Random Thoughts On Long Beach

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The third stop of the season for the IZOD IndyCar Series was shaping up as a sleepy parade, but quickly got interesting. The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach was not offering much for viewers to latch onto, until Helio Castroneves punted Justin Wilson on Lap 24. Then all kinds of things started to unfold.

Pole sitter Will Power took the lead at the start and everyone pretty much maintained their original starting positions throughout the first twenty-five laps. Then when Wilson spun, a few cars – including Ryan Briscoe and Alex Tagliani – darted into the pits expecting a full-course caution. It didn’t happen. When it looked like Briscoe was destined for another poor finish, Paul Tracy booted Simona de Silvestro out of the way the very next lap, leading to the needed full-course caution. Suddenly, Briscoe and Tags found themselves up front.

From that point, there was a lot of jockeying for position behind the leaders. Things were fairly entertaining at that point. Then, with about twenty-five laps to go – EJ Viso kept his streak alive by tearing up another car on a race weekend. His record for 2011 is still perfect. This brought out only a local yellow, but Justin Wilson spun soon afterwards and that brought out the full-course caution that bunched up the field to bring another double-file re-start.

When the green flag waved on Lap 66, Briscoe was leading with Ryan Hunter-Reay lined up beside him. Will Power shot up to challenge Hunter-Reay for second. As they approached Turn One, Power backed off but his teammate, Helio Castroneves, locked up his brakes and slid right into Power. Neither Penske car could fire their engines. By the time they got re-started to re-join the field, Power was in eleventh and Helio was twelfth.

When the field came down for the next re-start, all eyes were on Briscoe and Hunter-Reay. Lurking in fourth place was an inconspicuous Mike Conway, whose season had gotten off to a horrible start. Conway immediately passed Dario Franchitti for third, and blew by his teammate Hunter-Reay, who had suddenly developed gearbox problems, for second. Soon afterwards, he did away with Ryan Briscoe, took the lead and never looked back.

This should be a popular win. Although he doesn’t show a lot of personality, it’s my understanding that Mike Conway is very well thought of in the paddock. Less than eleven months ago, he was in a horrifying crash on the last lap of the Indianapolis 500 that ended his season. He’s with a new team and he’s now won his first race in the IZOD IndyCar Series. I will toot my own horn in recalling that I picked Mike Conway to win at Barber. OK – so, I was seven days too soon.

TV Coverage: Since I was at Barber last weekend, this was my first chance to watch the new Versus crew on a live basis. Overall, I was very impressed.

Most know that I don’t really follow the Firestone Indy Lights Series. I wait until some of the drivers actually move up into the IZOD IndyCar series before I learn anything about them. Yesterday was the first time I have watched an Indy Lights race from start to finish. With Versus showing them as a live lead-in to the main race, I’ll watch more. I was pleasantly surprised with Mike King. I always considered him the weak link on the IMS Radio Network, but I thought he did a very good job on the Indy Lights telecast. I won’t say the same for Willy T. Ribbs. He sounds like he is reading a legal document and falling asleep in the process.

Another pleasant surprise is Wally Dallenbach, Jr. Watching Wally in the past on NASCAR telecasts, I usually found him to be annoying. When I first heard that he was joining the Versus IndyCar booth, I wasn’t pleased. I felt like it was another attempt to satisfy potential NASCAR viewers with one of their own, much like the miserable Rusty Wallace experiment with ESPN/ABC. Instead, I’ve found Wally to be insightful, witty and enjoyable to listen too. It helped hearing him say on Trackside that IndyCars were his first love. That’s understandable, since his father raced them in the sixties and seventies and was CART’s chief steward for a number of years.

I know Kevin Lee caught some grief for his performance on “Through The Field” at Barber. I watched the replay later last week and he flubbed it pretty well. But like the pro he is, he rebounded nicely at Long Beach with no noticeable gaffes. I’ll throw out the disclaimer that I like Kevin. We’ve talked a few times, swapped some e-mails and he’s been kind to me on “Blogger Night”. But what I like about him is his style. As host of Trackside, he comes across as very prepared but also very human. His interaction with Curt Cavin is like listening to two old friends talking racing in a bar for two hours every Thursday night. I’m a little biased, but I think Kevin Lee does an excellent job in his new role with Versus.

Although the director moved away from a couple of shots again, the only real negative comment I’ll offer to Versus is to ask them to move their telemetry graphics during the in-car camera shots. It needs to be moved to the bottom of the screen. I like watching the road ahead to get an idea of how quickly a driver has to react to things ahead. Anytime there is a turn or an obstacle to the right – our view is obstructed by the graphics box.

