Dre’s Race Review – IndyCar’s 2024 Grand Prix of Long Beach

Scott Dixon does it again with another outrageous fuel-mileage win at Long Beach. Dre breaks down the Newgarden vs Dixon fight, as well as David Malukas’s rough injury update at McLaren.

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Dre Harrison Reviews



Read time: 8 mins

“Not a bad race for a third world country.”

And in my second DRR in two days, it’s time to look at IndyCar finally having its second Championship race, six weeks after the season began and nearly a month since its Thermal Club B2B marketing race went down like a lead balloon. 

With talks that the series is implementing a charter, its poor public showing over ownership and a charter system, and continued murmurs over the series’ health, IndyCar needed a strong showing at one of its marquee rounds. Thankfully, it got just that. Let’s get into the Grand Prix of Long Beach.

I don’t know why we keep doing this. Maybe it’s like Cody Rhodes at Wrestlemania a couple of weeks ago, where we know the story is going to end but we suspend our disbelief as we enjoy the show. Maybe the timeline of Newgarden slamming the door in the series’ face at St Petersburg caught us out a little bit. But every time we go quiet on Scott Dixon, he comes out of nowhere and stuns us all again. Which is pretty amazing for a guy celebrating his 57th IndyCar win. 

Racing often tells stories, and Long Beach 2024 wove a beautiful tale you had to see to believe. In the red corner, Josef Newgarden. And by all accounts, back to his very best. A strong qualifying effort in third, and led the way early after pole-sitter Felix Rosenqvist got swept at the start. 

Josef took the race by the scruff of the neck, via raw, explosive speed. His main competitors sharing that strategy were Colton Herta and Alex Palou. Herta often showing incredible speed and hunger after his winless streak now sits at 32, and Palou, the best all-rounder the series has seen since Josef established himself at Penske. They got pushed aside in the running-up to this race’s crescendo. 

In the blue corner, Scott Dixon. The almost cliched wily veteran. He’s 44 in July. It’s Year 22 for him in IndyCar, 24 if you include his CART days in 2001. Instead of running Josef’s aggressive, field-passing three-stop strategy, he elects to run the fuel-saving two-stopper run, leading from the front in the middle stages while the chasing pack plays catch-up. On his path was Will Power, another one of the series greats, who a day earlier was just four thousandths shy of his 71st pole position. Behind him, Kyle Kirkwood. A generational prospect who had dominated everything in the single-seater ladder, and who won here last year keeping a white-hot Romain Grosjean at bay in just his third start in an Andretti. 

Power and Kirkwood got crushed. No one in the world can do what Scott Dixon can do in terms of fuel management and extending stints while still staying competitive. Power was 15 seconds behind Dixon on the road by the race’s end. By 70% distance, the broadcast team had played down Dixon’s chances to win. Even Dixon couldn’t quite hit the fuel number needed to stretch his middle stint a couple of laps longer. Newgarden was reeling Dixon in at eight tenths of a second a lap. James Hinchcliffe openly said: “Yeah, good chance at a podium”, but thought the win wasn’t possible. 

But as the laps ticked down, Dixon was managing the gap perfectly, fuel saving where he knew Newgarden couldn’t take a lunge at him while sipping on his Push-To-Pass on the straights to make sure he couldn’t be beaten on a slipstream. And Dixon didn’t give Newgarden an inch. His exits every time, even in traffic, were perfect. We didn’t know it while watching it in real time because you get swept up in the moment, that suspension of belief, but Newgarden was already beaten. You just didn’t know it yet. 

Newgarden didn’t get even the bare minimum of the result he “deserved”, with Herta’s hairpin nudge forcing the #2’s car into “anti-stall” mode, knocking him down to fourth. But Colton couldn’t break Dixon either. When the radio message came through saying “everything you got” on the final lap, the job was done. 

2024 will already mark the 20th consecutive season where Dixon has won at least one race. It’s his 22nd in total, in a series where its youngest driver, Kyffin Simpson, is only 19. And if you look back to his incredible end-of-2023 form, he’s now won four of the last six. And look at the starting positions of those four wins – 15th, 16th, 11th, and 8th. You could argue his ultimate pace has faded as Father Time starts throwing heavier hooks, but Dixon keeps swinging back harder. Like Lionel Messi in his prime at Barcelona, Dixon has a ridiculous knack of making the impossible look routine.

