Grand Prix of Long Beach: Colton Herta has helpful blueprint to follow

IndyCar driver Colton Herta and team owner Michael Andretti leave the pits following the first IndyCar practice session for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on Friday. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

Colton Herta drives his IndyCar during a practice session on Friday ahead of this weekend’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. Herta won the race in 2021. (Photo by Chuck Bennett, Contributing Photographer)

IndyCar driver Colton Herta and team owner Michael Andretti leave the pits following the first IndyCar practice session for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on Friday. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

Colton Herta drives his IndyCar around a turn during a practice session on Friday ahead of this weekend’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. Herta won the race in 2021. (Photo by Chuck Bennett, Contributing Photographer)

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LONG BEACH — Colton Herta, driver of the No. 26 Honda-powered entry for Andretti Global with Curb-Agajanian in the NTT IndyCar Series, won the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach in 2021. It’s been a few years since last winning at Long Beach, but Herta said his team has a blueprint for success at the track.

However, winning the race in 2021 was not easy. In fact, he called it difficult. Herta started the race in 14th position and had to work his way through half of the field to the front.

The driver, who grew up in nearby Santa Clarita, said his team is using the car that won in 2021 as a starting point to prepare for Sunday’s race.

The setup, spring rates, wing angles and other mechanical adjustments will be close to the ones his team used when he won the race three years ago.

“We’ll do something similar to that because it’s worked in the past,” Herta said.

He added that it’s an evolutionary process and his team’s approach to this weekend will be flexible.

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“Stuff we found through the years that worked better compared to 2021,” Herta said. “We’ll probably use something around that car as a starting point and make the car better from what we found over the last few years.”

Herta was 12th fastest during the first practice on Friday. Pato O’Ward, driving for Arrow McLaren, had the fastest lap in practice.

Team Penske driver Will Power, who won the Long Beach race in 2008 and 2012, was the second fastest in practice.

ARROW McLAREN

Théo Pourchaire is making his NTT IndyCar Series debut in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. He will be driving the No. 6 Chevrolet-powered entry for Arrow McLaren in place of David Malukas, who is recovering from a left wrist injury and surgery,

Pourchaire, a 20-year-old driver from Grasse, France who won the 2023 FIA Formula 2 championship, said it is an amazing opportunity to race in Long Beach for Arrow McLaren.

“I’ve watched IndyCar since I was a young kid, and the racing is incredible. I was thrilled to get the call from the team,” he said

Malukas is recovering from surgery on his wrist and it is taking longer than expected to heal. The team said it will continue to monitor his progress.

“It’s a shame that David’s recovery is longer than we all originally anticipated,” Arrow McLaren Team Principal Gavin Ward said. “He’s been working with our team trainer very closely with what rehab and strength exercises are possible at this point, and the team’s been doing a great job in the meantime to work together through the changes they’ve had since his injury.”

Pourchaire was the 21st fastest in practice out of 27 drivers.

Qualifying for the IndyCar Series race starts Saturday at 11:25 a.m.

IMSA WEATHERTECH SPORTSCAR CHAMPIONSHIP

IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship driver Ricky Taylor won three races in a row at the Grand Prix of Long Beach, from 2015 to 2017. He won the first two in a Corvette and the third in a Cadillac.

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It’s been a while since Taylor has won a race at Long Beach, and for a while there, he was making it look easy.

But the 10-year veteran in the IMSA endurance racing series will be the first to say it’s not easy, especially at Long Beach.

“When you’re on a roll like that you start thinking it’s easy. It’s a really difficult race to win,” said Taylor, one of the drivers for the No. 10 Acura-ARX in the GTP class for Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti. “There are so many things you have to get right. Every corner, every lap, every pit stop is really under the microscope. Any little mistake can ruin your day.”

Taylor is teamed with Filipe Albuquerque for the Long Beach race. While winning races is always a high point for any driver, Taylor said he enjoys coming to Long Beach because of the fans.

“It’s a great group of fans that come to Long Beach,” Taylor said. “We only do two races in California, so a lot of the same fans come to both. They’re really die-hard sports car fans, all of them.”

Fans make drawings and paintings, or have pictures of him, and they give them to him when they see him at the races.

“For me, that’s a highlight,” he said.

Taylor is off to a rough start to the IMSA season. He had mechanical problems in the first two races and didn’t finish the season opening 24 Hours of Daytona.

“But the car has been really fast. We’re excited to come to Long Beach,” Taylor said. “The car has always been really strong here. Things can only improve from the first two rounds.”

Whelan Cadillac Racing driver Pipo Derani won the overall and GTP pole for the IMSA race. He is teamed with Jack Aiken.

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VasserSullivan driver Parker Thompson in a Lexus RC F won the GTD pole and broke the track record for the IMSA race in the GTD class. Thompson qualified in 1 minute, 17.357 seconds, breaking the record set in last year’s race by Marco Sorensen at 1:17.811. Thompson is teamed with Ben Barnicoat

Albuquerque qualified in eighth position for the Wayne Taylor Racing team.

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The IMSA race is a 100-minute timed event, the shortest race on the IMSA schedule. It starts Saturday at 1:30 p.m. and will be televised on Peacock and USA.

SRO GT AMERICA SERIES

SKI Autosports driver Johnny O’Connell in an Audi R8 won the overall and SRO3 pole for today’s SRO GT America Series race.

“This place is iconic,” O’Connell said. “It is our Monaco. This is one of the trophies you want.”

Lonestar Racing driver Dan Knox won the pole for the GT2 race in a Mercedes AMG and Heart of Racing Team driver Gray Newell in an Aston Martin Vantage AMR won the pole for the GT4 race.

“It feels really, really good to put it on the pole,” Newell said.

There are two SRO GT America races at the Grand Prix of Long Beach. The first is Saturday and starts at 4 p.m. The second race is Sunday and starts at 4:20 p.m.

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