9:07 AM Friday — As the Verizon IndyCar Series head west for the first California stop of the 2014 season, a number of questions coming out of St. Petersburg look to get answered this weekend. First and foremost will be the weekend of Will Power. Though nobody is going to say this weekend will set the tone for the remainder of the season, many teams, especially those whom considered themselves title contenders, will be rightfully concerned if Power leaves Long Beach this weekend with a dominating performance and victory. At St. Petersburg, Power looked to have regained his old form and never put a wheel wrong all weekend. Another weekend like that will no doubt send a message throughout the paddock that Power is back on his game and the road to the championship will certainly go through the #12 Verizon Team Penske stable.
Long Beach will also give us a better idea of who are the contenders and who are the pretenders after opening weekend. A handful of drivers including rookies Jack Hawksworth and Mikhail Aleshin outperformed expectations all weekend long. Others, such a returning veteran Juan Pablo Montoya, struggled out of the gate and had performances that most likely left them hoping for more this weekend.
Of course all the drivers this weekend are looking for a strong race, but some have just a bit more inspiration than others. Takuma Sato and AJ Foyt Racing come into this weekend as the defending winners and look to back up their effort from last year by returning to victory lane this year. After last year’s victory, Sato’s season took a sour turn, and a near victory at Brazil ultimately proved to be the beginning of the end for that teams early season success.
2011 race winner Mike Conway is back again this season, driving this year for Ed Carpenter Racing. After a slow start to his weekend in St. Pete, Conway bounced back early in the 110-lap race before a pit miscommunication and on-track penalty took him out of contention on his way to a 16th-place finish. Conway always runs well on the street courses, and now the Ed Carpenter Racing team has shown they can give him the equipment to run near the front of the field.
The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is always considered a marquee event on the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar, and with the event celebrating its 40th Anniversary this year, the event is even bigger than ever. Besides the pageantry and glitz that accompanies any event in Southern California, race organizers are displaying 40 years of memories and memorabilia for fans in attendance. As part of the attraction, Long Beach and open-wheel legends Mario Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. (who made the Streets of Long Beach his personal playground with an astounding six victories here) will be signing autographs during the weekend festivities.
On the personal side, this is my first visit to the Street of Long Beach and an event that has long been on my bucket list. I’m looking forward to experiencing and reporting all those little things that people experience when they visit a new venue. For an event with so much history, I feel I will be short on time to take it all in, but I will do my best to give my overall impression of the track, facilities, surroundings, events, and culture. More than a few people have sung the praises of this long-standing race, and I’m excited to soak it all in for myself.