What to Watch: IndyCar Celebrates Its 40th Event at Long Beach—America's Mini-Monaco

racers at inaugural grand prix of long beach 1975
What to Watch: IndyCar Celebrates Mini-MonacoBob Riha Jr - Getty Images
  • IndyCar took over the Grand Prix of Long Beach in 1984, and the race for decades has been a highlight of the open-wheel season.

  • Many consider the race at Long Beach the second jewel of the IndyCar schedule, second only to the Indianapolis 500.

  • Kyle Kirkwood started on the pole for last year’s Long Beach race and led 53 of the 85 laps on the way to his first series victory.

Event founder Chris Pook envisioned the Grand Prix of Long Beach as a mini-Monaco—a race and a party on a seaside circuit that would spotlight the roar of engines and the scenery of southern California.

It all started in 1975, Pook putting together a Formula 5000 race for the opener. He got considerable help from Dan Gurney, whose name gave the event instant cachet and was a big selling point in discussions with area government officials. Brian Redman won the first race.


The next year, Long Beach moved onto the Formula 1 schedule, and the event began building its reputation as a must-see. Expenses climbed dramatically through the years, however, and Formula 1 eventually moved on.

IndyCar took over the show in 1984, and the race for decades has been a highlight of the open-wheel season, second only to May and all that Indianapolis Motor Speedway has in store.

josef newgarden indycar
Josef Newgarden enters the weekend atop the NTT IndyCar Series standings on the strength of his opening win at St. Petersburg.Penske Entertainment/James Black

The anticipation for Long Beach is multiplied by the fact that IndyCar hasn’t had a points race since the season-opener March 10 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida. Josef Newgarden won, showing Penske strength out of the gate.

Teams competed in an exhibition event at the Thermal Club in California March 24, but this weekend’s activity at Long Beach will spin the series into high gear. Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama will host the third race April 28 as a prelude to the month of May at Indy.

The Long Beach course stretches 1.968 miles through 11 turns and sends drivers along Shoreline Drive and around the Long Beach Convention Center. Palm trees will sway, drinks will be served, there will be sunbathing and people-watching, and, oh by the way, there will be a race.

Practice is scheduled to begin Friday. Qualifying is Saturday, and the 85-lap race is set for 3 p.m. (ET) Sunday.

“Long Beach is very tough because it has a massive variation of high speed and low speeds,” Graham Rahal said. “The hairpin turn is one of the lowest of the year. And the fountain turn is very slow. But Turn 9 at the end of the backstraight is very fast, and Turn 1 and Turn 4 are quick. Turn 4 tests your corner exit, and Turn 5 is extremely bumpy.”

Andretti driver Kyle Kirkwood started on the pole for last year’s Long Beach race and led 53 of the 85 laps on the way to his first series victory. Following were Romain Grosjean and Marcus Ericsson.

Sunday’s race will mark IndyCar’s 40th event at Long Beach.

kyle kirkwood indycar
Kyle Kirkwood was the king of Long Beach after winning last year’s race.Penske Entertainment/Joe Skibinski

What To Watch at Long Beach

(Courtesy of IndyCar)

1. Kirkwood on repeat?: Since 2008 only Alexander Rossi has been able to back up one Long Beach win with another – he did it in 2018-19.

Kyle Kirkwood has the potential to double down after scoring his first IndyCar Series victory at Long Beach last season. Kirkwood, who scored two wins on street courses in 2023, hopes to rekindle his street-course magic this weekend. Can the rising star score back-to-back wins at Long Beach?

2. It’s not where you start…: Except for Alexander Rossi’s wins in 2018-19 and Kyle Kirkwood’s win from pole last season, the top spot has not been the place to start at Long Beach.

Just six drivers have ever won Long Beach from the top spot, and while pole sitters have scored podium finishes in recent races, they’ve also finished 15th or worse just as often (Colton Herta – 23rd in 2022, Ryan Hunter-Reay – 20th in 2014, Dario Franchitti – 15th in 2012 and Justin Wilson – 19th in 2008).

