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Long Beach Grand Prix is where Juan Pablo Montoya’s star-studded career started to take off

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Takuma Sato, winner of the 2017 Indianapolis 500 and the 2013 Toyota Grand Prix, talks about racing at one of the more iconic courses in the IndyCar series, the Grand Prix of Long Beach. Driving for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Sato will be aimin

The well-worn streets and glassy high rises of downtown Long Beach rattled and reverberated Friday with howling engine noise, signalling the start of this year’s Long Beach Grand Prix.

Juan Pablo Montoya remembers when it all started for him.

The Colombian won his first major race at Long Beach in 1999 while embarking on one of the most prolific careers in IndyCar, Formula 1 and NASCAR. Montoya, Mario Andretti and Dan Gurney are the only drivers to win in all three types of racing.

Montoya will race Saturday in a closed-cockpit car when he starts the WeatherTech Sports Car Championship race in a Team Penske Acura ARX-05 DPi.

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“Honestly, when I won here in 1999, it was kind of my first big-time win,” he said. “It was huge for me. Now to be here this week, the first time with the prototype on a street course, I think it’s going to be a hell of a challenge. The Acura drives so well that it reminds me of my 2004 Williams Formula 1 car. It’s an amazing car.”

When asked what he hoped to achieve in the car, Montoya didn’t hesitate: “Oh, I want to frickin’ win! I think if we could make it to the end without problems, the worst finish I could see is a podium, but it would be so nice to give Acura their first win in this.

“I’m feeling good. You know why else I feel good? I went to King Taco for lunch today!”

Practice laps

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Josef Newgarden, the defending IndyCar Series champion and winner last week in Phoenix, was eighth fastest in his Chevy IndyCar V6-motivated Dallara IR-12 during Practice 1 on Friday, circling the course at 1:08.9600. Newgarden picked it up in Practice 2, stopping the clocks at 1:08.9307, third fastest behind Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

“This new car we have moves around a lot more, so on all the bumps it’s not as settled,” Newgarden said. “We have less down-force on the car this year and now the thing is all over the place and you feel it moving around on the bumps and it feels like the rear is going to slide out and throw you into the wall. We’re trying to figure out a setup that calms all of that down and gives you comfort in the car.”

Sorting out a setup for Saturday qualifying and Sunday’s race won’t be easy.

“Suspension is a big deal,” Newgarden said. “Spring split is a big deal as we want more stiffness at the front compared to the rear of the car. That helps traction and stability. We’ll also work on the geometry of the car as well as roll bar rates and suspension dampers. We’ll also try and work the aerodynamic balance, too, to get the right aero pressure on the front and the rear of the car.

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“There are a lot of things that we have to dial through and we haven’t been able to go through everything yet. We won’t get through everything this race weekend, but hopefully we’ll get better and better as the weekend goes on.”

IMSA qualifying

Montoya’s lap of 1:12.922 on Friday was good enough to win the pole position for Saturday’s BUBBA burger Sports Car race of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship series.

Joey Hand and Ford Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Dirk Muller earned the pole in the GT Le Mans class by posting a lap of 1:16.869.

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sports@latimes.com


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