Random Thoughts On Long Beach
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!