Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach

Legendary team owner Chip Ganassi has produced 133 NTT INDYCAR SERIES victories. He could only shake his head in amazement following Scott Dixon’s latest triumph in his No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda at Sunday’s thrilling Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

“Nothing surprises me with him anymore,” Ganassi said.

Dixon continues to find ways to win. Stretching his fuel 34 laps to the finish gave Dixon his 57th career win, 10 shy of tying A.J. Foyt for the most in INDYCAR SERIES history. The paddock was littered with bewilderment at what Dixon accomplished with such an audacious strategy.

“I still don't completely know how Dixon made it to the front,” said second-place finisher Colton Herta. “I mean, that was pretty impressive.”

Dixon’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Alex Palou said he didn’t think he could have made the fuel stretch on his No. 10 DHL Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Palou was on a different strategy, first pitting at the end of Lap 31 and making his final stop on Lap 61. Dixon first pitted at the end of Lap 17 and made his last stop at the end of Lap 51.

“I was not surprised that he took it because he knows he can make it work,” Palou said. “I don't know how. Yeah, I'll study that probably tonight.”

Dixon said the race was a lot of fun but had some sketchy moments. He hit the lap time number consistently enough to save the right amount of fuel. The low fuel light never came on, and when he was told from the pit wall with two laps to go that he could go flat out and overtake cars if needed, it was music to his ears.

“That was definitely nice to hear at that point because the stress level was pretty high,” Dixon said. “To get after it for the last two laps without a concern was big.”

Pourchaire Ecstatic with 11th in Debut

Just three days ago, Arrow McLaren rookie driver Theo Pourchaire had never been to California, had never seen the 11-turn, 1.968-mile Long Beach street circuit or driven INDYCAR SERIES machinery at speed.

On Sunday, the 20-year-old Frenchman was the top finisher among six NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookies in the 27-driver Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach field. He charged 11 spots from his 22nd-place starting position to bring his No. 6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet home 11th.

"It's an amazing result,” Pourchaire said. “People sometimes forget that I'm only 20 years old. I'm lucky that in the last six months, I was able to drive a Formula 2, a Formula One car, a Super Formula and now an Indy car, the best single seaters in the world.

“I can tell you INDYCAR is amazing. I'm so happy. In my first race, it's crazy when I think about it. I'm a competitor in the first place, and we all want to win. But look at the guys in this field, the experience, they're really good. So I'm happy."

Points Chasing Already Underway

Long Beach may only be the second of 17 points-paying races in the 2024 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season, but it’s never too early to look at the points.

Will Power’s 2022 championship-winning season saw him score 13 top-six finishes in 17 races. Last year, Palou’s worst finish was eighth, propelling him to his second championship in three years.

Accumulating early points is a necessity. Consistency wins championships.

Colton Herta, winless in his last 32 starts, is off to a hot start to the season with a fifth-place finish in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding. The driver of the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda for Andretti Global followed that with a runner-up result Sunday.

“You just have to keep doing what you can do,” Herta said. “When you're having an off day, finish in the top 10, top five, if you can. When you have a car to win, you need to be able to try to win it, finish on the podium.”

Palou improved from a sixth-place result in St. Petersburg with a third-place run in his No. 10 DHL Chip Ganassi Racing Honda in Long Beach. He said it’s early to start looking at the standings, but those digits can’t be ignored.

“You need to get every single point you can every single weekend because it's so close,” he said. “A win gives you so much. A win gives you so much that you never know what can happen at the end, the last couple of races, especially with the amazing calendar we have now.”

Communication Key in Strategy Decisions

In a race with split fuel strategies, it could become confusing for drivers to know what’s going on surrounding them. Not only are they dealing with the physical effects and mental strain of driving a race car, drivers also battle with cars for position.

With varying mixes of strategy, how much do drivers want to know inside the race car or how much do they want to focus on their race?

