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Acura Grand Prix Of Long Beach

PREVIEW: 2024 Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach

For years the marquee race at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach was dominated by veteran drivers with experience on the tight downtown street course. Now the youth movement in the NTT IndyCar Series is swinging the pendulum the other way.

Two of the last three champions were under 24-years old when they tore down Shoreline Drive to take the checkered flag. Kyle Kirkwood, 25, won last year for Andretti Autosport in just his 20th IndyCar race. His 10th place finish in Long Beach two years ago was the best of his career until the win last year.

“To have my first win at Long Beach is something incredible,” Kirkwood said last year. “This is such a special place…it’s this race and (the Indianapolis 500). It’s so cool.”

This weekend is the third event of the 2024 IndyCar season after stops at St. Petersburg and Palm Springs. Two-time IndyCar series champion Josef Newgarden cruised to a season-opening victory last month at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. He won in Long Beach two years ago after racing here for over a decade.

“It’s an honor to win here,” Newgarden said of Long Beach in 2022. “This place is a crown jewel of our sport.”

Also in March, IndyCar hosted its first Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge in Palm Springs where Alex Palou won the non-points event that had a record prize $1.756 million at stake.

Kirkwood finished 12th in St. Petersburg and didn’t participate in Palm Springs. He and Andretti Global teammates Colton Herta, who won in Long Beach three years ago, will both be among the favorites to win the very important pole position.

Huerta said this week that a successful driver and team have to be improving all of the time on the streets of Long Beach if they want to survive the elite competition.

“Most of the time it’s similar, you can use what you’ve used in the past, but it’s always evolving,” Huerta said. “Maybe it’s stuff we’ve found at a place like St. Pete, another street course, to bring here. Hopefully it works. You can’t just expect stuff that worked last year to work again this year because guys are always getting better and better. You always have to improve the car setup, improve the driving and every aspect of it.”

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Team owner and famous racer Michael Andretti knows what it takes to be successful in Long Beach where he won his first (and last) IndyCar races here. His father, Mario Andretti, was the first American to win a Formula 1 race on American soil when he also won in Long Beach.

“It’s always extra special (to get your first win) in a place like Long Beach,” Andretti said of Kirkwood last year. “It’s a huge event, and an iconic event. The fans are so into it you just love doing well here. For us, this has been a very special place, there’s so many things we’ve been able to do here in Long Beach.”

The IndyCar 85-lap race on Sunday is the main event that caps three full days of racing featuring six different world class series and types of race cars.

The GT America Powered By AWS will be the first on the track Friday morning, and will wrap up the weekend with a race on Sunday afternoon after IndyCar and the Speed/UTV Stadium Super Trucks. The GT America race features Audi, Aston Martin, Porsche, Ford, McLaren and Toyota cars for a 40-minute sprint race.

IMSA SportsCar Grand Prix will be the main event on Saturday as a 100 minute timed race after IndyCar qualifying. Super Drift will also be competing on Friday and Saturday.

Last year more than 192,000 attended the races throughout the weekend, and that is a record for the modern era since the IndyCar/Champ Car series merger in 2008.

Before that merger happened, veteran driver Sebastian Bourdais won three consecutive marquee races in Long Beach from 2005-2007. He thinks the races here are won with attention to detail.

“The fields have become very dense, the gaps between the cards are really small, and you’re really playing with details to make the difference between and average weekend an a winning weekend,” he said this week. “You have to keep the intensity to the max while not making any mistakes for the duration of the race. The ability to be comfortable, brake really deep and attack for 85 laps is quite critical.”

Bourdais also said that the 49 years of racing here makes the Grand Prix of Long Beach a jewel of open wheel racing.

“Obviously, the history around this event makes it a desirable one, and the organizers do such a great job,” he said. “There’s a reason why this race keeps going and has been for a long time. There’s never really been setbacks, it stays the same and then they add it to it. That’s how events become places like this and events like this. It’s just really cool to see a community growing and this event getting to the scope it’s gotten to.”

The 49th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach will be broadcast live on USA Network on Sunday. Coverage starts at 12 p.m. and the green flag is scheduled to drop at 3:45 p.m.

Kyle Kirkwood Wins First NTT IndyCar Series Race At 48th Acura Grand Prix Of Long Beach
JJ Fiddler
JJ Fiddler is an award-winning sportswriter and videographer who has been covering Southern California sports for multiple newspapers and websites since 2004. After attending Long Beach State and creating the first full sports page at the Union Weekly Newspaper, he has been exclusively covering Long Beach prep sports since 2007.