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Dario Franchitti will try to show his street smarts again

Winless after three races this season, reigning IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti figures Long Beach is the perfect spot to end that streak.

And why not? Franchitti won the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach a year ago on his way to claiming his second Izod IndyCar Series title, and he hopes to defend his victory Sunday in the 36th running of the race on the city’s seaside streets.

“I’d like to have a couple of wins on the board already by now,” the 36-year-old Franchitti said Thursday, “but we’re definitely capable of doing it” at Long Beach.

Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves, Danica Patrick and the other IndyCar drivers will race on a 1.97-mile temporary street course that includes a long stretch of Shoreline Drive, where the cars reach about 170 mph.

Franchitti said he and Dixon — Franchitti’s teammate at Target Chip Ganassi Racing and himself a two-time champion — also are ready to topple their arch-nemesis, the team of Penske Racing, which swept the first three races this season.

Will Power, an Australian who joined Penske full time this season, captured the first two races on street courses in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and St. Petersburg, Fla., and his teammate Castroneves won last Sunday in Birmingham, Ala.

Power, in fact, is a favorite to win again Sunday because he won the pole position at Long Beach a year ago and finished second behind Franchitti. Power also won the Long Beach race in 2008 in the last year of the Champ Car World Series, a series that was absorbed by IndyCar the following year.

“It will be great to get back to Long Beach,” said Power, who leads the IndyCar championship standings by 32 points over Castroneves and 42 over Franchitti. “It’s such a beautiful place and an awesome track.”

Indeed, Long Beach is among the drivers’ favorite stops, not only because they enjoy the demanding nature of the track’s 11-turn layout but because of the festival atmosphere that surrounds the grand prix and several supporting races during the weekend.

“It’s quite a rewarding street circuit to drive, and when you get it right it feels good,” said British driver Justin Wilson, who races for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. “On top of that, you’ve got the prestige and the history behind the place, and you definitely notice that.”

Patrick, meanwhile, struggled in the first three races and sits 15th in points. “It’s been a rough start to the season, no question,” she said. “Hopefully we can start to turn things around this weekend.”

The weekend also includes a celebrity race and the American Le Mans Series sports car race Saturday. The Firestone Indy Lights series races Sunday morning before the main IndyCar grand prix and, after the grand prix there is a team challenge of so-called drifting cars and an SCCA sports car race.

All of the different series practice Friday, and qualifying for the grand prix is scheduled for Saturday after the celebrity race.

james.peltz@latimes.com


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