Long Beach Qualifying Report
Please forgive a slightly delayed synopsis of qualifying for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. I was away at a wedding this weekend (not mine), and have not yet checked out the DVR to watch the qualifying show. I’m doing well to know the results, but I do know that the only surprise is who was NOT in the Firestone Fast Six – neither of the Target Chip Ganassi cars of Scott Dixon or Dario Franchitti. So far, except for Franchitti winning the pole at Brazil, it has bee a lean start for the team that has won the last two championships. It’s not as if they are mired in last place as Franchitti is third in points and Dixon fifth; but they are flying a little further under the radar than normal.
Dixon has been a slow starter in the past few seasons and normally doesn’t hit his stride until the summer months. But with all three Penske cars in the Fast Six, while the Ganassi cars sat and watched; it looks like it could be a long weekend for the Target cars. The Izod IndyCar season is also shaping up as a runaway as Team Penske has won all three races. Dixon will start in the eighth spot while Franchitti qualified twelfth.
Actually, the Target cars were out performed by Andretti Autosport who had two of their four drivers in the Firestone Fast Six with Ryan Hunter-Reay joining pole-sitter Will Power on the front row. His Andretti teammate, Tony Kanaan will start sixth. Joining Power from Team Penske in the top six are Helio Castroneves who will start fourth and Ryan Briscoe who rolls off fifth. Justin Wilson continues his impressive start to the season and sits third on the grid.
Marco Andretti had another relatively decent effort by qualifying ninth, as he continues to dig out from the hole he found himself in after Brazil. Dan Wheldon and Panther continue to show improvement on the non-ovals and will start tenth. Among some of the disappointments were Danica Patrick who qualified twentieth and Graham Rahal who will start twenty-second in Sarah Fisher’s Dollar General car.
No one will be happier to see the upcoming stretch of ovals on the schedule than Danica Patrick. Her start to the season has been abysmal as she finds herself mired in the fifteenth spot in the point standings. Road/street courses have never been her forte which is kind of odd since she came up through the Atlantics series. And ran in Europe prior to that. If she doesn’t perform well on the ovals, she could be in for a brutal season. She also cannot escape the comparisons to the other female in the field – rookie Simona de Silvestro. Although Simona is behind Danica in the points at twentieth, she has out-qualified and pretty much out-driven Danica – all the while in far inferior equipment. Simona has impressed me at some point in every race and is a leading candidate for Rookie of the Year.
If history is any indication, I don’t expect today’s race to be riveting – but it could be entertaining and offer a few surprises. The tight confines of Long Beach can always threaten to take out some of the leaders – especially if Milka Duno continues with her less than stellar season and presents the field with the additional challenge of a rolling chicane. But common sense and recent history tells me that I would be foolish to pick against Will Power. With two wins, three poles and a fourth place finish at Barber – there isn’t much that has gone wrong for the Australian this season. Add to that, his last two visits to the streets of Long Beach included a win and a second place finish last year – you’d have to be hard-pressed to pick someone else. If I had to, I would not be going way too far out on a limb to pick Ryan Hunter-Reay. He is starting on the front row and has been strong all weekend.
Like Barber, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will not be a showcase for great racing, but it will serve as an outstanding event to showcase the Izod IndyCar Series.
Enjoy the race.