Of course, the biggest plus of the Versus coverage is the addition of Robin Miller. My only complaint is they need to use him more. He brings great information – like when he said that Bryan Herta Autosport and Dan Wheldon will be doing the testing of the 2012 car later in the season. If that was out there, I’d never heard it before. Great stuff.

Ragged Start: The start and subsequent re-starts were very ragged and disjointed. I’m not sure if it was due to coming off of the hairpin turn or if it was by design to spread out the field before they hit Turn One. Whatever the case, it looked bad for TV. Do what they need to do for the next race in Brazil, but my hope is that they create a photo-worthy tightly aligned three-wide field for the Indianapolis 500.

Great Firestone Ad: Firestone has cranked out some great commercials the last few years. My personal favorite was the “Magic Rings” campaign from two or three years ago. They hit a home run this year with the “100 Years of Racing” commercial they ran yesterday. I just wish they ran it more than once.

Wilson Woes Continue: Now that Briscoe and Conway have jump-started their seasons, the biggest disappointment of this young season has to be Justin Wilson. I really expected big things from him this season – especially on the road courses. You’ve got to cut him some slack with his wrist injury from the first race, but things have gone from bad to worse. He finished twenty-second yesterday, his worst finish of an already bad season.

Bad Day For Simona: In fact, it was a rough weekend. She wasn’t particularly fast in practice. Then she brushed the wall in qualifying, which ended her day early. Then she fell victim to Paul Tracy’s manners and was spun around exiting the hairpin on lap twenty-five. After two top-ten finishes to begin the season, Simona finished twentieth which dropped her from fourth to a three-way tie for seventh in the points. She has quickly become one of my favorites and I hope this can be chalked up as simply a bad weekend.

Great Day For Newman/Haas: It’s really good to see this team find its way again. After a couple of dismal years, this once-proud team is back on solid footing. Oriol Servia turned in another solid performance, qualifying fourth and finishing sixth. He now sits fourth in points. Rookie James Hinchcliffe continues to turn heads. In only his second IndyCar race ever, he qualified eleventh and finished fourth.

Bad Season For Helio: The long nightmare of Helio Castroneves continues. After three races, Helio has caused a first-turn melee at St. Petersburg, had a mediocre weekend at Barber, where he was never in contention, then took out his teammate Will Power – thereby costing Power the points lead. I’ve made it no secret that Helio Castroneves is my favorite current driver in the series, but he needs to pull his head out of wherever it is and get his act together. Roger Penske was very classy in his post-race comments, but these moves that Helio is pulling are very un-Penske like. Speculation has been focusing on Ryan Briscoe being the odd man out if Team Penske ever cut back to a two-car team, but after Helio’s start to this season – I’m not so sure.

Another Quiet Day For Foyt: Don’t look now, but Vitor Meira and AJ Foyt Racing are quietly putting together a very solid season. Road/street courses are not Meira’s strength, but after three straight events of turning right, Vitor Meira sits tenth in points and really only two points out of a three-way tie for seventh. Once back from Brazil, I’d love to see Vitor and Foyt work some magic at Indianapolis.

All in all: After a dull start, I thought it was a very entertaining race at Long Beach. It was interesting to watch the different team strategies play out. Some worked. Some didn’t. After a shaky 2009 rookie season, I was impressed with Mike Conway in the few races we saw him in last season. I tend to pull for anyone coming back from such devastating injuries, like Conway suffered at Indianapolis last year. It’s also always good to see a new face in victory lane. With five different teams represented in the top five, this season may not be the Penske/Ganassi runaway that everyone predicted. Three different winners from three different teams is the way to get this season off to a good start. I can feel the momentum building for May. I can’t wait.

George Phillips

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26 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Long Beach”

  1. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    AA definitely surprised this weekend… Tracy slow and booting Simona, no surprise there. Again, it’s time for both Helio and Marco (and his crew ) to have their vision checked and attend a course in physical, situational awareness… Great second 2/3s of the race, gotta love it when an understated (seriously injured 11 months ago) guy like Conway wins. Especially when so much time and energy has been and continues to be spent obtaining sponsorship for and heralding the advent of others of mediocre talent at the AA stable. I also would like very much to see more of Mr. Miller, he is the best…. Thanks for a great race breakdown George.