3. …It’s where you finish: Scott McLaughlin and Colton Herta are the only drivers so far this season to finish in the top five in both of this season’s racing events. McLaughlin has podium finishes at St. Petersburg and the non-championship race at The Thermal Club, while Herta has finishes of fifth (St. Pete) and fourth (Thermal).

Keeping that mark could be a challenge for both. McLaughlin has only one top 10 at Long Beach (10th in 2023) in three previous starts while Herta has an average finish of 12.75 despite a pair of top-five finishes.

4. New for the weekend: An updated, lightweight aeroscreen featuring vents for increased cooling and 3D printed in rubber to prevent hand injuries also will debut at Long Beach this weekend.

The revised aeroscreen will also drop the total system weight reduction by 11.1 pounds, which reduces downforce by approximately 35 pounds.

As was used in St. Petersburg, the field again will be split into two groups for the opening 75-minute practice.

Following the 45-minute “All Cars” session, each group – split by odd and even numbered pit boxes – will receive a 10-minute segment. As in qualifying, the clock in Segments One and Two will stop for the first red flag condition of each practice segment. Rookie drivers are permitted to participate in both group sessions, regardless of group. Teams are welcome to use a set of alternate tires at their discretion. The update comes after a collaboration with teams and drivers.

Race Notes:

racer mario andretti at long beach grand prix race 1984
Mario Andretti won the Indy Car’s first Long Beach race in 1984.Bob Riha Jr - Getty Images

Happy 40th: This weekend’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach will mark the 40th IndyCar Series event on the historic Long Beach street circuit. Mario Andretti won the first IndyCar Series race in 1984. Kyle Kirkwood won the race in 2023.

California Dreamin': Three California natives are entered: 2018 and 2019 race winner Alexander Rossi is a native of Nevada City, while Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta hails from Valencia. Rookie Nolan Siegel, the Indy NXT by Firestone points leader, is making his first official NTT IndyCar Series start at Long Beach. The 19-year-old driver hails from Palo Alto.

Former Race Winners: Al Unser Jr. has won the most times at Long Beach (six), while Will Power and Alexander Rossi are the only entered drivers with multiple wins. Power won in 2008 and 2012, and Rossi won in 2018 and 2019. Other former race winners scheduled to compete are Scott Dixon (2015), Colton Herta (2021), Josef Newgarden (2022) and Kyle Kirkwood (2023).

Win From the Pole: Six drivers have won the race from the pole – Mario Andretti (1984, 1985 and 1987), Al Unser Jr. (1989-90), Helio Castroneves (2001), Sebastien Bourdais (2006-07), Alexander Rossi (2018-19) and Kyle Kirkwood (2023).

will power indycar long beach
Will Power will be making his 18th start at Long Beach in an Indy car.Penske Entertainment/Chris Owens

Experienced Field: Twenty of the 27 drivers entered have competed in IndyCar Series races at Long Beach. Will Power has 17 starts, the most among all entered drivers. Nine entered drivers have led laps: Power 172, Alexander Rossi 151, Scott Dixon 104, Josef Newgarden 81, Colton Herta 71, Kyle Kirkwood 53, Alex Palou 24, Graham Rahal 4 and Agustin Canapino 3.

Rookies: In addition to Siegel, four other NTT IndyCar Series rookies –Tom Blomqvist, Linus Lundqvist, Christian Rasmussen and Kyffin Simpson - are expected to compete. All five rookies and Pietro Fittipaldi will be competing in their first IndyCar Series race on the streets of Long Beach.

Milestones: Josef Newgarden will attempt to make his 200th IndyCar Series start at Long Beach…Newgarden needs to lead two laps to pass Tony Kanaan for 11th on the IndyCar Series all-time laps-led list…Scott Dixon will look to extend his consecutive starts streak to 323 – the longest streak in IndyCar Series history.