IndyCar drivers rev up for Long Beach Grand Prix this weekend

Mike Conway leads in the final laps rounding turn 10 at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 13, 2014.
Mike Conway leads in the final laps rounding turn 10 at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 13, 2014.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

IndyCar returns this weekend to one of its most legendary circuits, the streets of Long Beach.

The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on the 1.97-mile, 11-turn seaside course is the third race of the season in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Juan Pablo Montoya, driving for Team Penske, won the season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 29.

James Hinchcliffe then captured last weekend’s Grand Prix of Louisiana, a road-course race in New Orleans that’s a new addition to the IndyCar schedule this year.

“It was a huge boost for the whole team,” said Hinchcliffe, a 28-year-old Canadian who drives for the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team.


Both drivers have momentum entering the 41st Long Beach Grand Prix, with Montoya leading the IndyCar title standings by 10 points over Helio Castroneves, one of Montoya’s Penske teammates.

Montoya also won the Long Beach race in 1999 before he moved to Formula One and later NASCAR stock-car racing. He returned to IndyCar last year.

“Long Beach will always be a special place for me,” Montoya said. “Knowing that we’ve had the fastest cars at both of the first two races to start the season is a great feeling.”

Among the other favorites to win Sunday is reigning IndyCar champion Will Power, another Penske driver who has won the Long Beach Grand Prix twice, in 2008 and 2012.

“Everyone wants to win at Long Beach,” Power said. “It’s one of the biggest races in North America and a place with so much history.”

Another favorite is Ryan Hunter-Reay of the Andretti Autosport team. The 2012 IndyCar champion won the Long Beach race in 2010, and last year he won the sport’s crown jewel Indianapolis 500.

And French driver Sebastien Bourdais, now with the KVSH Racing team, won the Long Beach event in three consecutive years, 2005 through 2007.

That was when Indy-style racing was divided into two series, the Indy Racing League and the Champ Car World Series, with Bourdais competing on the Champ Car side. The two series reunited in 2008.

“Next to the Indy 500, [Long Beach] is the premier event on our schedule,” Bourdais said.

The cars look decidedly different this year because the two main auto manufacturers that back the series, Chevrolet and Honda, rolled out new “aero kits,” or body styles.

“We’re showing a lot more speed than last year” with the new aero kits, Simon Pagenaud, another driver of Penske’s Chevrolet-backed cars, said Thursday. “It’s taking a little bit of time to adjust, but so far it’s a lot of fun.”

The Long Beach Grand Prix caps a variety of racing on the street course Saturday and Sunday.

Other series practicing and racing include IndyCar’s second-level Indy Lights series, sports cars in the Tudor United SportsCar Championship and Pirelli World Challenge series, so-called drifting cars and off-road trucks.

There’s also the annual pro/celebrity race Saturday, in which drivers compete in identically prepared Toyota Scions.

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What: Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Series: Verizon IndyCar Series.

Where: 1.97-mile Long Beach street circuit.

When: Sunday, 1:30 p.m.

Distance: 80 laps.

TV: NBC Sports Network.

Defending winner: Mike Conway.

Qualifying: Saturday, 2 p.m.

Note: Indy Lights, sports cars, celebrity drivers and other series also practice and race at various times Saturday and Sunday.