Random Thoughts On Long Beach

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What was considered by many to be a golden opportunity to snag a victory, turned out to be an embarrassing nightmare for Honda at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. In case you live under a rock, you know that all cars powered by Chevy engines were penalized ten grid-spots after qualifying. The best that a Chevy driver could hope for would be to start eleventh – on a course not known for a lot of passing zones. Ten spot penalty? No problem – not if your car has a Chevy engine in it. Not only did Will Power win in a Chevy, but six of the top seven spots went to the bow-tie division of General Motors.

The IZOD IndyCar Series has three races in the books for this season – all on street and road courses. St. Petersburg was interesting due to the debut of all of the new equipment. It was somewhat entertaining and featured some passing – although ABC didn’t want us to see it. Barber was very entertaining, especially by Barber standards. There was passing and jockeying for position, before Will Power drove a calculated drive that saw him go from ninth to first. Yesterday’s race at Long Beach was the most entertaining yet – at least, in my opinion.

It started off with Nashville native Josef Newgarden making a bold move on fellow Nashvillian and front-row starter Dario Franchitti. It may have been a little too bold as Newgarden ended up into the Turn One tire-barrier. Although it was questionable, I thought Beaux Barfield did the right thing by not assessing a penalty on Franchitti – that is until I saw that Ryan Hunter-Reay was given a thirty-second penalty for what I thought was less contact. As it turned out, it would not have made that much difference. Franchitti ended up finishing fifteenth – three laps down. Had Newgarden just tucked in behind Dario as it looked like he was originally doing, he could have passed him at any time. Franchitti’s miserable season continues. Two weeks ago, I disagreed with Paul Dalbey at MoreFrontWing.com who said that Dario’s season was over as far as the championship goes. After what I saw yesterday, I have to agree.

There was a lot of action, but the scariest moment was easily when Marco Andretti ran into the back of Graham Rahal and was launched into the air and almost ended up on his head. I saw mixed reaction on Twitter, but to me – it looked like the “rear-bumpers” on the DW12 failed their first test. Some Dallara apologists tried to say that it would have been much worse had the bumper not been there. That’s like touting that the four to five cups of coffee I drink each day explains why I have never had a broken leg. (Huh? – Yeah, I know. It makes no sense).

The drivers were not on as good behavior as they were at the first couple of races this season – in and out of the cockpit. There were pointed comments from Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti and Alex Tagliani didn’t have such nice things to say about EJ Viso either. I think drivers are feeling a bit more comfortable in the new car and some drivers are seeing their seasons already slipping away early – sending them into desperation mode.

TV Coverage: There were some ups and downs along with a few hits and misses in NBC Sports Network’s second race. Altogether, I thought they did a good job but it wasn’t perfect. Although I like the concept, Robin Miller’s grid run needs to be planned better. I know the entire concept is spontaneity, but if you’re going to run down the grid in search of drivers – it may be better to plan it when the drivers are not riding around the track waving to fans. Two weeks ago at Barber, they did it during the Invocation prompting Miller to ask, “Why is everyone praying?”

Speaking of Invocations – this one sounded more like the Clerical Comedy Hour. I’m not sure if Father Frank Kelly was seizing his moment in the spotlight or if his prayers always sound like a humorous chat with the Heavenly Father. Maybe he’s well known in southern California, but whatever the case – it came off as just a little odd on television. Has-been, late eighties singer Taylor Dayne did not help with another butchered version of our National Anthem. Why every singer feels they need to stylize this tune is beyond me. Of course, TV has nothing to do with the pre-race ceremonies. However, the whole pre-race debacle was saved by racing great Parnelli Jones waking everyone up with a stirring command to start engines.

The cameras initially missed the Newgarden contact, but subsequent replays showed it. Bob Jenkins again had his share of gaffes, but I’ve come to expect and accept it. Bob may not be 100% on his game so far as identifying cars, but you’ve got to love his overall delivery and passion for the sport. I compare him to veteran broadcaster Verne Lundquist at CBS. He’s been doing SEC football telecasts for years. He flubs player’s names and sometimes has trouble even following the ball. But his enthusiasm for the game makes up for a few mistakes. He’s a joy to listen to and so is Bob.

If you haven’t seen IndyCar 36 yet, you need to. It is as well a produced show with IndyCar content that I’ve ever seen. The cinematography is outstanding, as well as the musical soundtrack and script. Yesterday’s featured Graham Rahal. It should re-air several times this week, but if you don’t have NBC Sports Network or a DVR, you should be able to catch it on IndyCar.com. One thing I like about it is that they are not going after the usual points leaders. So far, they have done shows on Tony Kanaan and Graham Rahal. I believe next up is Ryan Hunter-Reay before São Paulo.

