Experience Shows During Long Beach Practice

Will Power set the fastest time in practice for the Long Beach Grand Prix on Friday afternoon. (Al Steinberg Photo)

LONG BEACH, Calif. – Experience paid off on opening day at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, with all seven past race winners entered this year finishing in the top eight on the combined speed chart.

Will Power, a two-time Long Beach race winner, posted the best lap in the second of the two 45-minute practice sessions. Driving the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Power navigated the 11-turn, 1.968-temporary street course in 1 minute, 7.0800 seconds (105.617 mph). The quick lap is within a half-second of the track record set by Helio Castroneves in 2015 (1:06.6294).

“Sometimes you get it right, like the setup,” said Power, the 2014 Verizon IndyCar champion and Long Beach winner in 2008 and 2012. “You know, it’s only practice. (By being fastest,) you can show everybody where they’re lacking, they’ll go back and study it. I was hoping (other drivers) would go quicker, but they didn’t.

“But, yeah, it’s a cool track. Enjoy it, street course, just try to put the pieces together.”

Marco Andretti, who ran second Friday with a lap of 1:07.3576 (105.182 mph) in the No. 27 United Fiber & Data Honda, was the only driver in the top eight who hasn’t won at Long Beach. The Andretti Autosport driver’s best finish in eight previous starts was sixth in 2009.

“The UFD car is on edge, but I think that’s where we need to be to be quick,” Andretti said. “I like the predictability of the car. I felt like I could drive it to the limit, which is important to be able to wring it out in qualifying. I’m pleased with the pace and the pace we had all through testing, so it’s good to keep the pace here and back it up. We really need to convert this pace into results, and I really think we can.”

Following Andretti on the speed chart combining both practices were the six other past Long Beach winners: Simon Pagenaud (2016), Takuma Sato (2013), Ryan Hunter-Reay (2010), Castroneves (2001), Sebastien Bourdais (2005-07) and Scott Dixon (2015). All but Dixon logged their fast lap in the second practice, when most drivers opted to use the additional set of Firestone red-sidewall alternate tires provided this season on road- and street-course weekends.

“The (additional set of) reds, that’s a new thing this year,” Andretti explained. “I’m a fan of it because it takes the guessing out of it for (qualifying) tomorrow. Being able to try the reds today, I’m a big fan of. I think that way everybody is absolutely rung out and you’re not sort of guessing at the balance.”