News from INDYCAR: Dixon leads veteran presence atop Long Beach practice chart

Dixon leads veteran presence atop Long Beach practice chart

LONG BEACH, California (Friday, April 13, 2018) – Being a past winner of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach paid off in practice today for Sunday’s 35th Indy car race on the famous street course in Southern California.

All seven prior race winners entered this year finished in the top 10 on the combined timesheet for the two sessions on the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary circuit. Scott Dixon, the 2015 Long Beach race winner, was quickest for the day with a lap of 1 minute, 8.4112 seconds (103.562 mph) logged in the first of the 45-minute practices.

TOYOTA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH: Practice 1 results; Practice 2 results; Combined practice results

Many drivers, Dixon included, were surprised that lap times in the second session were slower overall, even though each team ran a set of the softer Firestone alternate tires.

“This afternoon was definitely a bit of a different story; really struggled with front grip,” said Dixon, the four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion whose 41 career wins rank fourth on the all-time list. “It seemed like the temperature really affected our car.

“There were a couple others that went quite fast in that session on the red (alternate) tires, and I actually had to do almost a long run on my reds to get them to work. I think I did my quickest time on Lap 7 or 8 (of the stint). It was kind of an interesting session for us, but I think the car is kind of there. It’s just going to take a little bit to get it right.”

Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay – the 2010 Long Beach winner – was second quick with a first-session lap of 1:08.4285 (103.536 mph) in the No. 28 DHL Honda. Alexander Rossi, Hunter-Reay’s teammate driving the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda, led the second practice and was third for the day, at 1:08.5567 (103.342 mph).

“We’re going to need to find that gap was Scott was referring to between the cooler track temps and when it heated up,” said Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champion. “It became quite a bit more difficult to get the lap time out of the car. Kind of a bit of a challenge there. It seems like everybody has their work set out for them.”

Other previous Long Beach winners who landed in the top 10 in practice today were: Simon Pagenaud, fourth in the No. 22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet; defending Long Beach winner James Hinchcliffe, fifth in the No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda; Takuma Sato, sixth in the No. 30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Honda; Will Power, eighth in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet; and Sebastien Bourdais, 10th in the No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda.

Meanwhile, newcomers to the track spent the day feeling their way around it. Andretti Autosport’s Zach Veach was best of the seven rookies, 13th on the overall chart.

“The car was different to drive – we were having some problems in the turning in mid-corner – but it was also my first day here, learning the track and everything,” said Matheus “Matt” Leist, who was 23rd of the 24 drivers in the No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet. “Tomorrow is a new day, we can only move forward from here.”

A final 45-minute practice prior to qualifying starts at 1:45 p.m. ET Saturday and streams live on The battle for the Verizon P1 Award, featuring three rounds of progressive knockout qualifications, begins at 6:30 p.m. and airs live on NBCSN.

Live coverage of the 85-lap race commences at 4 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

Davison named to Indy 500 entry with Foyt, Byrd, Hollinger, Belardi

James Davison became the 35th confirmed driver for next month’s Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil when he was named today to drive the No. 33 Chevrolet entered by AJ Foyt Racing along with partners Jonathan Byrd’s Racing, Hollinger MotorSport and Belardi Auto Racing.

Davison, a 31-year-old Australian, will be attempting to qualify for his fourth Indy 500.

“I am honored to be driving for the legendary A.J. Foyt with Byrd-Hollinger-Belardi at the Indianapolis 500,” said Davison. “This will be my first full program in the four years that I have been a part of the event now. We have expectations to meet and I cannot wait to get after it.”

Davison’s Indianapolis 500 performance last year as a substitute for the injured Sebastien Bourdais caught the attention of the Byrd brothers, who put together the deal for this year. The brothers are sons of the late Jonathan Byrd, who first entered a car in the Indy 500 33 years ago.

“The Byrd family is excited to once again partner with the AJ Foyt Racing team, together with Brad Hollinger and Brian Belardi, to give James Davison the opportunity to win the Indy 500,” said David Byrd, a principal of Jonathan Byrd’s Racing.

Davison’s entry is the third for AJ Foyt Racing, paired with full-season drivers Tony Kanaan and Matheus Leist.

The announcement of Davison’s entry follows that of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, which named JR Hildebrand on Wednesday to drive the team’s No. 66 Chevrolet with sponsorship from Salesforce. Hildebrand will be paired with Sage Karam in the No. 24 WIX Filters Chevrolet as Dreyer & Reinbold fields two Indy 500 entries for the first time since 2011.

