Random Thoughts On Long Beach

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From a pure marketing standpoint, I’m not sure that the Izod IndyCar Series could have scripted a better result than what they got yesterday at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The popular young American driver from a team that has struggled recently and with the series sponsor on the side of his car; drove to a dominating victory at the second most visited venue on the circuit that happens to be located in one of the largest markets in the country.

Not that he really needed to, but Ryan Hunter-Reay certainly validated his presence in the series and showed how worthy he is of a top full-time ride. I certainly hope this will give Izod or another sponsor out there enough of a reason to step up and write a sufficient check to fund the remaining portion of his season with Andretti Autosport to guarantee full-time status for the young American.

It has been a long road for Hunter-Reay since he last won in the Izod IndyCar Series at Watkins Glen in 2008. First and foremost, he had to deal with the lingering illness of his mother, who passed away during the offseason. If that weren’t enough, Rahal-Letterman Racing – the team that he drove for in in 2008, failed to secure sponsorship leading into the 2009 season and suspended operations.

Tony George signed him just before the 2009 season opener for the woefully underfunded second car at Vision Racing. Other than a second place finish in the season opener at St. Petersburg, his stint at Vision was a disaster that steadily grew worse with every race – culminating in a horrible month of May which saw him put the car into the field in a last minute heroic effort. After Indianapolis, Tony George’s sisters essentially took the checkbook away from him and he had to let Hunter-Reay go immediately following the Texas race. From there, he joined AJ Foyt Racing in a substitute role for the ailing Vitor Meira. Things didn’t improve any, although Hunter-Reay did give the Foyt ABC Supply car some decent runs later in the year.

Heading into the offseason, questions were swirling around Hunter-Reay’s future. He had signed on a couple of years ago as a personal spokesperson for Izod, and last fall they were announced as the series sponsor. Surely, their favorite driver would land somewhere.

A reshuffle at Andretti-Green Racing found Michael Andretti as the new sole owner of the team. Three of their four drivers from last year’s sub-par season were coming back, but Hideki Mutoh was moving on. It was widely believed that the newly renamed Andretti Autosport would cut back to a three car effort after running four full-time cars since 2004. But then, Izod stepped up and guaranteed funding for a partial schedule at Andretti Autosport for Hunter-Reay.

After Andretti-Green went winless for the first time in 2009, Hunter-Reay has brought Andretti Autosport its first win under the new structure and their first win since Tony Kanaan won at Richmond in 2008 – a string of 28 races. Now the part-time driver finds himself third in the championship point standings, just 43 points behind points leader Will Power. Still, his future is unsure. No one seems certain what will happen to the American star beyond Texas. Although, Andretti Autosport certainly appears to be on the upswing, I doubt that Michael Andretti can afford to run Hunter-Reay out of his own pocket – and he shouldn’t have to.

If Izod cannot or will not step up with additional funding, surely some American companies would want to capitalize on what is now a proven American commodity. Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi come under a lot of fire for not hiring Americans, but they simply hire who they think give them the best chance to win. Well, here’s a chance for an American company to go with one of the few Americans in the series, who is now a multiple race winner in the series (not to mention his record in Champ Car).

And who’s to say that Hunter-Reay isn’t the reason for the resurgence at Andretti Autosport? I know Tom Anderson’s presence has a lot to do with it, but don’t underestimate Hunter-Reay’s presence as well. For the first time since Dario Franchitti left after winning the championship in 2007; Tony Kanaan has a teammate he can actually relate to and bond with, instead of serving as the team’s official car setup expert and its unofficial baby-sitter.

Whoever does it or however it’s done; Ryan Hunter-Reay deserves a fulltime ride and the series needs him fulltime as well.

TV Coverage: For the second week in a row, Lindy Thackston has served as host of IndyCar Central – the pre-race show for Versus; and has done an admirable job. Lindy is only in her second season covering IndyCars, but she was a quick study and has quickly earned a lot of credibility among fans. She fits in as “one of us”.

Jack Arute introduced his new digs in the PerformX Pit Central, which appeared stuck out of the way at one end of pit road. I can’t say that it was a needed addition and his large TV monitor didn’t show well at all as he kept pointing to a picture of a cutaway car. They need to get a real one like Jack had use of, on the ABC telecasts.

The graphics on the IndyCar Non-Stop weren’t functioning properly during the first two commercial breaks. They finally got it updated correctly to show the lap and top three positions before the second break was over.

Bob Jenkins had a few more minor gaffes than normal, which will get the naysayers going again. To them, I’ll give a pre-emptive “who cares?” – I’d rather listen to Bob Jenkins with a few snafus in his delivery, than a perfect performance by Marty Reid any time.

