DOUBLE DUTY – As it's been since 2007, the open-wheel feature at Long Beach will also have the American Le Mans Series racing alongside this weekend. Three individuals, plus a handful of crewmembers, will be working in both this weekend.
One of our RACER.com bloggers, Bobby Rahal, is primed for both. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing IndyCar team makes its return to the track, while the ALMS BMW Team RLL M3 looks for a repeat of its GT class victory of a year ago.
Meanwhile Derrick Walker, a longtime competitor with his own Walker Racing team (and one which qualified second with Alex Tagliani on a shoestring effort in the 2008 Champ Car finale here) will be managing the efforts of both Ed Carpenter Racing in IndyCar and the Team Falken Tire ALMS Porsche. Walker joked that “he may be spotted switching team gear Superman-phonebooth style.”
Lastly, Townsend Bell will be providing insight from both the cockpit and pit road. After winning his sports car debut at the 12 Hours of Sebring in the GTC class, Bell now shifts to Alex Job Racing's new Lotus Evora – still scheduled to make its debut – while also doing pit reporting for the NBC Sports Network.
PENSKE LONG BEACH DROUGHT – Just as a desert without water is one in a drought, so too is Long Beach without Roger Penske in victory lane. A third win in a row to start the 2012 season would give “The Captain” only his second Long Beach open-wheel win since Al Unser Jr. won his sixth and final race at the track in 1995. His lone open-wheel win in that 17-year period came with Helio Castroneves in 2001.
If we're being technical, Penske doesn't have a Long Beach win under IndyCar sanction, but still has four all-time at the track – all in succession from 1993 through '95 with Paul Tracy, Unser Jr. in back-to-back years and Castroneves' triumph. And, to be fair, Penske Racing did win overall with its P2 Porsche RS Spyder in the 2007 American Le Mans Series race at the track (RIGHT).
In the interim, Target Chip Ganassi Racing has five wins – four straight to match its championship seasons, with its title-winning drivers from 1996 through 1999 (Jimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi twice and Juan Pablo Montoya), and on IndyCar's return to the track in 2009 with Dario Franchitti.
HISTORY LESSON – The IndyCar field has experience in the IndyCar race at Long Beach, whatever the series iteration, dating to Franchitti's first start on the track in 1997 in a Hogan Racing Reynard-Mercedes. A year later, Franchitti recorded his first open-wheel podium – in a race that also saw the Long Beach CART debuts of Helio Castroneves (then called Castro-Neves) and Tony Kanaan, and an epic comeback by Zanardi with a pass late in the race on Bryan Herta (LEFT).
Herta's driver this year, Alex Tagliani, has the longest active streak of Long Beach starts – every year since 2000 in CART, Champ Car and IndyCar, and before that, four years straight (1996-1999) with two wins in Formula Atlantic. Tagliani seeks a rebound race in the Team Barracuda-BHA entry after failing to survive the first lap at Barber due to engine woes. His best results at Long Beach are third in 2006, and fourth his first start in 2000.
Prior winners at Long Beach include Sebastien Bourdais (three straight from 2005 to 2007), the aforementioned Conway, Hunter-Reay, Franchitti and Castroneves, and also Will Power in the 2008 Champ Car finale. Justin Wilson, who has the second-longest active Long Beach streak, scored the 2008 pole but has yet to add his name to the rostrum of winners.
• The IZOD IndyCar Series Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach airs on NBC Sports Network live Sunday at 3:30 p.m. Eastern.