and pinnacles of Long Beach 2024


The Long Beach Grand Prix is the Monaco of American motorsport, and this past weekend, the IndyCar Series reminded everyone exactly why.

We witnessed an instant classic, with six different lap leaders, constant action from flag to flag, and a mad scramble at the end as a host of heavyweights slugged it out for the top spot. Seriously, if you didn’t catch it live, go find a replay ASAP, because this was the kind of race that turns newcomers into lifelong fans.

With so much drama in the LBGP to cover and so little time, let’s jump right into the day’s thrills and spills.

IndyCar driver Scott Dixon smiles as he celebrates his victory following the 49th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday. (Photo by Will Lester/MediaNews Group/Inland Valley Daily Bulletin via Getty Images)

Dixon’s skill pays history-making dividends

It was a day of split strategies at Chip Ganassi Racing, and while Alex Palou’s primary got him on the podium, it was Scott Dixon’s alternate strategy which ultimately conquered the chessboard. Starting from eighth place, Dixon patiently worked his way up the field and led 42 of the 85 laps, but the shocking part was how he finished the day.

Dixon’s second and final trip to pit row came on lap 50, and with the lone yellow flag of the day long behind us, that meant he’d have to survive the last 40% and change entirely on the road. Amazingly, the Iceman pulled off quite possibly the greatest fuel-save of his career, balancing his speed and resources perfectly to fend off and pull away from the competition.

It was a nail-biter to the end, but with a little help from lapped rookie teammate Kyffin Simpson, who performed some clutch defending to stall the many rivals breathing down Dixon’s neck, the six-time National Champion prevailed, claiming his second win at Long Beach.

Not only does this win vault him to second in the championship standings, it marks two decades of Scott Dixon winning at least one IndyCar race every season. Catch this man live while you can people, he’s the greatest Kiwi driver of the 21st century, and if you live long enough, you’ll be telling your grandkids about him.

Herta makes some Andretti magic

Andretti Global’s long history of success at Long Beach continued this year, and Colton Herta once again led the charge. The long-haired young gun had the best result of anyone on the primary pit-stop strategy, leading seven laps and driving confidently throughout his home race.

Yet it was his controversial late pass on Josef Newgarden—more on that in a second—that officially guaranteed the No. 26 a podium. For the last four laps, Herta was practically standing on top of Scott Dixon, and while the Californian fell tantalisingly short of the win, it still made him a contributor to Honda’s Manufacturers’ Cup chase, marking his best result in IndyCar since the 2022 Toronto Grand Prix, and provided yet more evidence that the doldrums of 2023 are behind him.

Newgarden wilts at the end

After kicking off the season with a win, Josef Newgarden once again posted the best result and drive among the Chevrolets. For the majority of the race he was incredible, leading 19 laps and spending much of his time in second drawing ominously closer to Scott Dixon. But just when a St. Pete repeat looked inevitable, Colton Herta misjudged a turn, braked late, and wound up uppercutting Newgarden’s car, which stalled on the straightaway just long enough to take the Tennessee native out of the top 3.

Despite his protests, the stewards let it go, and Newgarden would have to settle for first man off the podium.

Still, the result kept Newgarden in first place overall, and if he keeps driving like this, it might be a while before we see the lead change hands.

Ericsson unleashes surprise speed

The Andretti magic may have shined brightest with Herta, but Marcus Ericsson showed his worth. He may not have led any laps like Herta or Kyle Kirkwood—who finished seventh—but the sneaky Swede surely won’t be complaining, as he finished fifth, posted the fastest lap of the day, and was right on the fringe of first-place contention for that dramatic finale.

Power rides the Green Lantern Coaster

Australia’s own Will Power had a rollercoaster day. He got the second-best result from the winning strategy, forced the first lead change of the day, remained the front-runner for 15 total laps, and finished high enough to keep Chevy two points ahead in the Manufacturers’ Cup standings.

But like a Green Lantern halfway through a comic book, he was foiled by the color yellow, as the lone caution of the race nullified Power’s considerable gap. When the green flag came back out, Scott Dixon quickly seized the lead, and though Power fought valiantly to stay on the podium, the strategy that worked so well for Dixon handcuffed the Queenslander, who ultimately sank down to sixth.

It’s still a performance Power and team Penske can learn and build from, and one many other drivers would kill to manage, but it was a disappointing way to end up there.

