Pagenaud and Bourdais lead IndyCar at Long Beach

LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) The Frenchmen were the fastest Friday on the streets of Long Beach.

Simon Pagenaud and Sebastien Bourdais were first and second in the final practice before qualifying for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Pagenaud was quickest on the 1.968-mile, 11-turn circuit with a lap of 1 minute, 9.1488 seconds.

”The car’s been wonderful. I think the team’s done a great job over the winter at helping the car on the curbs and on the bumps,” Pagenaud said about his Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports entry. ”I feel pretty confident this weekend, we’ve got a pretty good package.”

Three-time winner Bourdais was 0.0120 seconds back in his KV-SH Racing entry.

”I’m pretty happy with where we’re at, we still have a bit of work to do, but the KV-SH Group has done a whole lot over the winter and we’re showcasing it this weekend and hopefully we can put it up front,” he said. ”It’s going to be hard to make a move on somebody on Sunday, so track position is going to be crucial more than ever, but every time we say that we end up seeing more passing than any other race.”

Jack Hawksworth, a rookie, was third, followed by defending race winner Takuma Sato. Will Power, winner of the season-opening race in St. Petersburg, Fla., rounded out the top five.

Honda had the edge with six cars in the top 10.

Juan Pablo Montoya had his strongest showing to date with the ninth-fastest speed in the second practice. The Colombian is back in open wheel after seven seasons in NASCAR.

”I’m doing a better job,” Montoya said. ”I feel like I’m pushing myself harder here than at St. Pete. At St. Pete it was all about being cautious. Here, I’m trying to get a little more performance out of the car early on. We’re making progress. We aren’t there yet but we aren’t that bad.”

Five things going on Friday at Long Beach:

FUTURE OF THE RACE: As the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach prepares for its 40th running on Sunday, its future is under attack.

Grand Prix founder Chris Pook wants the rights to the race back to return Formula One to the streets. The Long Beach City Council recently gave the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach a three-year extension that keeps IndyCar here through 2018, but could open the event up for bidding after that.

F1 ran at Long Beach from 1976 through 1983, then the event became a CART race.

IndyCar drivers want the race to remain an IndyCar event.

”Anyone remember New Jersey?” Andretti Autosport driver Marco Andretti said Friday in a reference to F1’s attempt to stage a race against the skyline of Manhattan.

Former winner Ryan Hunter-Reay thinks IndyCar belongs in Long Beach, and teammate James Hinchcliffe doesn’t believe it is economically feasible for the city to meet Bernie Ecclestone’s financial demands to stage an F1 race.

”The amount of money it would take to get this track Bernie-approved would further bankrupt California,” James Hinchcliffe said. ”I think we are going to be here a while. I would be sad if we lost this race.”

ORIOL’S HOPE: Oriol Servia hopes to turn a four-race stint at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing into a multi-year opportunity. Servia’s first ride for RLL is this weekend at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. He’ll also drive at Barber, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis 500 as a second entry for the team. Graham Rahal is the full-time driver. Servia jumped to RLL after competing in 12 races last season for Panther Racing. Even with the limited schedule, Servia is counting on bigger things ahead. ”I’m looking at this opportunity as one I’ve never had, to build a program that I can take the profit off the build in Year 2 and 3,” Servia said. ”If we put the team together and we start getting successful as we should, there’s no reason why we cannot find proper sponsorship that will allow us to have two or three good seasons together. That’s what you need to challenge the top teams year after year.”

DARIO’S AWARD: Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti accepted a replica Friday of the medallion that he would soon unveil as one of the newest members of the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame. Franchitti joined Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster on the podium for the ceremony. Franchitti joined Grand Prix Association of Long Beach co-owners Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerald Forsythe in having medallions secured in the concrete sidewalk next to the Long Beach Convention Center. The medallions include renditions of the racers’ cars and their major achievements in motorsports. ”I’m going to put this in what we call in Scotland the `I love me room,”’ Franchitti said. ”It’s a real privilege to be inducted. It’s a place that I’ve enjoyed coming to and a track that I’ve really enjoyed racing on.”

MARCO’S WISH: Marco Andretti wants to become the third member of his family to win at Long Beach. Mario Andretti and Michael Andretti also won on the streets of Long Beach, leaving it up to Marco to complete the family sweep. ”This is a big race for me, probably second to Indianapolis that I want to win,” he said. ”My dad and I were talking about it on the way here how cool it would be to have three generations win at one track.”

WILSON’S RUN: Justin Wilson is looking to build at Long Beach on a top-10 finish in the IndyCar opener. But he’ll need to be faster in Saturday’s qualifying to give him a boost for Sunday’s race on the city streets. ”Could have gone a couple tenths of a second quicker, but we weren’t quick enough for P1 whereas earlier in the day we were,” he said. ”I think it’s positive, we just got to make sure we learn the right lessons and put it all together tomorrow afternoon.”