The Race: The race itself was kind of boring, especially in the first half. It was sort of like watching a scoreless baseball game – you just had a feeling something big was about to happen. I wouldn’t say anything big happened, but when Justin Wilson was clipped by Alex Lloyd; things got more interesting. Wilson’s cause was helped tremendously by the full-course caution brought on by Mario Romancini’s dive-bomber move into Graham Rahal going into turn one.

Of course, the move (or gift) of the race was when Will Power suddenly slowed after turning onto Shoreline Drive. The Versus crew speculated that he hit the pit-lane speed limiter, but Power said it got stuck in first. Whatever the cause, the momentary slowdown was enough to allow Hunter-Reay and Justin Wilson to slip by him as he fell from first to third. Passing was tight, so without that I’m not sure Hunter-Reay would have been able to ever get by Power.

The race was typical for Long Beach – a great event wrapped around a so-so race. I don’t know why so many purists were squawking about Barber last summer when the schedule was announced. Long Beach offers very little passing, but the non-oval fans seem to love Long Beach. I understand its significance on the schedule, but I’ll never be convinced that great racing goes on there.

All in all: It was an interesting race, even if it wasn’t breathtaking. There were enough storylines throughout the day to make it interesting and it had a “feel good” ending. I’m an admitted Team Penske fan, but I was pulling for either Hunter-Reay or Wilson to win – either one would have made me happy. I like Will power and won’t have a problem with him winning the championship – but I don’t want to see him run away with it in April. I was also glad to see Andretti Autosport back in the winner’s circle. It’s refreshing to see the Penske-Ganassi stronghold broken. Now, it’s off to Kansas in a couple of weeks and onto the ovals for the first time this season. Stay tuned.

George Phillips

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19 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Long Beach”

  1. tim nothhelfer Says:

    Great stories and results……
    But I’ve had enough of the “EVENTS”….and am ready for some “RACING”!

  2. “Scripted” and Hollywood was the appropriate venue for the script.
    It looked as if Will Powrer Gave the race away to RHR and the interview with the team owner made it look like it was an offer that coudn’t be refused.
    Would love to see RHR and GR as a team… along with the golf and the cars on display. The other race(ALMS) was more interesting as far as racing goes-

    • Oh, come on. A Penske driver has never “pulled over” for someone, in a April, pre-Indy race, to let a “good story” American driver win the race. Never happened, that I can recall (sarcasm alert).

      Helio just ran out of fuel in Japan and Power’s car just suddenly jumped out of gear yesterday. That’s what the script said to do and Penske always follows the script.

      The race itself was a bore. A typical Long Beach parade. But I am sure the party was a rager, so who cares.

      The REAL race season now begins.

      • Um, isn’t one of the complaints about Roger (along with all of the other car owners) that he does what’s best for HIM, not what’s best for the series? How, exactly, would him giving away 10 points (the difference between 1st and 2nd) be what’s best for him, when championships of late have often come down to margins in the single digits? Wouldn’t he look kind of stupid if Power goes on to lose this championship by like 8 points? Also, I distinctly remember Curt Cavin writing something after Motegi 2008 that Helio’s car had less than 0.1 gallons of fuel in the tank after the race, meaning that if he hadn’t slowed down in the closing laps that he’d definitely have run out. Is Cavin in on the cover up? Any reason that we haven’t heard any muckracking stories by Robin Miller to hold up a negative light on the League?

        The story wasn’t that Will Power’s car popped out of gear, it’s that it hung up in a gear. Given that IndyCar gearboxes rarely use 1st gear outside of the pitlane, I fail to see how that’s all that crazy an idea. A wild, one-off coincidence? Yes, but it happens. It’s auto racing. Crazy things happen.

        I know, I know, it’s too fun to throw around conspiracy theories (and I’ve had a lot of fun over the years throwing around those theories when it comes to NASCAR), but this crap about Penske “giving” wins to Danica and RHR is nothing more than that…crap.

  3. Where’s the option: “I don’t have Versus so I couldn’t watch it”?

    Sounds like it wasn’t a bad race. Congratulations to RHR and AA on their win.

  4. bickelmom Says:

    I agree with you on all counts, George. I had to yell at my TV a few times to correct Bob Jenkins, but he is still worlds better than the other option. The race was a little on the boring side, but I forgave it because RHR won. It gave me the chance to make a lovely salad for dinner. : )

  5. It wasn’t a bad race, but it wasn’t great either – it kept me entertained for the duration.

    Serious questions need to asked of Duno though. She’s been poor before, but yesterday even she stooped a a new low and the first time where people seemed to be openly talking about her being parked as opposed to having “handling issues”.
    saturday morning practice, she was nearly 12 seconds off of Power and about 7/8 seconds slower than the next driver, Alex Lloyd.
    In my eyes, the League needs to act, because it’s becoming embarrassing for the series

  6. It really couldn’t have gone better. Looking at this, Izod’s sponsorship of the series is paying dividends in so many ways and Long Beach reflected it. From getting actual celebrities to Hollywood Boulevard to making a race weekend an event – something to be at, Izod is stepping up and making people take notice of the IndyCar Series when it rolls into town.

