Long Beach Preview

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The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach has never been my favorite race, in all honesty. Perhaps if I were ever to attend it in person, I might feel differently. In fact, I hear it is quite a spectacle to be in attendance on race weekend. Not for the racing sights, mind you – but for the party atmosphere that surrounds the event.

I know, I know – Long Beach is considered the Monaco of the IZOD IndyCar Series. The historical significance of this race is not lost on me. It has been on the North American open-wheel schedule since 1984 and was part of the Formula One schedule from 1976 through 1983. Mario Andretti has the distinction of winning at Long Beach in both Formula One and CART. I can just think of several other venues that I enjoy watching from my living room.

This year has an added twist. Without going off on another rant regarding the ten-spot grid penalty for an engine change; it was announced yesterday that Chevrolet had decided to change the engines on all eleven of their teams. And yes, as it stands right now – they will all be issued a ten-spot penalty from where they qualify. I noticed on Twitter that everyone was talking about how Sunday’s race would be a slam-dunk for Honda.  I’m not so sure. I think due to this assumption, this puts the pressure to win squarely on Honda. Imagine their embarrassment if they don’t win – and it’s quite possible. Will Power proved that starting ninth at Barber certainly wasn’t insurmountable, and he had several Chevy’s in front of him there. Putting what so far has been the fastest engine toward the back, will certainly spice up what, historically, has not been my favorite race.

I won’t go so far as to say Long Beach is my least favorite race, but most know I’m not a big fan of street races. As far as street races go – this one is pretty good. At least there are a couple of passing zones around the 1.96 mile, eleven turn circuit. Barber Motorsports Park has a reputation for few passing opportunities, yet the new DW12 put on a great show there two weeks ago. Perhaps we can expect the same thing at Long Beach.

I won’t go so far as to say that every race at Long Beach has been a dud. I’ll never forget the 1992 race, when Al Unser, Jr. was going for his fifth consecutive victory at Long Beach. He was already hindered by the quirky Galmer chassis, but managed to be leading the race in the late stages when he was taken out by his teammate Danny Sullivan – who did manage to win the race. The following year saw Paul Tracy win his very first race of his Indy Car career.

The IZOD IndyCar series began racing there in 2009 (after the Champ car finale of 2008). The most intriguing storyline of that race was that Helio Castroneves was acquitted in his tax evasion trial on the Friday afternoon of the race weekend. He hopped on a plane immediately and jumped in his car that Will Power had planned to drive. Always being prepared, Roger Penske had brought the No. 12 Verizon car that has now become synonymous with Power, just in case such a scenario played out. Power proceeded to put the car on pole and finished second – a sign of things to come with Power on street circuits. Dario Franchitti went on to win a race that was sort of a parade.

Ryan Hunter-Reay won the 2010 edition in an Andretti Autosport ride that was partially funded by IZOD, but on what seemed like a race-to-race basis. Hunter-Reay dominated by leading sixty-four of the eighty-five laps. Will Power and Scott Dixon were the only other drivers to lead laps in what was somewhat of a snoozer until Justin Wilson challenged Hunter-Reay for the win in the late stages. Graham Rahal, another rideless driver at the time, drove Sarah Fisher’s car before crashing into the tires on Lap 58.

Last year’s race was much more entertaining – especially in the last twenty-five laps. Helio Castroneves made his infamous move leading into Turn One on teammate Will Power that took both out of contention. Later on, Ryan Briscoe was leading Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dario Franchitti and Mike Conway. Suddenly, Conway caught fire as he passed Franchitti, then overtook Hunter-Reay as he was having gearbox issues. Conway drove like a man on a mission as he did away with Briscoe for the lead and the win. All the while, his pulse rate jumped an amazing two beats per minute as he actually cracked a smile in victory lane.

Conway’s win put everyone on notice that he had completely recovered from his injuries suffered in the 2010 Indianapolis 500. With a stronger team, he was certainly going to be a force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, it was not to be. He finished sixth two weeks later at São Paulo, but failed to qualify for Indianapolis. It was at that point that his 2011 season fell apart. The best he faired following the debacle at Indianapolis was an eighth-place finish at Edmonton, and his average finish in that twelve –race span was 18.6.

Based on what we’ve seen in the first two races this season, what do we know? Well, we know that Helio Castroneves is driving like a man driving for his job – and succeeding. We also know that he and teammate Will Power have won both races and are first and third in points, respectively, while their teammate Ryan Briscoe is languishing in a forgettable eighth place. Scott Dixon is carrying the banner for Chip Ganassi in second, while Graham Rahal sits in seventh place and Dario Franchitti sits in a head-scratching tenth place tied with Rubens Barrichello. The last two winners of this race; Hunter-Reay is in sixth, while Conway is ninth, now driving for AJ Foyt. James Hinchcliffe, who has already suffered a ten-spot penalty due to blowing an engine in testing, currently sits fourth in points.