“You need to know,” said Palou. “We had to go fast, the last stint especially. We had to go 100% to try and catch him (Dixon), to try and make him use more fuel and try to overtake him.”

The end of Sunday’s 85-lap race came down to Herta and Palou chasing Dixon, who was saving fuel. That’s why Herta said it is essential to know that kind of information. There also are moments in the race when he needs to know who and why he’s racing a particular car.

“Especially when you get into that mode of having a two-stopper or a three-stopper,” he said. “It was kind of like that today with guys taking the early yellow. You're passing people you haven't seen before on the racetrack. You have no idea why they're there, what's going on.

“It's important for the team to relay what you're doing and also what other guys are doing, how they think it's going to play out for the last stop. It is really a mix-up until you get to the last pit stop, and everyone has pitted that you know. This is how it played out. Now we have to figure out how to win from here.”

Caution Deflates Tire Strategy for Power

Power and his No. 12 Verizon Business Team Penske Chevrolet crew decided to start Sunday’s race on a set of Firestone Firehawk alternate tires, which became the preferred compound on this afternoon.

On Lap 2, it looked like the right strategy as Power jumped fellow front-row starter Felix Rosenqvist for the lead with a late outside pass approaching Turn 1, and his advantage was nearly seven seconds when the caution came out for rookie Christian Rasmussen’s Lap 15 spin and contact in Turn 4.

Power opted to pit under caution along with Dixon and a few others on Lap 17, earlier than expected, and that ended up being the winning strategy for Dixon. But unlike Dixon, who started on primary tires, Power didn’t have another set of the grippier alternate tires for the final stint.

“It hurt us because we were banking on doing a full stint on those (alternates) – (they) were just so much faster,” Power said. “We were stuck with (primaries) for the rest of the race.”

Power said it would have been “too risky” to use the twice-used set of alternate tires. He said that tire strategy was the bed they had made for themselves, and they had to sleep in it.

Power thought he could have matched Dixon in pace if he had had an alternate set for the final stint. Instead, he settled for a sixth-place finish.

“As you know,” he said, “in INDYCAR these things happen with the yellows.”

NHRA Legend Force Back Home in Long Beach

John Force, 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion, visited the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday with split loyalties.

On one hand, Force was rooting for Graham Rahal’s No. 15 Fleet Cost & Care Honda to drive to victory lane. Rahal is his son-in-law, married to Force’s daughter Courtney.

On the other, Force is a Chevrolet NHRA driver. The manufacturer has been a longtime supporter of John Force Racing, with some of his record-setting 156 victories and 166 No. 1 qualifier spots coming with Team Chevy.

“I’m here with Chevrolet. That’s my job, but (Graham) Rahal is family,” Force said. “Chevrolet helps us in our technology and everything we do. Today it’s INDYCAR SERIES racing, and I’ve got to root for Rahal but I’m also rooting for Team Penske.

“I’m excited to be here.”

Force grew up near Long Beach and said he knows these streets well.

Odds And Ends

  • Chip Ganassi Racing rookie driver Linus Lundqvist took a pre-race call from comic legend Jerry Seinfeld, wishing him luck. Lundqvist’s No. 8 American Legion Unfrosted Honda had a special livery this weekend to promote Netflix's upcoming comedy film “Unfrosted.” Seinfeld is directing and stars in the movie.
  • Dixon halted a five-race win streak in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach events by American-born drivers. The five races preceding this weekend were won by Alexander Rossi (2018-19), Herta (2021), Josef Newgarden (2022) and Kyle Kirkwood (2023). This race wasn’t held in 2020 due to the global pandemic.
  • Chip Ganassi Racing swept the weekend at Long Beach with its IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship team winning Saturday’s sports car race with four-time INDYCAR SERIES champion Sebastien Bourdais and teammate Renger van der Zande.
  • For the second consecutive season, Honda swept the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach podium. That’s a rebound after Honda saw rival Chevrolet finish 1-2-3-4 in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding last month.