Random Thoughts On Long Beach

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We should have known we were in for a strange race when Arie Luyendyk spun the two-seater carrying Olympic Bobsledder Steve Holcomb on the parade lap. That was to be a sign of things to come.

One thing you can say about the Verizon IndyCar Series – things don’t always follow the script. That was the case yesterday in the fortieth running of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Following the script would have meant that the top two qualifiers – Andretti Autosport teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe would have battled each other for the win. But fate has a strange way of blowing up the script.

For most of the race, it appeared that Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe were headed for an all-Andretti showdown. Hunter-Reay started from the pole and had led all day long. Will Power made his final pit-stop earlier than anyone else in an attempt to duplicate the strategy that led to victory at Long Beach in 2012. But try as he might – Power failed to improve his position on his out lap and get ahead of Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe as they left the pits. Surprisingly, Josef Newgarden pitted after the two Andretti leaders and pulled off what Power could not – exiting the pits ahead of Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe and Power.

This is where the race took a seriously ugly turn. On Lap 55, as Newgarden was exiting the pits – he still had the lead, but was on cold tires. Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe both had their tires up to temperature. It was a foregone conclusion that Newgarden would surrender the lead on his out lap. But Hunter-Reay was impatient and tried to pass Newgarden in Turn Four, where it is very narrow and difficult to execute a pass. He would have been better served to wait for a better passing zone on that lap or to try and overtake Newgarden on the main straightaway at the beginning of the next lap.

Shoulda, coulda, woulda – Hunter-Reay stuck the nose of his car inside to Newgarden’s right. Newgarden followed his line and the two cars touched. The ensuing melee was one to remember. Altogether, there were five cars taken out in the crash, including Newgarden, Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe, who were all running First, second and third respectively. Will Power skirted free of the mayhem and it looked like he would score his fourth win in a row.

But a funny thing happened on the re-start. Power allowed Mike Conway to get past him in Ed Carpenter’s Fuzzy’s Vodka car. Scott Dixon was up front, since he had not pitted. After another yellow, it looked like Dixon may be able to hold on with worn out tires and a near-empty fuel cell. Had there been just one more yellow in the final stages, Dixon may have been able to finally score a win on a track that has been brutal to him over the years. It was not to be. Dixon was called in for fuel with two laps remaining. Power had nothing for Conway, who went on to score his second Long Beach win in four years. Power settled for second and now has a commanding points lead. Conway is twenty-seven points behind in second, but is a non-factor since he will not be running the ovals. Power’s closest threat is Simon Pagenaud, who is thirty-three points behind.

Pagenaud was the beneficiary of a Power punt into the tire barrier. While I thought it could have gone either way, Pagenaud was furious with Power after the race. Power was very apologetic, so I guess he gets the blame.

TV Coverage: This was this year’s debut for NBCSN’s Verizion IndyCar coverage. They did their usual good job and I have no real complaints. The only problem they have now is that since ABC/ESPN stepped up their coverage so much at St. Petersburg, the stellar job that NBCSN has done over the years no longer stands out as much. They still have their trump card of a Saturday Qualifying show that ABC doesn’t, which will always get the peacock network some key points over their rival.

This was also the IndyCar debut of Kelli Stavast. Although she has covered motorsports before, I was not familiar with her. But I thought she did an excellent job. If she was nervous, she didn’t appear to be. She also seemed very knowledgeable about the nuances of this series. She handled herself like a pro and I see no reason why she won’t do a stellar job.

Unfortunately, it appears she may be on the telecast at the expense of Jon Beekhuis. Although Beekhuis will do a few races when Marty Snider is not available – he will be on the sidelines for many Verizon IndyCar races that NBCSN is covering. That’s a shame, although I always felt “Professor B” was more suited for the booth than as a pit reporter. Perhaps when NASCAR moves to NBC next season, Marty Snider will move to NASCAR and Jon can return to the IndyCar broadcast team full-time.

Paul Tracy also made his debut in the booth. Fortunately, we got the good Paul Tracy who gave good insight from a very interesting perspective. He was on good behavior, but didn’t seem to be tempering his candid comments. If he can keep up this performance, I look forward to more races he does. If he would only pronounce Helio correctly, instead of HEE-le-o.

Good crowd: For those that wonder why the Verizon IndyCar Series has street courses – look no further than the crowd that attended Long Beach over the three-day weekend. From what I heard, each day was packed. This is certainly not the case with all street races, and I’m certainly much more of an oval guy – but the huge crowd looked great on television. Fortunately, the broadcast was not going against any other racing or NCAA basketball. The Masters was going on, but I’m hoping this race garners a decent rating. If anyone tuned in, they saw an entertaining race in front of packed stands. Maybe they’ll be more inclined to tune into Barber in two weeks.

The Rahal slide continues: I’m not talking about the team of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. I’m talking about the driver, Graham Rahal. He has a new engineer that has an excellent reputation. He has one of the most coveted sponsorship packages in the paddock. He also has job security, since his father owns the team. But there is something not connecting with Graham. One might wonder if he was not anxious to get a teammate, so that he would not be exposed.

