Being a past winner of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach paid off in practice for Sunday's 35th Indy car race on the famous street course in Southern California.
All seven prior race winners entered this year finished in the top 10 on the combined timesheet for the two sessions on the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary circuit. Scott Dixon, the 2015 Long Beach race winner, was quickest for the day with a lap of 1 minute, 8.4112 seconds (103.562 mph) logged in the first of the 45-minute practices.
Many drivers, Dixon included, were surprised that lap times in the second session were slower overall, even though each team ran a set of the softer Firestone alternate tires.
"This afternoon was definitely a bit of a different story; really struggled with front grip," said Dixon, the four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion whose 41 career wins rank fourth on the all-time list. "It seemed like the temperature really affected our car.
"There were a couple others that went quite fast in that session on the red (alternate) tires, and I actually had to do almost a long run on my reds to get them to work. I think I did my quickest time on Lap 7 or 8 (of the stint). It was kind of an interesting session for us, but I think the car is kind of there. It's just going to take a little bit to get it right."
Andretti Autosport's Ryan Hunter-Reay - the 2010 Long Beach winner - was second quick with a first-session lap of 1:08.4285 (103.536 mph) in the No. 28 DHL Honda. Alexander Rossi, Hunter-Reay's teammate driving the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda, led the second practice and was third for the day, at 1:08.5567 (103.342 mph).
"We're going to need to find that gap was Scott was referring to between the cooler track temps and when it heated up," said Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champion. "It became quite a bit more difficult to get the lap time out of the car. Kind of a bit of a challenge there. It seems like everybody has their work set out for them."
Other previous Long Beach winners who landed in the top 10 in practice today were: Simon Pagenaud, fourth in the No. 22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet; defending Long Beach winner James Hinchcliffe, fifth in the No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda; Takuma Sato, sixth in the No. 30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Honda; Will Power, eighth in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet; and Sebastien Bourdais, 10th in the No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda.
Meanwhile, newcomers to the track spent the day feeling their way around it. Andretti Autosport's Zach Veach was best of the seven rookies, 13th on the overall chart.
"The car was different to drive - we were having some problems in the turning in mid-corner - but it was also my first day here, learning the track and everything," said Matheus "Matt" Leist, who was 23rd of the 24 drivers in the No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet. "Tomorrow is a new day, we can only move forward from here."
A final 45-minute practice prior to qualifying starts at 1:45 p.m. ET Saturday and streams live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. The battle for the Verizon P1 Award, featuring three rounds of progressive knockout qualifications, begins at 6:30 p.m. and airs live on NBCSN.
Live coverage of the 85-lap race commences at 4 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.
Davison named to Indy 500 entry with Foyt, Byrd, Hollinger, Belardi
James Davison became the 35th confirmed driver for next month's Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil when he was named today to drive the No. 33 Chevrolet entered by AJ Foyt Racing along with partners Jonathan Byrd's Racing, Hollinger MotorSport and Belardi Auto Racing.
Davison, a 31-year-old Australian, will be attempting to qualify for his fourth Indy 500.
"I am honored to be driving for the legendary A.J. Foyt with Byrd-Hollinger-Belardi at the Indianapolis 500," said Davison. "This will be my first full program in the four years that I have been a part of the event now. We have expectations to meet and I cannot wait to get after it."
Davison's Indianapolis 500 performance last year as a substitute for the injured Sebastien Bourdais caught the attention of the Byrd brothers, who put together the deal for this year. The brothers are sons of the late Jonathan Byrd, who first entered a car in the Indy 500 33 years ago.
"The Byrd family is excited to once again partner with the AJ Foyt Racing team, together with Brad Hollinger and Brian Belardi, to give James Davison the opportunity to win the Indy 500," said David Byrd, a principal of Jonathan Byrd's Racing.
Davison's entry is the third for AJ Foyt Racing, paired with full-season drivers Tony Kanaan and Matheus Leist.
The announcement of Davison's entry follows that of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, which named JR Hildebrand on Wednesday to drive the team's No. 66 Chevrolet with sponsorship from Salesforce. Hildebrand will be paired with Sage Karam in the No. 24 WIX Filters Chevrolet as Dreyer & Reinbold fields two Indy 500 entries for the first time since 2011.
