The NTT IndyCar Series visited Long Beach today for the third round of its 2022 season. After being canceled in 2020 and moved to a fall race date in 2021, the Long Beach Grand Prix has returned to its traditional spring date for this season.
Qualifying ended with the 2021 race winner and Southern California native Colton Herta on pole. The session didn’t conclude smoothly as his Andretti Autosport teammate Romain Grosjean crashed and brought out the red flag with two seconds left. As per the regulations, but to the surprise of all the competitors, race control informed the drivers in qualifying’s final round that they would be allowed to complete one last flying lap. Though, this wouldn’t change the outcome of qualifying.
Herta immediately pulled away from the field at the start of the race. By the fifth lap, he was nearly two seconds ahead of Penske’s Josef Newgarden in second. The race’s first caution was thrown on the sixth lap after Foyt’s Dalton Kellett crashed heavily into the outside wall of turn 1. It was a pretty processional affair at the front until the first round of pit stops.
Though, there was some action directly behind the top three. McLaren’s Felix Rosenqvist passed Andretti’s Alexander Rossi for fourth into turn 1, and Rossi aggressively took his spot back at the same place on the next lap. It would create an opportunity for Ganassi’s Marcus Ericsson to catch and overtake Rossi a few laps later. Rossi’s teammate Grosjean would also get by him.
After the first pit cycle, Ganassi driver and reigning champion Álex Palou jumped both Newgarden and Herta to take the lead from third. Herta would end up behind Newgarden after the Penske driver exited the pitlane ahead of him. Palou had a lead of over two seconds by the race’s midpoint.
On lap 56, Colton Herta crashed while pushing to have a fast in-lap to his final pitstop. He locked up, and his car went right into the outside wall at turn 9. Herta managed to get his car to a safe place, and the race stayed green. During his final stop, Josef Newgarden was able to jump ahead of Álex Palou and defend the position as his tires got up to temperature. The caution was thrown four laps later as Simon Paguenaud beached his car in the fountain’s garden.
The race’s conclusion would feature Romain Grosjean on the softer red-sidewalled alternate tires chasing down both Palou and Newgarden. After passing the reigning champion, Grosjean tried to get around Newgarden for the lead. Both drivers emptied their remaining allocations of push-to-pass, and the Penske driver held on to the lead.
A caution was thrown with ten laps to go. Ganassi’s Jimmie Johnson lost control in turn 8, went into the tire barrier, and took Coyne’s David Malukas with him. It was a less-than-satisfactory weekend for Jimmie Johnson fractured his right hand after a crash during practice on Friday. He was medically cleared to participate in the rest of the race weekend with the support of a carbon-fiber splint underneath his glove. Johnson would crash again in practice on Saturday morning and was penalized for impeding Graham Rahal during qualifying.
The race restarted with five laps to go, Grosjean was able to pull alongside on the initial run to turn 1, but Josef Newgarden defended well and kept the position. A caution had to be thrown on the last lap after Takuma Sato hit the tire barriers in turn 8, securing the Long Beach Grand Prix win for Josef Newgarden.
With two consecutive wins, Newgarden takes the championship lead. He leads by 5 points over his teammate Scott McLaughlin. IndyCar will return in three weeks for the Grand Prix of Alabama.