Graham Rahal

Note: This new series identifies trends and provides statistics and other information fans need to know between the end of NTT P1 Award qualifying and Race Day for every NTT INDYCAR SERIES event.

The expectation is that Southern California will again deliver ideal racing conditions to the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

If that seems repetitive, it is. Today should mark the 40th consecutive year of the series staging a rain-free race. Long Beach has been hosting all kinds of racers since 1975, 49 years in all, and the weather is a perfect 49-for-49.

While the outdoor conditions never seem to change here in April, the drivers in victory lane do. Only once in nearly two decades has there been a repeat winner– Alexander Rossi in 2018 and 2019. And just as surprising are the fresh faces in victory lane. Last year, Kyle Kirkwood became the sixth INDYCAR driver to score his first series win on this 11-turn, 1.968-mile temporary street circuit.

Michael Andretti (1986), Paul Tracy (1993), Juan Pablo Montoya (1999), Mike Conway (2011) and Takuma Sato (2013) are the other drivers to notch series win No. 1 in this event.

Today’s 27-car field is filled with drivers who would like to join that club. Six of them are series rookies and two of those – Nolan Siegel and Theo Pourchaire – will make their official series debuts today (3 p.m. ET, USA Network, Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network).

Frenchman Pourchaire might be the most intriguing driver of them all. Before this week, he had never stepped foot in California, much less driven one of these machines. But as the 21-year-old Frenchman has throughout his career that includes last year’s Formula 2 championship, he has proven to be a fast learner. His quickest lap in the weekend’s first practice ranked 21st; it was 19th in the second. He qualified 22nd.

Pourchaire isn’t the only driver who has never raced on this circuit. Count Siegel, Kyffin Simpson, Linus Lundqvist and Christian Rasmussen in that category, as well, which makes today’s race a massive challenge.

Romain Grosjean is among the winless drivers in this series, but he is no stranger to success here. He finished second to Kirkwood last year and was second to Josef Newgarden in 2022. Grosjean will start 16th today.

Marcus Armstrong, Augustin Canapino and Sting Ray Robb are only in their second series seasons, but that’s the position Kirkwood was in a year ago. Count Lundqvist and Tom Blomqvist, each of whom got a brief taste of the series last year, as drivers eager to break through. Blomqvist has raced on this circuit three times in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, but this is a different kettle of fish.

While anyone can win an NTT INDYCAR SERIES race, history shows this is not that simple. In 39 races, the winner has come from the front row 20 times. Eleven of those were pole winners, which bodes well for Felix Rosenqvist and, secondarily, Will Power. All but six Long Beach winners have come from the first two rows, so the good odds also go to Newgarden and Colton Herta, who will start in Row 2 for the 85-lap race.

The only driver in the past eight years to win from outside the top four was Herta, who started 14th in winning in 2021.

Recent history suggests the winner will come from Andretti Global. Michael Andretti’s organization has won four of the past five Long Beach races, and it added Marcus Ericsson, who won a street race last year for Chip Ganassi Racing, during the offseason. Ericsson will roll off today’s race from the fifth position.

And then there’s Newgarden, who won last month’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding. He has posted eight consecutive top-10 finishes in this event, finishing first or second in three of the past four races and scoring podium finishes in four of the past six. Plus, over the past five races here he’s led a combined 82 laps. Yeah, he’s good, and he will make his 200th career start from the third spot.

Competitors have been on track for two days, but racing will offer different circumstances due to modifications in the equipment. Chief among that is the aeroscreen, which has a new iteration for this event and all future road and street course races.

The near-perfect weather reduces the primary impact of the aeroscreen modification. The drivers now have three cooling ducts – two at the top, one at the bottom – for additional air flow, which could be helpful by the time the summer heat and humidity smack them.

But the adjustment for the weekend is figuring out what to do with the change in airflow to the rear wing. Plus, the aeroscreen is about 4 pounds lighter than the previous iteration, and that weight is reduced at a high point in the center of gravity. Optimizing that is an engineer’s dream challenge.

The other equipment element to today’s race are Firestone’s alternate green Firehawk tires. The compound made of guayule has been deemed to be about a half-second quicker per lap than the primary compound. That’s under fresh circumstances. As with every event, the question will be how long the alternates maintain their advantage and at what point the switch to the primaries is advantageous. Each car is required to use at least one set of tire compound during the race.

Historically, this race has favored Firestone’s primary compound, but things do change. Everything but the Southern California weather for this event.