"We've had 37 cars start the Indy 500 over the past close to 20 years now," team owner Dennis Reinbold said. "We're looking forward to adding to that number and really going out there and trying to do whatever we can to win the race."
Hinchcliffe gets lift from taking a dive at Aquarium of the Pacific
James Hinchcliffe is accustomed to G-forces in an Indy car sticking him to the ground. The Verizon IndyCar Series driver experienced a welcome opposite sensation when he conducted the first underwater news conference in Indy car racing history on Wednesday at the Aquarium of the Pacific adjacent to the Long Beach circuit.
An experienced scuba diver, Hinchcliffe made the 82-foot plunge to the bottom of the Honda Blue Cavern at the aquarium, mingling with the different fish species in the 142,000-gallon tank while answering media questions via an elaborate audio system inside his scuba gear.
"It's like negative G-force down there," Hinchcliffe said, still awash in a smile after emerging from the tank. "It's awesome. In the car, we're getting tossed around and there is a lot of force on the body. Down there, you are as light as a feather. You float around.
"It's one step from being in outer space. It's about as few G's as you can experience on the planet."
As he answered questions from media standing outside the tank, Hinchcliffe also "talked" with fish swimming past. He felt right at home in the Honda Blue Cavern's waters set to represent those in the nearby Pacific Ocean, even if he hasn't been diving on the West Coast.
"That was awesome!" said Hinchcliffe, the defending Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach winner. "I'm a fish at heart. I love any chance I get to get in the water.
"That was definitely cooler temperatures than I'm used to diving in, but they kept me nice and prepared and well-dressed for it. Getting to see (the wildlife) that is local to the area is very cool, as I haven't really done much diving on this coast and this side of the country. To be able to have that (special full-face) mask on and be able to talk to everyone that was out there was really cool."
Castroneves, Montoya earn spots on Long Beach Walk of Fame
Team Penske's Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya were forever immortalized at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on Thursday. The Indy car greats, each a past winner of the popular street race, had plaques commemorating their winning history added to the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame. Both drivers are competing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship this weekend for Team Penske on the 1.968-mile temporary street course.
Castroneves raced Indy car 13 times at Long Beach between 1998 and 2017, scoring a victory in 2001 and sitting on the pole three straight times from 2015-17. The 42-year-old Brazilian holds the track lap record of 1 minute, 6.2254 seconds (106.980 mph) set last year in Verizon P1 Award qualifying.
"It's an honor, no question," said Castroneves, the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner who will return to the Verizon IndyCar Series next month for the two races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "Just seeing the names of people who are already a part of the Wall of Fame, it just blows my mind away. In 1996, when I came over here in Indy Lights, my first race ever (was at Long Beach). I wasn't even thinking about it and, all of a sudden, I'm being inducted and being a part of amazing sport legends."
Montoya won the 1999 Long Beach race - his first of 15 Indy car wins - on his way to the CART season championship. The two-time Indianapolis 500 winner drove in five Indy car races at Long Beach.
The 42-year-old from Bogota, Colombia, enjoyed following his boss, team owner Roger Penske, who was added to the Walk of Fame in 2016.
"It's unbelievable," Montoya said. "I came here two years ago to see Roger get inducted. It was huge, huge names here. You don't realize when you race and you win races, you never do it to be here. To get recognized for everything that you've done, it's amazing."
Rutherford surprised by Road Racing Drivers Club honor
Johnny Rutherford came to Indy car racing after success racing midgets and sprint cars as part of USAC's championship trail in the late 1950s and early '60s. So, pardon him if he was a bit confused when told he was chosen as the honoree for this year's Road Racing Drivers Club dinner in Long Beach.
"I wondered why. What did I do?" the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner joked at Thursday night's event. "Me and the Road Racing Drivers Club? Come on."
"Lone Star JR" was the latest racing legend honored at the RRDC event, the 10th annual dinner that drew luminaries from around the racing world, including Mario Andretti, Chip Ganassi and drivers with the same background as Rutherford - Sleepy Tripp and Ken Schrader.
"This has given me a chance to think about what I've done," said Rutherford, whose only Indy car road course win among his 27 career victories came at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 1980. "I've had a good time. I love that all of this and the honors that have come. I had fun road racing and enjoyed my time in racing with all the different people."
Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach practice: Driver Quotes
MATHEUS "MATT" LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): "The car was different to drive, we were having some problems in the turning in mid-corner, but it was also my first day here, learning the track and everything. Tomorrow is a new day, we can only move forward from here. Hopefully, we will have a great car tomorrow, we'll keep working hard and hope to have a great weekend."
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda, 2017 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach winner): "It was an up-and-down day. There was a really big change on the track for us from Practice 1 to Practice 2, so we struggled a lot with the car balance this afternoon. It was also really busy out there. It's not that long of a track; 24 cars all trying to get those runs on reds (Firestone alternate tires) at the end. We only really did one lap, and I'm not sure if we got the best out of it. We'll see what we have tomorrow. We definitely have a lot to think about overnight, but this Arrow Electronics and entire Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team has done a great job so far this season of putting it together when it counts, and hopefully, we can keep that up."
ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): "Not the best day for us. It's still early in the weekend, and we have a lot of hard work ahead of us. From what I remember of St. Pete, we also weren't that strong through free practice, but we came out good in the end. We're just going to do look over everything tonight, make some level-headed decisions, and hopefully, we can get the Lucas Oil car up front tomorrow."
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): "We sat around a lot in the first session and then went out, and things started to move really fast. The PNC Bank car was fast right out of the box. We went out and were quick in our first run, then improved upon that in the second run. It's a big weekend for Honda here, so we'll try to get the most out of it for them and for the team. The cars are so fun to drive though. The track is really awesome without the added downforce too. The braking zones are a bit bigger and the power down is impressive especially out of the hairpin corner. I think come around Lap 20, drivers are going to be screaming for new tires around here. It's great to be back here overall, though. Great cars, great atmosphere and being out there pounding around the Long Beach city streets."
ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): "Obviously not the start to the weekend we wanted with the NTT DATA car. We went one direction this morning and then took another direction toward what Scott (Dixon) and the No. 9 team were doing. We have some work to do tonight, but I'm confident we can make the right changes and be up there closer to the front tomorrow."
TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): "Decent day...trying to find the right setup. This morning was a little bit better than this afternoon. We tried a couple different things - a big swing just to see. Friday we have two free sessions so we're learning for tomorrow. We have a lot of work to do, but we're still up there. We just have to keep working to improve a little bit more. All in all, it was a trouble-free day, which is quite good."
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Total Honda): "It was an OK day. I think the Total Honda was good right off the bat on blacks (Firestone primary tires) comparatively. When we went to reds (Firestone alternate tires), I think we lost the handling a little bit. We also had a really poor out lap. We were trying to get a big gap (on track ahead). We went out too early, and I didn't even get to get any temperature in them, and I think the reds are only spectacular on one lap and we just missed it. Unfortunately, that was that. Saturday is a new day, so hopefully we can improve the Total Honda slightly and go from there. We have some work to do to catch some of the guys up front, but overall it was a good day. The car is not bad, but it's not quite good enough. We will keep working away to try our best to get a car capable of winning here. It was a textbook Long Beach Grand Prix day; great weather and a great crowd."
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda): "It was an interesting day overall for the Team SealMaster Honda No. 18. We are not exactly there yet, but I don't know that anybody is really happy with their car. This afternoon the track temp was very high...115, 116 range, so this place, like most others, tends to be quite greasy when it gets that hot. I had one good lap going, which got a yellow flag, and that was that. I'm not exactly sure where we sit because I definitely didn't get a good lap on the board. I think on a one-lap performance the car doesn't seem too bad, but it seems to degrade pretty fast. We will take a look at the data and see what we want to do for tomorrow, but it is not easy. We have to keep searching."
ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 The Paysafe Car Honda): (About his thoughts on the track) "It's a really fun track. I'm really enjoying myself but I need to keep working on getting better. It's a difficult track and I think most of the rookies are struggling with it from what I saw of the lap times." (About his day): "It was a tough day and there's some work to do, but we have another practice session tomorrow before qualifying and we're going to use it to keep learning as much as possible."
JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet): "There's definitely potential with our Preferred Freezer Services Chevy this weekend. We had an issue with the gearbox in the second practice that kind of prevented us from getting many laps. We then put a backup stack in that wasn't optimum for what we were trying to do. That cost us a little bit, but we made good process with the balance of the car from Practice 1 to Practice 2. Hopefully we can make a similar step tomorrow."
SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Preferred Freezer Service Chevrolet): "It was good to learn the circuit and get into it. There's still quite a ways to go on my side and sorting the car out. Unfortunately, we couldn't get a run on reds (Firestone alternate tires), so it's still a bit of an unknown going into qualifying. It's a bit annoying, it would have been nice to be able to learn a little bit more about the reds. Then again, we had the same thing happen in St. Pete and that worked out alright."
CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet): "We worked through a lot of changes today. Max (Chilton) was pretty good this morning, so we went more his direction with the No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet. We had a couple of issues in the first practice, but we got those cleaned up for the second practice and introduced a few new issues in the second practice that we'll need fix overnight. We had a yellow flag on what was going to be my best lap early in the second session. We can learn from what we did today and get everything ready to go for qualifying tomorrow. I think the conditions tomorrow are going to be pretty similar to today and then cooler on race day, so we'll just have to adjust best as we can and move forward from there."
ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Group One Thousand One Honda): "Overall, I think it was a good first day here. Phoenix went better than St. Pete and so far, this weekend has been going better than Phoenix. So just one step at a time. I think we definitely have the speed to transfer tomorrow to the fast 12, and maybe even a chance to get to our first Firestone Fast 6. The Andretti cars are pretty quick - (Alexander) Rossi and (Ryan) Hunter-Reay are showing that - I have a little bit of learning to do tonight, but I'm excited to show what we can do tomorrow."
ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): "It was good to be P1 in Practice 2, it's where you want to end the day on Friday. To have two team cars 1-2 is pretty awesome. We have a lot of motivation after last year to come back and really be strong here this year. We have a lot of work ahead of us still, and hopefully we can continue that over the next two days. Our main focus right now is trying to win Long Beach and get redemption on last year."
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): "Without a doubt this is one of my favorite races - love the place, love the layout, love everything about it. The fans, the energy, the atmosphere here are all great. We've had some great cars here, I've been very fortunate to be behind the wheel of some very fast race cars here - last year being one of them. We were closing on (James Hinchcliffe), right up on his gearbox, when the car shut off for some reason - an electrical issue. We feel like we have some unfinished business here, and I think today was a pretty good start at finishing that. We are going to need to find a gap between the cooler track temps and when it heated up. It became quite a bit more difficult to get the lap time out of the car, so we have a bit of a challenge there, but it seems like everybody has their work set out for them."
TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): "We made good progress today. It was a productive day until the end of the session. We have more work to do because the lap time is not representative of what we feel we can get out of it. We made good progress from the first session and hopefully we will continue that tomorrow."
KYLE KAISER (No. 32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet): "I'd say we made an improvement from the first session into the second session. I'm really happy with the team and we are working well together. We are trying a lot of different stuff and with the lack of testing we have had its hard to pinpoint how to make the car better. We are having to experiment a lot, which has put us a little bit behind the rest of the field. All and all, they are doing a great job. I feel like there is a lot to learn from this. I am looking forward tomorrow. I think we are going to make some changes and try something different for the next session and hope we can find some more speed before qualifying."
MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): "It's great to be back in Long Beach. I love this track, really any street course in general. We've been trying to build on a car setup without changing anything too fundamental and just get laps under our belts. We've learned that the reds (Firestone alternate tires) aren't that strong around here, which I think everyone is seeing. We just need to take a look at the car tonight and make it better overnight for qualifying tomorrow."
GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): "It has been a trying day so far. We have had to deal with some issues that were kind of like a curve ball being thrown at us and put us behind where we wanted to be. It has been frustrating, but I think we can utilize this afternoon to analyze what we need to do to improve and be where we should be from where we left off at St. Pete and take it from there. I'm looking forward to getting back on track tomorrow."
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda): "It was a difficult day to say the least. We're definitely dealing with a mechanical issue - I am convinced I have a carry-over issue that has not yet been identified from Phoenix. We've tried some different things out, but unfortunately haven't found a solution yet. Once we pinpoint what exactly is going on, I know we'll have a fast car. Our teammates are proving we have the setup, so we really just need to fix the issue. We really want to give this U.S. Concrete car a good run."