For the second week in a row, Rahal started dead-last on the grid. This week, however – Rahal had a teammate in Oriol Servia, who I’ve always thought was one of the most underrated drivers in the paddock. With very little testing time, Servia qualified twelfth in debut with RLLR and finished seventh. To his credit, Rahal had worked his way up to seventh before a late shunt in the hairpin forced him into a thirteenth place finish.

If young Rahal doesn’t turn this season around soon, he is going to be out of excuses. He has been quick to blame others for his problems, yet he continues to slide further and further away from the promise he showed as an eighteen year-old rookie.

All in all: This was an entertaining, but sloppy race. Had it not been for Ryan Hunter-Reay being so impatient on Lap 55 and taking out several front-runners – I’m not sure it would have been that entertaining. Hunter-Reay was dialed in and running away with it. Hinchcliffe seemed content to run for second, but perhaps would have gone for the win at the end. We’ll never know, because of what happened

Personally, I was pulling for Josef Newgarden to get his first win. The third-year driver from Nashville should be poised for a breakout season. If he can stay out of trouble, I think he will get a win or two this year.

But Hunter-Reay wasn’t the only one that made a bad decision. Will Power, Justin Wilson, Graham Rahal, Helio Castroneves and Sebastian Saavedra are just a few that made a bone-headed move or two. Sébastien Bourdais found the tire barrier more than once. Juan Montoya showed that he has knocked most of the rust off and still knows how to drive an open-wheel car.

Was it the best race I’ve ever seen? No, but it was more entertaining than St. Petersburg a couple of weeks ago. I’ll be in attendance at the next race in two weeks at Barber. It’ll be curious to see what kind of show they put on there.

George Phillips

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16 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Long Beach”

  1. It really did look like an Andretti 1-2 until RHR pulled that “rookie” move. Are we going to see more of the small teams like Sarah Fisher and Ed Carpenter make a difference? Even without bone-headed moves by one of the “big three” drivers? Tune in to the next round at Barber and find out……

  2. My understanding is that NBCSN is using some Indycar races this year to groom Kelli Stavast for her ultimate full-time role on NASCAR next year, and that’s why Jon B is being intermittently sidelined.

  3. What jumps out for me is the parity. How the smaller teams have just as much of a shot at winning as the bigger teams. That makes for some very interesting viewing. Granted had RHR not crashed, he would have had the race won although one has to wonder, was he really extra worried about Newgarden causing his brain to short circuit? As a driver especially one of RHR’s caliber, one does not make a move like that unless one is desperate. How about Michael Andretti’s reaction? That man was not happy. I’ll bet Ryan could have sat strapped in his crippled ,stranded car in the middle of the track the rest of the day rather than face his boss.

  4. Ron Ford Says:

    The qualifying results were surprising and interesting to me. Lots of parity this year as Dan mentioned.

    I like RHR, but he made a bonehead move.

    SFH and Newgarden can’t seem to buy a break.

    Watch out for Pagenaud. He is consistantly good and is highly motivated.

    I thought the officiating was inconsistant. About what you would expect from a committee.

  5. billytheskink Says:

    Interesting and inconsistent day for Barfield and his officiating booth. Power was very fortunate to avoid penalty for his incident with Pagenaud. Dixon probably was too, after running Wilson into the wall, though he had been taking a wide line in that corner for much of the race. Several drivers jumped out of line before the green flag on restarts but only a couple were penalized. Rahal was rightly penalized for turning Wilson in the hairpin, while Mikhail Aleshin was not penalized for later turning Rahal in the same spot. The fans who encourage the Art Heyman-ization of Rahal no doubt enjoyed this comeuppance, but it was a blatant inconsistency.

    The biggest spit take of the race broadcast, I thought, was not the Hunter-Reay-triggered Dallara windfall but Kelli Stavast’s bizarre interview with Roger Daltrey. Daltrey unfavorably compared the accommodations for teenagers in cancer hospitals with those in prison. While it was clear his intent was to illustrate the very worthy issue of the lack of age-specific accommodation for teens with cancer, the prison comparison was awkwardly funny.

  6. I was not able to find a way to watch the race so I listened to the radio team, while watching the live timing and scoring.
    It is obvious to any who has ever spent much time around drag racing that Paul Page has been covering that for a while. He still gives times and speeds as they do there.
    Pippa Mann provided very good insight from a driver’s perspective.
    I got increasingly confusing as the race went on because the internet radio feed kept dropping further and further behind the T&S. The radio description was in the middle of the 79th lap when T&S showed the checkered flag.
    One driver and team that have shown much better than the results so far is Jack Hawksworth and Bryan Herta Autosport.
    He his performance in the race had just been highlighted in a special segment supported by a broadcast sponsor a few laps before he became one of the innocent victims of the RHR gaffe.
    Even after that incident he came back to battle Bourdais to the end.
    Bourdais had about five more PTPs to use and did to win that battle.
    I expect Hawksworth to win one to three races this year and be a very strong contender for Rookie of the Year.