Sponsorship woes: Although his move on Dario Franchitti was probably ill-advised, Josef Newgarden has had an outstanding start to his young IZOD IndyCar Series career. He didn’t earn his front-row start, but he still qualified seventh quickest and came out of the first session with the quickest time in his group. I’m probably a bit biased because he was born and raised in Nashville and he is a very likeable young man, but he is also extremely talented. Some company needs to step up and sponsor this team. For a driver of his caliber to be running with blank sidepods is ridiculous.

Race Control: I wouldn’t say Sunday was a banner day for race control. As mentioned earlier, I agreed with the “No-call” on Dario Franchitti and the Josef Newgarden incident. But felt that they got a little over-officious in the latter stages. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves were both given post-race penalties, which dropped each of them in the final standings. Had it not been for the penalties, Helio would’ve ended up with a top-ten finish. Still he heads into São Paulo second in points.

I do want to give Beaux Barfield, Will Phillips and Randy Bernard high marks for their handling of the convoluted engine rule. None of them seem to be in love with it, but they have been front & center in explaining their position. We, as fans, don’t have to like this rule but at least we have people in appropriate positions interacting directly with fans to defuse any confusion. We can’t really ask for any more than that.

Ganassi woes: It was a day to forget for Chip Ganassi Racing. Dario Franchitti went backwards all day – starting first and finishing fifteenth. Scott Dixon appeared headed for a decent day when his Honda engine mysteriously shut down during a caution period. Graham Rahal was knocked out in the collision with Marco Andretti and Charlie Kimball ran out of fuel in the late stages. Of the four cars, Franchitti’s fifteenth was the best finish for the team.

Engine wars: Although I was accused the other day of being a Chevy “homer”, I don’t really pull for any manufacturer. I certainly pull for certain teams and drivers, but I never saw the need to pull for one corporation over another. However, if I were to pull for one – it would probably be Honda. They have been an excellent partner for the series over the years. They stepped up and supplied engines when no one else would. Plus, I own a Honda and have driven Hondas for over thirty years.

That being said, the disparity between the Chevy and Honda engines became evident Sunday. Having already won two poles and two races in the first two events, most agreed that Chevy was the engine of choice in the early going. But what happened this weekend was Honda’s worst nightmare. To spot Chevy ten spots on the grid and then have the top-ten dominated by Chevy anyway is the worst possible scenario Honda could imagine.

If I were Chevy, I would jump on what transpired this weekend and turn it into a marketing bonanza. If they do it right, it can bring back American fans that left open-wheel racing years ago. Let’s just don’t tell them that the All-American engine is built by Ilmor, which is British.

I told you so: You didn’t think I’d pass on the opportunity to gloat a little bit, did you? When the Chevy penalties were announced on Thursday, many people on Twitter ridiculed me when I said to not automatically crown Honda as the winner at Long Beach. Then on Friday, I said on this site that Honda is not a slam-dunk for the weekend and that the pressure is actually on them to perform. Still, most people disagreed with me that a Chevy would win this race unless something crazy happened. Now did I think Chevy would dominate the top-ten as they did? Not for a second. But at least, my drought for correctly picking a winner is over. Go back and see that I correctly picked Will Power to overcome whatever penalty was thrown at him and win the race. After almost two years (Sonoma 2010), I finally got one right. I guess a hog finds an acorn every once in a while.

All in all: I found this to be a very entertaining race. It was made even more so by putting the faster cars near the back of the field. Drivers took chances and tempers flared. Comparing this to the snoozer NASCAR race I tried to watch Saturday night is laughable. The IndyCar race had everything that the NASCAR race did not. Why NASCAR is what everyone thinks of, when they think about racing is quite beyond my capacity.

So now, it’s on to São Paulo in two weeks and then – the Month of May!

George Phillips

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40 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Long Beach”

  1. Now George, you know I’m usually an agreeable guy, but I will have to disagree with you on a few things. 8-)

    1. Do you still think Long Beach is a dull race, as you said on Friday? I thought it was one of the best non-ovals yet with a lot of passing, made even better by being actually televised by NBC sports, unlike a certain other crapulous network that seems to miss all on course action.

    2. Dario’s non-penalty: much as I think Dario too often gets a wink-nudge from race control, here i really thought it was “just racin'”. I replayed it several times on the dvr and had to agree with race control.

