The 2022 Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach this weekend is a return to normalcy.
The COVID-19 pandemic moved the historic race to September last year when it served as the last race of the NTT IndyCar Series championship. This year, it’s back in its usual April time slot as one of the first races of the season, without any COVID-19 restrictions.
“I’m super stoked to get back to Long Beach this weekend,” said driver Alexander Rossi, who won the race in 2018 and 2019. This will be Rossi’s 100th IndyCar start.
“It is, without a doubt, one of my favorite races as it is always nice to be able to race in front of a home crowd,” he added. “The support that we have there each year is crazy, and it will certainly be pushing us forward to have a great weekend.”
Despite being moved to the other side of the calendar with all of the COVID-19 protocols in place, the Grand Prix still drew more than 180,000 fans to the downtown street course for all of the different races over three days, race officials said. The Grand Prix Association of Long Beach President and CEO Jim Michaelian said he expects that number to be even higher this year.
The races begin on Friday night with the Formula D Super Drift Challenge. On Saturday, the AM Porsche Carrera Cup, the IMSA Sportscar Grand Prix, the Stadium SUPER Trucks and the Historic IMSA GTP Challenge will be featured. Finally on Sunday, the NTT IndyCar Series will start the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach main event at 12:45 p.m. The race will be broadcast on NBC and Peacock Premium.
Last year, 21-year-old Colton Herta won the race after starting in 14th place. That type of performance is extra impressive considering how tight the street course is in Long Beach.
“I’m looking forward to Long Beach, my home race,” Herta said. “It’s always the race that I look forward to the most outside of running the Indy 500.”
Herta, a Santa Clarita native, came to Long Beach when he was a young child to watch his dad, Brian, race the same downtown street course.
“Long Beach sparked my love for IndyCar racing,” Herta said. “Last year, I was lucky enough to win, which was just a dream come true. We want to replicate that performance. I think our street course cars were on point at St. Pete and hopefully, that continues this weekend.”
With Herta looking to repeat the feat, and Rossi trying to bounce back from a slow start this season, their Andretti Autosport team could be the group to watch this weekend.
The other group to keep an eye on is Team Penske, where two-time race winner Will Power and defending Rookie of the Year Scott McLaughlin are off to a great start this year. McLaughlin won the first race of the season and is atop the IndyCar standings. Power is in second place, in front of defending NTT IndyCar Series Champion Alex Palou. (pictured after winning the title in Long Beach last year)
Rossi, Power, Helio Castroneves, Takuma Sato, Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud are the drivers who have already won in Long Beach.
However, those older drivers are really getting pushed by the youth movement in open-wheel racing. McLaughlin took time to address that after the race in September.
“It’s exciting that IndyCar is in such a good position right now,” McLaughlin said. “I certainly believe guys like (Pato O’Ward) and Colton are good enough for Formula 1, the top level, but I don’t see them wanting to leave. IndyCar is so good right now it’s such a good category.”
The first practice for IndyCar in Long Beach will be 3:15-4:15 p.m. on Friday. The second practice will be Saturday 8:45-9:45 a.m. on Saturday before the qualifying rounds from noon to 1:35 p.m.