The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 10th is just the third Indycar race of the season, but it is shaping up to be a must-win race for Honda and Andretti-Honda ace Colton Herta.
The hole that Honda and Herta are in is largely because of the surprise performances of Chevy and Scott McGlaughlin (Penske-Chevy). McLaughlin led a 1-3 finish for Chevy at St. Pete in the opening race, a race on a street course that Herta and Honda dominated last season. McLaughlin finished second behind his Penske teammate Josef Newgarden, who won the oval race at Texas.
Long Beach is a race that should be in the Honda column. It is a street race, which Andretti and Honda have recently dominated. Herta in particular dominated the race when it was the season finale in 2021. Andretti’s Alexander Rossi won the two Long Beach races before than in 2018 and 2019, and Honda Driver James Hinchcliffe won in 2017. Chevy has not won the race since 2016 (Simon Pagenaud). If a Chevy driver wins, it looks like a long season for Honda drivers.
The possible exception to that is Alex Palou. The winner of the driver’s title in 2021, Palou sits third this season after an impressive drive to second at St. Pete and finished seventh in the Texas race in March. Palou is 30 points behind McLaughlin and 2 points behind second-place Will Power (Penske-Chevy). His strength is natural terrain road courses, so to be in third place after a street course and an oval is above expectation.
Herta, on the other hand, is buried in a seventh-place tie, 47 points out of the lead. To get back into the title fight, Herta likely needs to win Long Beach and finish on the podium at the following two natural terrain races at Barber on May 1 and the Indy Road Course May 14.
After two races, the top drivers in the series are:
- Scott McLaughlin (Penske-Chevy) 97
- Will Power (Penske-Chevy) -28
- Alex Palou (Ganassi-Honda) -30
- Josef Newgarden (Penske-Chevy) -32
- Marcus Ericsson (Ganassi-Honda) -39
- Scott Dixon (Ganassi-Honda) -42
- Rinus VeeKay (Carpenter-Chevy) -47
- Colton Herta (Andretti-Honda) -47
Hot teams and cold teams
One way to look at the trends of the 2022 season is to look team-by-team. The clear top team is Team Penske, with three of its drivers (McLaughlin, Power, and Josef Newgarden) in the top four of the driver’s standings.
The clear number 2 team is the top team from 2021: Ganassi. Palou, Marcus Ericsson, and Scott Dixon are 2, 5, and 6. Rinus VeeKay and Herta in their seventh-place tie are the top drivers not part of Chip Ganassi Racing or Team Penske.
The obvious two underachieving teams are Andretti-Honda and McLaren-Chevy. Andretti was looking for much better results this season, but after two races Andretti’s top driver is Herta, tied for seventh.
But Andretti is arguably not the biggest Indycar disappointment this season. That would be McLaren. Pato O’Ward finished third in the driver’s championship last season but is buried in 13th now. His teammate Felix Rosenqvist has been under pressure to provide results in his second season with the team, but he is just 19th.
So while the Acura Grad Prix of Long Beach is always a blue ribbon event of the Indycar Season, this year even more is on the line for Honda and its underachieving Andretti team.