    • Brian McKay Says:

      AA didn’t surprise me, as I figured that an AA racer would be first, second, or third.
      Marco might’ve learned from mishaps of his dad and grand-dad to try to avoid pit lane mishaps.
      Robin Miller is cool, smart, and knowledgeable though some think that he’s too curmudgeonly for airtime during the race.

  2. Good catch on Meira. He’s very quietly been putting together an excellent season.

  3. Robin Miller called Helio “EJ Viso with a moreexpensive car” or something to that affect. The coverage was excellent and I am enjoying the road and street courses. Tough day for RHR because I think it was his race until the gears went South on the DHL car and I am glad to see Briscoe. In my opinion, Andretti was the surprise team. Almost a one-two finish, but that is racing. Another good column George.

  4. I am really thrilled with Newman/Haas’s performance so far. That team was once a Penske/Ganassi and they had fallen a LONG way. At least on Twitter, they really seem to be good folks who are proud of their history. On a shoestring, when they could have hired another true ride-buyer, they did exactly what they should have done and hired an under-appreciated vet and a highly promising rookie. It is really nice to see them both running solidly in the middle of the top-ten. Even on a showstring, talent, experience, and doing the right thing can pay off.

  5. Good recap, George. The Versus crew is pretty good, but R. Miller is really a breath of fresh air. He’s honest and funny and you’re never quite sure what he’s going to say. My favorite driver is Simona, but my favorite team is quickly becoming Newman-Haas with Servia and Hinch. They are both real good drivers and very personable. That spin Servia did to get back in the race was awesome.

    I know you’re a Helio fan George, but his crocodile tears interview made me question his sincerity. Helio seems like a loose cannon who’s ready to boot anybody out of the way in his own self-interest…not a fan.

    AA would’ve had an awesome day yesterday if not for bad luck for RHR and a dumb move by Marco and/or his crew. AA might be trying to make the Big Two the Big Three. Viso should be sent down to the minor league or the demolition derby at the Fairgrounds. Conway blasted off like a rocket–happy he kept it together.

    Pretty good event, but on the down-side–between Talladega and playoff basketball and golf and baseball, I don’t have much hope for Versus ratings to improve. On the other hand, Long Beach sure makes it look like attending an Indycar street race is a real fun thing to do.

  6. Ron Ford Says:

    More good bytes George. Since I was not able to see the race (and most of the time could not hear it on Dead Timing and Scoring), I looked forward to you comments.

    Throw my name in the hat with those who are happy to see the resurgence of Newman/Haas. If Paul is able to watch from his skybox I am quite sure he is wearing that trademark smile.

    This is proving to be a very interesting and very competitive season.

    Is it just me or does anyone else find that tin top tag team racing a bit bizarre? Perhaps that was what Tracy was trying to do with Simona.

    • It’s very weird looking, Ron. And it’s hilarious how drivers talk about it–“I was going with him until he left me so I hooked up with Hamlin instead. We committed to going together from the start and we looked for each other all day.” Someone could have a field day editing these sound bites…

  7. My apologies to Mr Dallenbach. Kyle Petty must have been the reason TNT Nascar’s coverage is terrible. After watching Raceday on Speed for over a year with Petty, I should have figured that out. Wally has been great, now can we just get a real play by play man?

  8. I watched and DVR’s the race and I have but one question: WTF was Helio thinking? Did he just expect when he came blasting toward the corner that everyone was going to just say, “Oh, it’s Helio. I must move over?”

    I had told my wife that we’d be rooting for Helio when we go to Indy this year so that I could see another four time winner live. Now, I’m having to kinda back off on that becuase he’s turned into Paul Tracy with the chrome horn. Even my wife, who is a HUGE Helio fan, wondered what he was thinking.

    I also just about fell off my chair when Marco took “full repsonsibility” for his pit dustup with Sebass. I told the wife, “I think that’s the FIRST time I’ve EVER heard an Andretti take respoinsibility for ANYTHING.”

    I agree on the Foyt/Meira comment. I’d like nothing more than to see the old man get to victory lane again at Indy and Vitor has certainly paid his dues.

    And, considering her distate for road/street racing, I think you have to give props to Danica for bringing home the car in one piece (again) with a top 10 result. I was substantially surprised that she was able to keep TK behind her in the last few laps. Just like Meira, she’s been kinda sneaking up on people. The way she’s done at Indy (historically), I think you have to make her a dark horse for that race.

    Hell, with these starts/re-starts the 500 could be wide open.

  9. billytheskink Says:

    The only thing I’ll disagree with is Willy T. Ribbs on the Lights broadcasts.