“We’ve had 37 cars start the Indy 500 over the past close to 20 years now,” team owner Dennis Reinbold said. “We’re looking forward to adding to that number and really going out there and trying to do whatever we can to win the race.”

Hinchcliffe gets lift from taking a dive at Aquarium of the Pacific

James Hinchcliffe is accustomed to G-forces in an Indy car sticking him to the ground. The Verizon IndyCar Series driver experienced a welcome opposite sensation when he conducted the first underwater news conference in Indy car racing history on Wednesday at the Aquarium of the Pacific adjacent to the Long Beach circuit.

An experienced scuba diver, Hinchcliffe made the 82-foot plunge to the bottom of the Honda Blue Cavern at the aquarium, mingling with the different fish species in the 142,000-gallon tank while answering media questions via an elaborate audio system inside his scuba gear.

“It’s like negative G-force down there,” Hinchcliffe said, still awash in a smile after emerging from the tank. “It’s awesome. In the car, we’re getting tossed around and there is a lot of force on the body. Down there, you are as light as a feather. You float around.

“It’s one step from being in outer space. It’s about as few G’s as you can experience on the planet.”

As he answered questions from media standing outside the tank, Hinchcliffe also “talked” with fish swimming past. He felt right at home in the Honda Blue Cavern’s waters set to represent those in the nearby Pacific Ocean, even if he hasn’t been diving on the West Coast.

“That was awesome!” said Hinchcliffe, the defending Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach winner. “I’m a fish at heart. I love any chance I get to get in the water.

“That was definitely cooler temperatures than I’m used to diving in, but they kept me nice and prepared and well-dressed for it. Getting to see (the wildlife) that is local to the area is very cool, as I haven’t really done much diving on this coast and this side of the country. To be able to have that (special full-face) mask on and be able to talk to everyone that was out there was really cool.”

Castroneves, Montoya earn spots on Long Beach Walk of Fame

Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya were forever immortalized at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on Thursday. The Indy car greats, each a past winner of the popular street race, had plaques commemorating their winning history added to the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame. Both drivers are competing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship this weekend for Team Penske on the 1.968-mile temporary street course.

Castroneves raced Indy car 13 times at Long Beach between 1998 and 2017, scoring a victory in 2001 and sitting on the pole three straight times from 2015-17. The 42-year-old Brazilian holds the track lap record of 1 minute, 6.2254 seconds (106.980 mph) set last year in Verizon P1 Award qualifying.

“It’s an honor, no question,” said Castroneves, the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner who will return to the Verizon IndyCar Series next month for the two races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “Just seeing the names of people who are already a part of the Wall of Fame, it just blows my mind away. In 1996, when I came over here in Indy Lights, my first race ever (was at Long Beach). I wasn’t even thinking about it and, all of a sudden, I’m being inducted and being a part of amazing sport legends.”

Montoya won the 1999 Long Beach race – his first of 15 Indy car wins – on his way to the CART season championship. The two-time Indianapolis 500 winner drove in five Indy car races at Long Beach.

The 42-year-old from Bogota, Colombia, enjoyed following his boss, team owner Roger Penske, who was added to the Walk of Fame in 2016.

“It’s unbelievable,” Montoya said. “I came here two years ago to see Roger get inducted. It was huge, huge names here. You don’t realize when you race and you win races, you never do it to be here. To get recognized for everything that you’ve done, it’s amazing.”

Rutherford surprised by Road Racing Drivers Club honor

Johnny Rutherford came to Indy car racing after success racing midgets and sprint cars as part of USAC’s championship trail in the late 1950s and early ’60s. So, pardon him if he was a bit confused when told he was chosen as the honoree for this year’s Road Racing Drivers Club dinner in Long Beach.

“I wondered why. What did I do?” the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner joked at Thursday night’s event. “Me and the Road Racing Drivers Club? Come on.”

“Lone Star JR” was the latest racing legend honored at the RRDC event, the 10th annual dinner that drew luminaries from around the racing world, including Mario Andretti, Chip Ganassi and drivers with the same background as Rutherford – Sleepy Tripp and Ken Schrader.

“This has given me a chance to think about what I’ve done,” said Rutherford, whose only Indy car road course win among his 27 career victories came at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 1980. “I’ve had a good time. I love that all of this and the honors that have come. I had fun road racing and enjoyed my time in racing with all the different people.”