    3. RHR vs Sato: again, watching the replay, that was definitely an avoidable accident. Ryan drove right into back wheel of Sato and spun him out, ruining Sato’s podium chances. That was not the place to try to pass.

    4. I was trying very hard to be kind to Helio that maybe his brakes faded, but after watching the contact, or should I say ramming of Rubens, it was obvious that Helio was trying to block out Justin Wilson. One can wonder what Justin was trying to do, possibly trying to pass in the hairpin of all places, but that does not forgive Helio for losing situational awareness.

    Dario gets a grudging “bye” from me, but not the other two.YMMV.

  2. I thought Father Kelly was awesome. Then again, I like the random, trailing stories and unintentional comedy.

    • elmondohummus Says:

      No offense to NASCAR fans, but I felt it beat “boogity boogity boogity” and bragging about a “smokin’ hot wife”.

      That said, Father Kelly *WAS* a single speech impediment away from being the bishop in Princess Bride. All he needed to say was “Rwacing is what bwings us hewe togevew todayyyy”, and I would’ve lost it!

      • I liked the pastor’s invocation at last years’ Kentucky Nationwise race. It was from a fan of the sport who didn’t mind showing that he was one. Father Kelly’s attempt at humor was so forced it was painful.

  3. I thought Rahal was boring and whiney on “36.” They need to lose the grid walk or maybe spend two minutes actually planning it. Hinch is good tv (and good driver.) Best invocation since Nascar’s “my hot wife” guy. Parnelli Jones! Joe Newgarten wants that one back. I’m not worried about Honda yet. Simon Pagenaud might be the second best twisty driver in the series. Not hearing much from the female drivers so far–at least Bia won’t be-a in a Lotus. Very good race and another beautiful and seemingly well-attended venue.

    • elmondohummus Says:

      You know, I’m a big fan of Graham, and I hate to agree with this… but I gotta agree with this. He didn’t come off looking his best, not in regards to his track attitude at least. Away from the track, he was entertaining, engaging, and damn friendly, but *at* the track… it felt like a litany of complaints.

      That said, I have a funny feeling that that’s pretty much the way *all* drivers act, and that most just censor and adjust when the cameras are around. Whereas Graham’s just being himself. But that’s not an excuse, merely an observation. I really wish he’d be more even keeled and react less in the heat of the moment. But poise like that is probably something that comes with age more than anything else. We’ll see.

      • Not all racers are chip-on-the shoulder whiny. Though I don’t know any personally, I have observed them sporadically away from crowds, and that’s partly why I like Wilson, Oriol, and Hinch.

    • Rahal has been a giant wanker since he threw the entire NHL team under the bus a week or two after they handed him a win in his maiden race.

  4. Why do you hate Honda? It’s because they’re from Japan isn’t it?

  5. elmondohummus Says:

    George, I agree: I, too, don’t understand those people who said Marco’s launch would’ve been worse last year. How do they reach that conclusion (rhetorical question, obviously)? The fact he didn’t land on his top had far less to do with the car’s design and more about the way he launched. Marco coming out OK from the contact was not due to anything about the design of the car at all.

    That said, Curt Cavin noted that “It’s one thing if Marco hit the guard from the back; it’s another if he hit it from an angle”. I’m forced to agree with that. If more contact was made with the wheel than the “bumper”, then that explains things right there. But that’s *if*. I really want to watch some replays and see how Marco and Graham collided before I pass judgement.

  6. Kudos George, you called it. I had Dixon and that pick went south pronto. Chevy is as tough as they come this year. I thought Hinch had a good race and he impresses me with each race. One of the best Long Beach races that I have seen in a while. I enjoyed the broadcast immensely and my opinion of NBC Sports grows each week.

  7. IndyCar racing so far this year has been the best I have seen since 1992. The drivers and competition are back on track. Development in the rear of the new car I am sure will get an update kit if needed. Overall I give the the series an A – for the season. I would give IndyCar an A if the cars had a little more turbo boost! Great stories for the small teams and the likes of Bobby Rahals new team …IndyCar has a good future on the horizon. I can’t wait till Indy!

  8. The Lapper Says:

    Regardless of the outcome as well as Lotus/Judd missteps, I like the engine competition and this will get better and better through the coming races and the coming years. After getting shown up by Chevrolet at Long Beach I believe that Honda will pull out all stops to get Indy this year.

  9. billytheskink Says:

    “Embarrassing nightmare for Honda” is quite a bit much I think. They lost to a flawless fuel strategy drive by all of 1 second. Chevy may be the better engine, but they didn’t whip Honda the way it appeared they did. Good fuel strategy will help any car with a good driver and a non-Lotus motor.

