It’s go time in Long Beach

Leg­endary sea­side course will host the Indy­Car Se­ries’ third race of the sea­son.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Jim Peltz james.peltz@la­times.com Twit­ter: @PeltzLATimes

Indy Car driv­ers Juan Pablo Mon­toya and James Hinch­cliffe carry mo­men­tum into qual­i­fy­ing Satur­day.

Indy­Car re­turns this week­end to one of its most leg­endary cir­cuits, the streets of Long Beach.

The Toy­ota Grand Prix of Long Beach on the 1.97-mile, 11-turn sea­side course is the third race of the sea­son in the Ver­i­zon Indy­Car Se­ries.

Juan Pablo Mon­toya, driv­ing for Team Penske, won the sea­son opener on the streets of St. Peters­burg, Fla., on March 29.

James Hinch­cliffe then cap­tured last week­end’s Grand Prix of Louisiana, a road-course race in New Or­leans that’s a new ad­di­tion to the Indy­Car sched­ule this year.

“It was a huge boost for the whole team,” said Hinch­cliffe, a 28-year-old Canadian who drives for the Sch­midt Peter­son Mo­tor­sports team.

Both driv­ers have mo­men­tum en­ter­ing the 41st Long Beach Grand Prix, with Mon­toya lead­ing the Indy­Car ti­tle stand­ings by 10 points over He­lio Cas­tron­eves, one of Mon­toya’s Penske team­mates.

Mon­toya also won the Long Beach race in 1999 be­fore he moved to For­mula One and later NASCAR stock-car rac­ing. He re­turned to Indy­Car last year.

“Long Beach will al­ways be a spe­cial place for me,” Mon­toya said. “Know­ing that we’ve had the fastest cars at both of the first two races to start the sea­son is a great feel­ing.”

Among the other fa­vorites to win Sun­day is reign­ing Indy­Car cham­pion Will Power, an­other Penske driver who has won the Long Beach Grand Prix twice, in 2008 and 2012.

“Ev­ery­one wants to win at Long Beach,” Power said. “It’s one of the big­gest races in North Amer­ica and a place with so much his­tory.”

An­other fa­vorite is Ryan Hunter-Reay of the An­dretti Au­tosport team. The 2012 Indy­Car cham­pion won the Long Beach race in 2010, and last year he won the sport’s crown jewel In­di­anapo­lis 500.

And French driver Se­bastien Bour­dais, now with the KVSH Rac­ing team, won the Long Beach event in three con­sec­u­tive years, 2005 through 2007.

That was when Indystyle rac­ing was di­vided into two se­ries, the Indy Rac­ing League and the Champ Car World Se­ries, with Bour­dais com­pet­ing on the Champ Car side. The two se­ries re­united in 2008.

“Next to the Indy 500, [Long Beach] is the pre­mier event on our sched­ule,” Bour­dais said.

The cars look de­cid­edly dif­fer­ent this year be­cause the two main auto man­u­fac­tur­ers that back the se­ries, Chevrolet and Honda, rolled out new “aero kits,” or body styles.

“We’re show­ing a lot more speed than last year” with the new aero kits, said Simon Pa­ge­naud, an­other driver of Penske’s Chevro­let­backed cars. “It’s tak­ing a lit­tle bit of time to ad­just, but so far it’s a lot of fun.”

The Long Beach Grand Prix caps a va­ri­ety of rac­ing on the street course Satur­day and Sun­day.

Other se­ries prac­tic­ing and rac­ing in­clude Indy­Car’s sec­ond-level Indy Lights se­ries, sports cars in the Tu­dor United SportsCar Cham­pi­onship and Pirelli World Chal­lenge se­ries, so­called drift­ing cars and of­froad trucks.

There’s also the an­nual pro/celebrity race Satur­day, in which driv­ers com­pete in iden­ti­cally pre­pared Toy­ota Scions.

Chris Carl­son As­so­ci­ated Press

WILL POWER is the reign­ing Indy­Car cham­pion and a fa­vorite to win Sun­day’s race in Long Beach.

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