    • I also found the radio broadcast behind timing and scoring. It was also choppy and faded in and out. Sometimes it seemed as though Paul was talking over Pippa, though I don’t think that was actually the case. My solution is usually to turn off the IndyCar website link and turn on the broadcast from 1070 da fan.

  7. The main thing that I’m taking away from the weekend is just how ridiculously closely matched the field looks right now. From the top to the bottom, I think just about every driver spent a good chunk of time running legitimately in the top-10 (about the only driver that I can think of that didn’t was Ryan Briscoe, who hit trouble early on). Argy bargy moments aside, pretty much everybody looked pretty good out there, even including the three less heralded rookies (Hawksworth, Aleshin, Huertas) who all look to be varying levels of “blazingly quick” to “solidly competent”. For the sake of the championship alone, it’s too bad about the incident happened on Lap 55, as if RHR, Hinch and Power had just cleanly made their way past Josef and finished in that order, we’d likely have a virtual dead heat between RHR and Power at the top, and Josef solidly in the top-5 with 9th and 4th place finishes (again, completely hypothetical, and also pretending no further carnage or position changes in the last 25 laps).

    It’s shaping up to be a pretty interesting year. Glad I get to be at two of the next three events…

  8. Matt B. (Dayton, OH) Says:

    As a long-time big Jon Beekhuis fan I am disheartened and disappointed to see that apparently his involvement in the broadcasts is shrinking. I really hope it’s just temporary. I do agree he is better utilized in the booth. Though nothing against female reporters! I still miss Lindy Thackston.

  9. I felt like the entire weekend was pretty entertaining. Time trials were very intense, the race was good, the broadcast decent, the crowd apparently excellent.

    George your point on Graham is spot on. If Hawksworth can keep it between the lines at The Speedway, I figure him to get RoY because I don’t believe Munoz can get away with dipping below the line regularly.

    As far as the broadcast booth, it was kind of fun hearing TB and PT and their insight and Townsend didn’t hesitate to throw a couple of zingers at Paul which made me chuckle. Not sure how the lay fan may have caught on though. I know I’m gonna hear about it, but I sure wish NBCSN would find someone to replace Diffy. His voice is monotone and he’s always on full tilt kill vocals. Can anyone say Varsha full-time since we can’t have Bob Jenkins back? The girl did ok and as much as I dig The Who, I agree with you George, he sure made it awkward but he did redeem himself with the comment that went something like, “This is worse than being in The Who, I can’t hear anything.”

  10. There was a good crowd, but honestly they could race lawn mowers in LA at this race and 50,000 people would show up. This race is almost free money, which is why F1 wants it so bad.

    It was a typical Long Beach race until Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay added some controversey to the race. That wreck was scary, especially how cars were still crashing at least 5-8 seconds after the initial accident. They have got to do a better job on notifying these drivers quicker of an accident on the road courses since they can’t see these until they are right up on them. It reminds me of a few years ago when Will Power had his back broken in a practice (I think) when his car spun out and 5 -10 seconds later was hit at full speed by another car. If this continues, someone is going to get seriously injured or killed.

  11. Ballyhoo Says:

    This is the second chance I have had to attend the Long Beach Grand Prix, which is my home race. The weekend had something for everybody. I was pleasantly surprised at the crowds especially on Friday. The exhibits were packed as was the paddock, which as you know is not free. My friends and I enjoyed meeting many of the drivers, who were very accommodating to fans during the all driver autograph session. Jack Hawksworth even personalized each hero card he signed. And the honor of being able to share a few words with Gurney, Andretti, and Little Al was a special memory.

    The race itself was exciting. I finally had a chance to watch it again yesterday. There were a few moves that I am still debating on whether there should have been penalties. Ruining someone’s race and then making the podium I know is racing, but it doesn’t make it kosher. Several of the rookie drivers did very well on Sunday and I hope continue to perform at this level. Now if a certain champion had not made an overly optimistic move in a very tight corner late in the race …. (Newgarden is one of my racers, so I would have liked to have seen him finish well; am bitter).

    The first NBCSN broadcast was excellent. I think NBC still has a substantial edge over ABC, but that gap may be narrowing. Paul Tracy offered a lot of insight and worked well with Townsend Bell. I would love to have Bob Varsha on the broadcast, but I think he is still under contract with Fox. I too miss Jon Beekus in the booth and now in the pits. Kelli Stavast knew her stuff and was very personable. She is a nice addition to the crew. Roger Daltrey misspoke a bit about his foundation, but I do understand where he was coming from since I work with social workers and health professionals. His heart was in the right place!

    And finally, having credentials and being able to be out in the pits among the teams before the race was outstanding! Sorry folks I just had to brag.

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