    Looked to me like both Rahal and Andretti were at fault in their incident, and fortunately Marco didn’t land on anyone and no one was injured.
    The bumpers are going to get understandably roasted over failing to prevent Marco’s launch (though he hit Rahal from a bit of angle), but I did appreciate them preventing cut tires from the regular nose-to-tail street circuit contact. Interesting to hear the booth speculating about Briscoe possibly having a cut tire after Dario ran into the back of him, only to have Jon remember several seconds later that the bumper likely prevented that from happening.

    And for what it’s worth, I enjoyed Saturday night’s NASCAR race. This may be because it was refreshing to see guys run clean instead of the pointless wrecks that have plagued my recent Saturday nights at the local short track, though.

    • What George means by “Honda got spanked” was that Honda had 9 of the 10 1st starting positions, including the pole, and only ended up with 2 of the 1st 10 finishing positions, with all the others going to Chevys that were penalized 10 starting spots from where they qualified.

      • billytheskink Says:

        I understood what George meant, I did not agree with it. I’m not saying it was a good day for Honda, but I don’t think Honda should be embarrassed because their fastest cars got outmaneuvered in pit strategy chess. the teams that field those cars, maybe, but not Honda.

        And for what it’s worth, Honda had 3 of the top 10 finishers after Helio’s penalty was assessed.

        • Did you watch the same race we did? Honda was smoked. It was beyond embarrassing. To be given a ten spot lead and end up with ok, 3 with a penalty, in the top 10 is a joke. If theyre not embarrassed, why are they in this? Obviously, not to win.

          • billytheskink Says:

            The race I watched had a Honda come within one second of winning despite being bested in pit strategy by one, if not several, Chevrolet teams. That race had Honda lead 32 of the 55 laps run after the final caution, despite not leading the first 5 of that period. It also saw Honda never lose the lead in an on-track pass.

            Honda would be embarrassed if the Chevrolets had driven through the field. I did not see that. I saw a rash of early cautions and new pit rules make the grid penalties much less relevant because the teams chose a half-dozen or more different pit strategies and effectively eliminated any “main” strategy that typically see in races. None of the Honda teams picked the right one.

            Again, I am not arguing that Honda should be happy about losing, or that Chevrolet does not deserve their victory. I am arguing that “embarrassed” is too strong a word for how Honda should feel when their teams lost positions (and the win) largely because of pit strategy, not lack of horsepower or widespread mechanical failure.

  10. Dario Franchitti was in the inside of the first corner, he had nowhere to go. He didn’t push Newgarden, he barely touched him. It was Newgarden who breaked too early and tried to fit where he couldn’t. Hunter-Reay on the contrary divebombed on Sato, he tried to pass him too late into the corner, so the race control decision was correct again.

    • Newgarden was ahead of Dario going into the corner far enough that he should have given way. Dario got off lucky-about the only luck he had that afternoon. Hunter-Reay however was totally in the wrong. Sato, who used to be an accident waiting to happen, has tried so hard this season that to be taken out like that was truly cruel.

  11. “Why NASCAR is what everyone thinks of, when they think about racing is quite beyond my capacity.”

    Because they have the star drivers and money.

  12. I also really enjoy the Indycar36 show. I realize that its continued broadcast is likely very dependent on each episode being “sponsored”. Noticing that NTB had sponsored the Rahal episode is blasted the following tweet out:

    “Thanks @NTB_tires for sponsoring today’s episode of #INDYCAR36 featuring @GrahamRahal. @SC_Racing @ServiceCentral”

    and got this responsive tweet from them:

    “You’re very welcome! Hope you enjoyed it :)”.

    Hopefully, letting them know that their sponsorship dollars for the program’s episode were noticed will encourage them (and others) to continue spending money on things like car sponsorship and TV program sponsorship.

  13. Carburetor Says:

    I thought this was a very entertaining race. I must admit that at first, I did not like the rear bumpers, but I think they have saved numerous wrecks from happening that in previous years would have resulted in numerous disqualifications and countless yellow laps. I believe in each of the three races I can recall someone punting someone ahead of them, only for each to be able to continue the race without interruption.

    I have to disagree with the quality of the NBC Sports broadcast though; I think they have been far better in the past. I think not having LIndy Thackston is a loss; they need to totally re-think Robin Miller’s driver sprint–just let him give us his 2 minutes of thoughts on the upcoming race; and hey, I’m all for giving up on live singers for the national anthem–just hook up a decent record player to the PA system–it is excrutiating to hear some of these people….