    His monotone delivery isn’t terribly exciting, but it has power behind it. Combined with his penchant for making melodramatic statements and the insights that he offers often enough, I think he has a certain charm as a broadcaster. I also think he’ll get better as the season goes along.

    • Bob White Says:

      Come on, Billy. Willy T. is BRUTAL in the booth. His slow delivery is not good for TV. He talks WAY too much. And have you ever noticed how much he repeats himself? He sounds like Foghorn Leghorn, I say I say. I read on another site that he had the gall to make the statement that it wasn’t Joe Newgarden’s fault that he crashed at the end of the race? Are you blind, Willy? Did a seagull distract Newgarden? If you are going to be considered a race ANALYST, you have to tell the truth and at least know what you are watching.

      I have no clue why he was hired. The only saving grace for the Lights broadcast is when they bring Wally D into the booth. He actually makes it sound like a professional telecast.

      Willy T. sucks and sucks badly.

      • Brian McKay Says:

        I agree that WTR stinks badly. He admitted that he had been disinterested in racing until lured to the booth with $. He has no gift for gab or useful insights. I have no idea why he was hired. ~weird~

  10. The Lapper Says:

    Good one George and I pretty much see it the same way. I would like to vote for Foyt as the most surprising, but Larry has been steadily getting better performance out of the team and I felt that he would all along. It is good to now see his efforts bear fruit. Instead, I’ll go with Newman/Haas and remark that it is excellent to see them back at it again.

    The Lapper
    I’m a fleabit peanut monkey

  11. Brian McKay Says:

    ordinarily, I’d hate to admit it, but like you, George, I haven’t watched FIL on tv. I have watched races at tracks, read of them in racing mags and on Indycar.com and other websites, getting interested in some of the “stars of tomoorow.” Then they don’t graduate to the IndyCar series! It’s disheartening! I could name eight who only get a ride at Indy 500 or get a bone at a season-ending race (a try-out).
    As you, “Yesterday was the first time I have watched an Indy Lights race from start to finish. With Versus showing them as a live lead-in to the main race, I’ll watch more.” But Willy Ribbs was ‘painful’ to listen to.
    This was the first day this season that I watched an IndyCar race on TV, and Versus was okay by me.

  12. billytheskink Says:

    Guess I’ll add Willy T. Ribbs in the broadcast boot to the list of things that only I seem to care for…

    Yes, he sounds like a weather radio but if you found him “painful” to listen to then you have never heard Dave South call a football game.

    • I thought Ribbs was awful the first race. At some points he just stopped in mid-sentence. He was repetitive and stumbled alot. But it was his first time in the booth, so I cut him some slack. I thought he was better in Long Beach, but not good.

  13. Did anyone think to tell Bourdais that the end of Pit Road is 1 lane? He throws his hands in the air as if to blame Marco. Now Marco has had his share of blunders, but all Bourdais had to do was tap the brakes to alleviate that situation. Yet nobody picked up on that in the booth. I realize no race driver likes to brake, but the alternative is a heck of a lot better.
    As far as Helio, he is driving like he usually does, looking just past his 2 front tires.

    • Brian McKay Says:

      I had also wondered why Sebas didn’t feather his throttle or brake when anticipating or observing Marco moving left. But Marco was willing to take the blame, and we didn’t have overhead, camera-hung-from-wire coverage with which to see whether SB was accelerating to pass (stupid) or was at a constant speed, or maybe had slowed slightly. I’m not an apologist for SB. I just wish that we had cameras zooming overhead..

  14. james t suel Says:

    GREAT RACE REPORT GEORGE! I THINK AA MAY BE BACK ON THERE GAME. BOURDAIS NEVER SHOWED ME MUCH IN HIS CART DAYS, SUNDAY HE WAS THE DRIVER THAT MADE AN ERROR.

  15. By the way, Sam Schmidt did have a good day in FIL and I am always impredded so I am going to cast another vote, but this time for Sam Schmidt Racing. I won’t tell you how much I admire this man and if I am ever at a crossroads in life I want to take a chapter out of this fine man’s book. If there ever was someone to admire it is Sam.

  16. […] Random Thoughts On Long Beach [Oilpressure]I love George’s teaser into the meat of his article: “Then all kinds of things started to unfold.” LIKE PAPER AIRPLANES! ORIGAMI SPIDERS! UNNECESSARILY INTRICATE GREETING CARDS!! I think you see where I’m going… and if you don’t, it’s to the booby hatch, and I’m not talking about my man chesticles. […]

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