Long Beach Grand Prix is a driver favorite

At last year's Indianapolis 500, the slowest average speed during qualifying was just a bit under 220 mph. At this weekend's 42nd Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, the top qualifiers will barely eclipse 100 mph.

Nevertheless, the Long Beach Grand Prix is consistently singled out by drivers as one of the best venues on the IndyCar circuit.

"It's definitely the one street course you want to win," two-time Long Beach champion Will Power said. "There's a lot of history, and I think it's second to the Indy 500."

That's because a breakneck pace isn't the objective at the 1.97-mile Long Beach course. Drivers are instead preoccupied with the 11 turns they will be dealing with for 80 laps.

"You never see anyone have a huge margin in qualifying or anything, it's always tenths and hundreds apart," Power said. "It's tough to win."

Power's victories in 2012 and 2008 make him a top contender to win Sunday's race.

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A strong showing at Long Beach would help after a strange start to his 2016 season — he took the pole position at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in Florida, but ended up missing the race because of an inner ear infection. He returned for the second race of the year, the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix.

Power isn't worried about making up the points he lost out on at St. Petersburg. "There's a lot of racing to go," he said. "It's just about going out there and do the best we can."

Meanwhile, current points leader Simon Pagenaud has not won at Long Beach, though he finished second in 2012.

"It's my favorite street course," Pagenaud said. "That's where I have the most fun driving IndyCars. It's where I raced in America for the first time back in 2006, so there are great memories. My girlfriend is from San Diego and we have the whole family coming."

 (Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)
IndyCar driver Scott Dixon leads Simon Pagenaud through one of the 11 turns on the Long Beach Grand Prix race course last year. (Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

Pagenaud joined Team Penske last year and struggled, dropping to 11th overall after three straight seasons in the top five. This season he has consecutive second-place performances at St. Petersburg and Phoenix. He believes he's turned the corner adjusting to a new team.

"It's just really important to get everyone on the same page, same motivation, and get to know everyone really well before you extract the best out of everyone," Pagenaud said. "Certainly this year it feels like that's happening."

One of Pagenaud's chief competitors will be Scott Dixon, who won at Long Beach in 2015 en route to taking the IndyCar championship title.

"The first goal is to go back to back at Long Beach," Dixon said.

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He is second in the point standings, with a seventh-place finish at St. Petersburg and a victory at Phoenix International Raceway.

Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Tony Kanaan round out the top five in the IndyCar standings.

In addition to the IndyCar race, downtown Long Beach will host a number of other competitions, including a super trucks race and a pro/celebrity race.

"It's extremely well-attended," Dixon said of the Grand Prix. "It's got a real festival vibe."

Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

Where: Long Beach street circuit around the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center.

Defending champion: Scott Dixon.

Schedule: Gates open at 7 a.m. Friday through Sunday.

--Friday: IndyCar practice at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

--Saturday: IndyCar practice at 10 a.m. Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race is at 11:40, and IndyCar qualifying is at 2 p.m.

--Sunday: IndyCar Grand Prix is from 1:30-3:30 p.m.

TV coverage: Coverage on NBCSN beginning at 1 p.m. Sunday.