  14. WhatUpDick@hotmail.com Says:

    “The IndyCar race had everything that the NASCAR race did not. ”

    Yes, except tons of sponsors, drivers that were actually born here and about 3 million people watching on TV.

    Only one more farce of a race until we get to a racetrack built for a race car.

    • While the three things you mention–money, money and drivers with money–are true, that doesn’t negate George’s (and my) opinion that the Indycar race was better than the Texas race. (And I wasn’t there, but I’ll bet the first automobile race was on a street.)

  15. Jake Muzz Says:

    Hey George,

    I’m new to your blog and IndyCar and think you have the right take on the race. I think Graham was out of line on that block on Marco, not that I’m a fan of either but there is a difference between blocking and defending. I also think that the rear guard did keep from launching Marco’s more than it could’ve, hopefully they’ll be able to retrieve some data from that to clarify one way or the other but they are race cars and accidents will happen and it’s only 3 cups of coffee a day to prevent a broken leg. The more I see Dario’s ‘move’ on Josef the more I think he needed a penalty, you can’t ride someone into a wall because you can’t keep the pace, it must be murdering Dario on the inside.

    Thanks,

    Jake

  16. Good race. I thought that Irish Priest was great!
    And no, those wheel guards don’t and won’t work. Tim Cindric said so this winter. How does a piece of carbon fiber that weighs a few pound stop the momentum of another car going only a few MPH faster with 200 degree spinning tire do anything but break and collide with the rear tires and fly up along with the following car?

  17. This wsa a great race; maybe we need to invert more starts. Not really…

    I hated-and still hate-the engine rule. If you want to punish engine builders for not meeting their requirements, take away manufacturers points. Teams being penalized for something they can’t control is wrong.

    Of course, Chevy then goes out and demonstrates the lopsided advantage they have on road corses. Yes, Power won on a fuel strategy, but look at how many other Chevys were in the top ten? Maybe on the ovals Honda will have an advantage but it is looking less likely.

    Saying that Dario’s season is over three races in is silly. See what happens after they’ve run an oval or two…

    Does anyone doubt that Power is the best driver in Indycar today? Penalize him, drop him back in the field, he’ll find a way up front. That he doesn’t have a championship yet is as much bad luck as anything.

    Is it too early to start sending Lotus teams sympathy cards? I felt sorry for the team stuck with those underdeveloped lumps in the back yesterday.

  18. craztfbs Says:

    Let’s not tell anyone that Ilmor is owned by Roger Penske. Or that’s its based in Detroit. Especially if they came over from NASCAR.

    • Oilpressure Says:

      Well, it’s partially owned by Roger Penske. Ilmor Engineering, Ltd is actually based in Brixworth, Northamptonshire in the UK. A sister company, Ilmor Engineering, Inc is now based in Plymouth, MI. But it is incorrect to say that Ilmor is based in Michigan and owned by Roger Penske. – GP

  19. 名誉ジョージは正しいです。ホンダは、面倒なの小さな男の子のように酔っぱらった得た。

  20. Ganassi was embarresed, not Honda. Pagenuad and Sato looked plenty fast in their Honda. I still am unsure how Power won that race? Did they use the bigger fuel tank? Seemed odd that car could go that much further than the rest of the field. Either way, Power lookes primed for the championship. He could DNF all the ovals and I doubt it would matter. Unless the same one or two guys finishes on the podium with Power every race, this will be over well before Fontana.

    • For marketing reasons Penske cars are allowed to use the gas tank from the Penske 26 foot moving trucks.

    • The TV commentary kept making a big deal about how far Power was going. He only went 1 or 2 laps further than several drivers (and seems to have run out of fuel during his victory lap). The TV kept pointing out how much further he went than Barrichello but Barrichello might have had 7 laps of fuel left when he pitted with ~8 to go. Once he knew he was not going to have the fuel to make it to the end (even 1/2 a lap short) it makes sense to pit in case a yellow comes out and bunches the field up. Plus Barrichello might have been more sensitive to his fuel running low since he actually ran out at the end of the race earlier this season. i.e. just because Power went 8 more laps than Barrichello does not mean he actually had 8 laps better fuel economy than him.

  21. Many people have been critical of Danica Patrick’s win in Motegi because it was a “fuel mileage” race, but when Penske with Will Power win a “fuel mileage” race, it is chalked up to “brilliant strategy”. Hell, most races now involve a strong element of fuel mileage strategy including Nascar races. While I appreciate the skill it took for Will Power to do what he did, it was more fun for me to watch Pagenuad just let ‘er rip!

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