I’ve seen many of the other established press compare Dixon to F1’s own record-pushing veteran, Fernando Alonso. I find it lazy to be honest, because Dixon is without modern-day comparison. I’m adamant he’s the only person on God’s green earth who could have beaten Josef Newgarden for the win on Sunday. He had to be perfect to do it. And he was. And the scariest part of it all was, if you truly appreciate Scott Dixon… you weren’t surprised at all. 

Another smaller story to come out of Long Beach was McLaren and a messy weekend. Pato O’Ward misjudged a check-up at the start of the race and compromised himself and teammate Alex Rossi, another sloppy racecraft error from the Mexican. In the third seat, was the 2023 F2 Champion and Super Formula driver Theo Pourchaire, who’s replaced David Malukas for both this race and Barber this upcoming weekend. 

Pourchaire drove a mature, clean, trouble-free race, and moved up 11 spots from 22nd to 11th on the day, the best of anyone on his team. That’s exactly what you’d ask of a rookie thrown in at the deep end, and you may not have realised it yet, but this only ramps up the pressure on Malukas’ seat.

(Photo by Joe Skibinski | IMS Photo)

There’s been rumblings under the surface for some time already. He was never the #1 option for the seat in the first place, Malukas being the alternative pick when Alex Palou got cold feet on the deal. Chevrolet didn’t rank Malukas in the same tier of driver as Pato O’Ward and Alex Rossi so they didn’t offer as much financial compensation towards McLaren, a debatable vote of no-confidence. 

Then he gets a horrible wrist injury right before the season starts with a six-week recovery timeline initially scouted… only for that to be extended as the injury (involving torn tendons) was actually more severe than hinted. Malukas was meant to have the pins in his wrist keeping it together taken out last week, but they’re still in now. And in the time he’s been gone, Callum Illot, a driver McLaren’s always shown interest in, got a run at the Thermal Club, and Theo Pourchaire was excellent on debut. 

With all that missed time, and high-end talent prepared to sit in, is there a point where McLaren is better off going on without him? Callum’s just as experienced in IndyCar, has already gotten more seat time this year, and Pourchaire is already infatuated with a series he’s entered in good form with Sauber looking elsewhere for its Audi-owned F1 future. I’m not saying Malukas is in trouble yet, but I am saying that the series most important race is in 5 weeks, and I’m not sure you want to put anyone back in the car having just come off a major wrist injury, doing the best part of 240mph. If the clock isn’t ticking yet, surely it has to be soon. 

Gavin Ward, Zak Brown and Tony Kaanan have all tried to rally around Malukas’s recovery but were very non-committal on Malukas’ future. It would be a horrible mess of a situation if McLaren were to move on from him so soon, but as Gavin also said last week… shit happens.

…And while I come out of storytelling mode, the irony of Josef Newgarden screaming for a penalty, the man who once hip-checked Romain Grosjean into a Nashville wall and said: “Welcome to IndyCar” over Herta’s light tap, isn’t lost on me. Everyone in IndyCar loves a good hard wheel-bang until they’re on the receiving end of it.

Highest attendance over the weekend for Long Beach since reunification in 2008. Really good sign that the California market is warming more and more to the overall weekend. With IMSA, GT America and Formula Drift all on the undercard, there are few places where you get more bang for your buck in Motorsport. Amazing given it’s clearly so poor depending on who you ask…

Alex Palou did very little of note to stand out in Long Beach this weekend and still finished a comfortable third. He’s cooking again. 

The race pace isn’t quite there yet but Felix Rosenqvist’s raw speed has been sensational since joining Meyer Shank, another pole position was an immense effort, and it looks like the man himself has finally found a home. Shank’s first pole as a team as well. 

Prema is coming to IndyCar! Very cool that the Italian Kings of Junior Racing are making the switch Stateside to complete a pathway up the ladder of Motorsport. A Chevy engine tender and a two-car team will be debuting in 2025. Prema is rumored to be pairing an established series veteran with alumni from their academy, and that opens up some genuinely interesting possibilities. 

Could they give Callum Illot a permanent home again? Could they tempt Mick Schumacher into a move? In any case, this is great fun for the series. But I do wonder, if Prema is going to have two cars, it takes the series up to 29 full-time cars. With a Leader’s Circle still at 22 and the promise of a Charter system coming, this could lead to F1-level “haves and have-nots” politics between the bigger and smaller teams. One to keep tabs on, as well as seeing if the tracks have the facilities can handle the size of grid IndyCar has. The chat I was told was that anything beyond 27 could be problematic…

About the Author:

Dre Harrison

Somehow can now call himself a Production Coordinator at the Motorsport Network, coming off the back of being part of the awkward Johto Era at WTF1. All off a University Project that went massively out of hand. Weird huh?

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