Moments like this >>> @ArrowMcLaren // @TPourchaire // @TonyKanaan

— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) April 23, 2024

Rosenqvist falls off the flagpole

After claiming pole position by just a fraction of a second, Felix Rosenqvist looked the man to beat—and for the opening lap of the race, he was. Then Will Power overtook him and the Swede never recovered, sliding down the standings and out of the spotlight.

While he salvaged things somewhat by finishing ninth to maintain his streak of top-tens, the reality is that winning on Saturday in Long Beach gets you much farther in IMSA than it does here in IndyCar. However, his early trail-off did prevent the kind of one-man domination we saw in the last couple races, so maybe we as fans should thank Felix for his sacrifice.

Juncos appreciate the little things

Of all the day’s midfield teams, Juncos Hollinger Racing may have found the most to celebrate. Romain Grosjean finally broke his streak of DNFs to start the year, clawing eight spots up the grid to finish eighth. While it doesn’t match his two second-place finishes, it does mark his first top-ten since Nashville last year, and was his best Long Beach performance.

Agustín Canapino also made some gains, fighting from 20th to 15th, but on his second and final visit, it was his pit crew that stole the show. They got their man in and out in about six and a half seconds, over a full second shorter than anyone else. Combined with his 10th-place finish at Thermal, it’s been an encouraging SoCal stint for the Argentinian, and if he and his crew keep improving, he could have a star-making performance sooner than people expect.

Pourchaire plays hero in his debut

With David Malukas still injured and Callum Illott busy running the six Hours of Imola, McLaren needed a new driver to take over the No.6 car. Enter Théo Pourchaire—the reigning F2 champion, F1 reserve driver for Sauber and lone Gaijin in the Japanese Super Formula Championship—who not only survived his IndyCar debut, but thrived.

Pourchaire avoided his teammates’ early mishaps, finished first among the rookies, and made the highest climb of any driver, going from 22nd to 11th. It was an incredible showing, especially for someone who’d literally never driven an IndyCar until that week, and since Pourchaire won’t be needed in Japan until May, we could see him again next Sunday.

Miscellaneous Misfortunes: misfired McLarens & rough days for Rahals

Of course, Pourchaire had to carry McLaren’s hopes for so long because, right out of the gate, Pato O’Ward’s car locked up and collided with Alexander Rossi’s, forcing the latter to pit for repairs on lap three. Rossi would recover, reaching as high as third before ultimately finishing 10th, but O’Ward took a drive-through penalty for the incident and never recovered.

The Mexican star’s 16th-place sent him four spots down the Astor Cup ladder, and he’ll no doubt feel the pressure to bounce back at Barber.

However, for the second straight IndyCar event, the real meme team was Rahal Letterman Lanigan. First, Christian Lundgaard followed a bad radio call in the pit lane directly into an oncoming Kyle Kirkwood. Both cars drove away unscathed, but the Dane suffered a penalty that sent his race into a swan dive down the 405.

By race’s end, Lundgaard dropped all the way from seventh to 23rd, just ahead of Pietro Fittipaldi, who had his own six-spot fall. Finally, Graham Rahal pitted while sitting in fifth place, and looked to get a decent result out of all this, but fuelling troubles kept him stuck in idle for 20 seconds, ruining his chances.

Rahal finished the day in 17th, close behind was Sting Ray Robb—who surprisingly, climbed up to that result instead of down. Combined with Thermal, it’s been a miserable tour of Southern California for RLL, and they’ll be more than happy to head back east and try to find their footing elsewhere.

The Sicko’s Guide to DNFs: putting the L in LA

Rookie Christian Rasmussen has finally started to distinguish himself from his classmates, but not for the right reasons. After some destabilizing contact with the wall, the Dane spun out dramatically into turn four, hitting both walls. On top of causing the day’s only yellow, the accident collected Jack Harvey’s car, doing enough damage to send the Brit to the pits and contributing to Harvey’s own dismal bottom-three finish.

Then, towards the home stretch, the racing gods decreed that, for one Kiwi to rise, another must fall. Scott McLaughlin became the sacrifice, as his day ended with his car limping to pit row after a mechanical failure. What could have been a top-ten finish became a woeful 26th, and after losing seven spots in the overall title picture, he’s wishing that Thermal had been a points race.

Future Flames: sweet road Alabama

There’ll be no long wait this time—our next cut of action comes next weekend at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. As the season’s first points race on a road course, and the last stop before we spend May at the Brickyard, this will be a pivotal fixture in the season. Any driver who finds that next gear here will enter Indiana, and with Chevy and Honda just two points apart, they’ll do everything they can to make sure their teams’ drivers pop champagne in Victory Lane.

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