We also know that the DW12 is proving to be somewhat racy on road & street courses, which could help to make this an entertaining race. What would really make it entertaining would be to have a camera always focused on the car of Sébastien Bourdais. If he can perform at Long Beach like he did at Barber, we’ll all be entertained.

So who do I curse this weekend by picking them to win? I went back and checked – I have not successfully picked a winner since I picked Will Power to win at Sonoma in August of 2010. That’s a span of twenty-two races. Surely, the law of averages will catch up with me. Anyway, my pick to win this weekend is Will Power, despite being one of the Chevy engines to suffer a ten-spot penalty.  In fact, he will not only win, but he’lltake over the points lead while Helio and Scott Dixon both have sub-par weekends. We’ll see.

George Phillips

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11 Responses to “Long Beach Preview”

  1. Yes, a Chevy can win but you really are going out on a ledge picking one. No way they drive through the field. It will take a quirky caution. The chances of that are minimized with pit lane being open.

    I attended this race in 2010. Absolutley loved everything about it.

    Dixie has never won this event before. I think that large hole in his resume gets filled Sunday.

  2. SkipinSC Says:

    I think by the time we get to Indianapolis, a lot of people are going to be wayyy tired of this engine rule. I understand the efforts to keep costs down, but when the manufacturer (rather than the competitor) finds what is, in essence, a design flaw in the engines and mandates changing all of their engines, I question whether such a decision is in any way fair to the driver/team.

    There are going to be failures and flaws along the way, particularly with all of the engines being tested in the heat of battle for the first time. And, particularly when we get to some of the tighter road/street circuits 10 grid spots is a pretty strict penalty.

  3. George, c’mon man. I think your Penske bias is affecting your alzheimers. Are you that much of a Chevy or Penske homer? I know you hate Japan, but I didn’t know that applied to Honda too. No way a Chevy overcomes this without something crazy going on.

    • I’m certainly not a Chevy homer. Personally, I pull for Honda. I own a Honda and have owned Hondas since 1981 (sometimes two at a time). If I pull for any manufacturer, it’s Honda. But I think people are too quick to just hand this victory to Honda. Chevy has been the fastest so far and I think they will be heard from on Sunday. – GP

  4. This one is Dixon. He will lead this parade around the streets of Long Beach.

  5. Dixon.

    I think putting fast drivers mid-pack might create an interesting situation and those new fenders might be tested.

    Looking forward to this one.

  6. Don’t know if I’ve ever commented on your blog before but I’ve been a long time reader and appreciate the tone of your blog being strictly from a fan perspective (as opposed to journalist or “insider”).

    I do disagree with your stance on the engine rule though. At first, I thought as you did but after thinking about it for a while, it for sure makes sense to me:

    It is known in racing that a more powerful engine is less reliable. Chevy designed an engine that is potentially more powerful and gets better gas mileage but did so at the expense of reliability. Honda, however, stuck to the the rule to hit the milage limits of the engine, thus potentially sacrificing power and/or gas mileage (or some combination of the two).

    When one says to punish the manufacturers instead of the drivers, it makes less sense than the grid penalty. Who really cares about a manufacturer championship in IndyCar? It is already hardly paid attention to in F1. Wins and driver championships are much more prestigious.

    Also, the Chevy drivers have enjoyed the additional benefits of the Chevy engine (HP and gas mileage) while the Honda drivers have suffered (due to a less powerful/lower gas mileage engine). This has given the Chevy drivers and teams an unfair advantage. Therefore, it is indeed fair to punish both the driver and manufacturer with a grid penalty.

    To be perfectly honest, most of my favorite drivers in the series drive with Chevy engines. So while I am upset/disappointed that they get the penalty, I am not up in arms complaining about it because I do indeed think that it is fair since Chevy drivers have been competing with an advantage over their Honda and Lotus counterparts.

    Hope what I expressed makes sense. Sorry for the long winded-ness. Feel free to disagree though!

    • I AM a Chevy homer, and I’m simply hoping we see a couple Honda’s pop this weekend just so the argument John raises (which I’ve heard before) goes bunk.

      I think it’s too early to say that Honda is more reliable BECAUSE it’s slower. Look at the current Lotus: slow AND unreliable; no correlation on that engine. I think it’s too early to even say that Hondas ARE more reliable. Maybe after two races they seem that way, but like technology you can be bit anytime and it’s still a long season to go.

      • billytheskink Says:

        It isn’t too early to say that Honda is more confident in their engine’s reliability than Chevrolet, though. Chevy made that a fact.

        • If Honda happened to be supplying Hinch’s engine when it blew, you don’t think they would have done exactly what Chevy did?

          I may be wrong on this next point, but wasn’t Hinch’s the first Chevy that actually failed in such a manner?

  7. I hope that Justin Wilson (backed by a Honda motor) wins GPLB.

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