    • Exactly, BP. My thoughts exactly.

      (Now can we all settle on whether it’s “IZOD” or “Izod?” And that’s not a rhetorical question. These different versions are making my O.C.D. flare up like hay-fever.)

  7. From an event perspective and a publicity perspective this race was great for the IIRS. Izod is doing an amazing job as title sponsor.

    From a racing perspective, while happy for RHR, it was a bit of a merry-go-round. There was some overtaking going on in the pack, but not enough happening up front to make it great.

    Since they were so close to Hollywood, maybe they should have set up some rain machines. Seems like the rain keeps everyone closer together and makes for exciting racing.

  8. Watching Will Power slow down because he hit his speed -pit- limiter was just coincidentally suspicious… but the racing seems rather stacked up as of late. The weekend is the party and since I used to really like RHR I was happy for him…Watching Danica gloat and gesture after the race was genuinely sad-
    Now American Open Wheel racing is pretty..and the winner is prettier. Only in L.A.

  9. BentWickerbill Says:

    On occasion even the Captains day does not turn out the way he would have liked it to. The best laid plans of mice and men as it were. I recall rear wing box bolts shearing on Helios and I believe also on Hornish’s car several years back nearly killing both of them, errant wheel bearing seizures et-al, thats racing folks. Does anyone remeber back two races when Marco and Tony were essentially taken out of any level of contention at St. Pete when they both unavoidably drove through the field of parts pieces and carbon fiber that Scott Dixon sprayed across the track? Like MA said in that horribly shot Jack Arute, ‘filmed in black and white, ala’ convicted felon lighting and camera angles (I expected MA’s voice to be broadcast in that off frequency manner that they use to hide the identity of those in the witness protection program.) Whatever it takes, every team out there is always looking for an edge the other teams do not have…. That segment along with that pitiful excuse for an HD monitor that Jack was using for show and tell were kind of scary even for an upstart professional sports casting company like Versus. BTW, Do you folks listen to some of the unsubstantiated mumbo jumbo drivel, that Robbie Buhl spouts during any given broadcast.? Bob Jenkins has forgotten more about open wheel racing than Robbie Buhl will ever hope to know.

  10. I thought the race was alright, it was DEFINITLY better than Barber. Glad to see an American win, and glad to see the ovals again. Although I’m a little worried about starting the oval season at Kansas, I don’t remeber it being that great of race the last 2 years….

  11. Namitamaki Says:

    Now Hunter-Reay, who led 64 of the 85 laps in Long Beach, is the brightest of all of Izod’s new stars? Really?
    Front row not too hot yet-
    accept for Banana boy.

    When Paul Tracy comes to town, the game will change. The untrained Mizod will have to get the 411 on the new starpower rules of play-

  12. Stephen_P83 Says:

    I just got to see the race today (thank you DVR), so I’m a little late with my comments. I made a post Saturday morning after the qualifying report saying that I was hoping Ryan Hunter-Reay would win. WOW!!!! My wish came true! What a great race. Hunter-Reay cemented himself as my new favorite driver. (For anyone curious, Ryan overtook TK as my number 1 diver). I’m really glad that another team won. I just don’t want a season like last year where only one team other than P and G won a single race. I do like Penske Racing, but I like to see competition as well.

    I don’t know if anyone will read this comment now since it’s a little late, but you gotta be happy with the direction the series is taking. I’ll admit right now that I am a HUGE, MASSIVE fan of all things road racing related (did anyone see the ALMS race…AMAZING SHOW) but the series really has gotten off to a great start with the road course part of the schedule. The series has a pretty big buzz around it heading into Kansas and while I am not a huge fan of oval racing, I’m looking forward to seeing the ovals. I really think that the biggest strength of the IZOD Indycar Series right now is the diversity of the schedule (honestly I wish it was more like 13 road courses and 4 ovals, but I digress). There is no other series in existance, that I know of at least) with a 50/50 split of road and street courses. Our drivers really have to have some talent to do both. Anyway, I really enjoyed Long Beach. Looking forward to Kansas (and especially Texas since I’m going), and if you haven’t saw the ALMS race you should watch it now!!!!

  13. The ALMS race was great-if you haven’t seen it, you should see it. Sports car racing in Long Beach was very exciting, no kids, though.

  14. The ALMS race was great-if you haven’t seen it, you should see it. Sports car racing in Long Beach was very exciting, no kids, though.

    What do you mean? I like this. LOL

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