Long Beach Preview

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Normally, this is the spot where I preview the upcoming weekend’s race. I’m still going to give my perspective on what to watch for during the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach; but I have somewhat of a rant to get off of my chest first.

This past Tuesday, Andretti Autosport announced that the No.25 car would not run at Long Beach this weekend. As we all know, that car was piloted by Simona de Silvestro in the first two races. She didn’t fare so well at St. Petersburg, where she finished eighteenth; but she had a brilliant showing last weekend in New Orleans, finishing fourth.

As far as I can tell, Michael Andretti funded those first two outings out of his own pocket. Other than logos from Firestone and Honda and the various IndyCar mandated stickers, the prominent signage on the car was that of Andretti Autosport – which is usually the tell-tale sign that there is no sponsor.

This has always been considered a race-to-race deal and no one ever presented it as a full-time ride for Simona. You could never tell that from the outrage that surfaced on social media on Tuesday and Tuesday night. That night, I posted on Twitter that I did not understand all the angst that I was seeing from those that felt Simona had been wronged by not getting to run this weekend.

While many agreed with me, others did not. One person responded to me saying that Michael “…could find some emergency funds somewhere”. Seriously? Emergency funds are for just that…emergencies. As much as I like Simona, her not having a ride at Long Beach is not an emergency.

The theme from all of the hand-wringing I read over this was that since Michael Andretti ran Simona de Silvestro in the first two races, he was somehow obligated to run her at Long Beach. If he had to put his team in a precarious financial predicament to do so…well, so be it.

In case no one has noticed, running an IndyCar team is a business. Curt Cavin often refers to these teams as individual “mom & pop” operations. While it is tough to imagine Roger Penske as owner of a “mom & pop”, that’s what the majority of teams are. These teams run on thin margins at best – many times, they lose money.

As I said earlier, all signs point to Michael Andretti funding her first two races himself. But does that mean she is now entitled to run more races with no sponsorship? The last time I checked, Andretti Autosport was not a non-profit organization set up for charity. Most successful businessmen did not attain that status by making many poor business decisions. In Michael’s eyes, running Simona again with no sponsorship was apparently a poor business decision. These fans on Twitter sure felt free telling Michael Andretti how he should spend his money.

Simona de Silvestro already has a deal with Michael for the Indianapolis 500, I don’t think that she has fallen out of favor at Andretti. I am very confident in speculating that his was a decision based strictly on dollars and cents.

I have no way of knowing how much money it costs to run a car on a per-race basis, but I know it’s not cheap. When you consider a crew probably has around 12-15 people that need to be paid, fed, transported and sheltered. Plus an additional transporter for the additional car and spare parts would be needed. That additional car will burn additional fuel and tires, also. Add it all together, and it is probably a significant sum that Michael Andretti didn’t care to spend one more time.

I’m more incensed that the likes of Francesco Dracone and Sebastian Saavedra will both be in cars this weekend, more than I am that Simona will not.

So I’ll finish the rant portion with this; as much of a fan as I am of Simona de Silvestro – I do not fault Michael Andretti in the least for parking that car this weekend. There are no free rides in life, and especially in IndyCar. Simona knows that, and to her credit – she hasn’t whined one bit. But the small percentage of her fans that think Michael Andretti has done her an injustice, are living in fantasyland.

Now that I’ve gotten that off of my chest, on to this weekend…

I say this every year, but the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is on my short list of races I want to attend before I die. Most races pale in comparison when it comes to history and atmosphere – at least, so I’ve been told. I heard Kevin Lee this week on Trackside say that it was his favorite event on the schedule besides the Indianapolis 500. That says a lot.

I know that it appears to be very well-attended. Look at the stands on television, and they appear to be near capacity. I’m an oval guy by nature, but you can see why there are so many street races on the schedule. While most permanent facilities are on the outskirts of town or downright in the boonies; street courses bring the racing to the cities – and the people. The TV product isn’t always great, but those in attendance generally love the event – even if they aren’t huge race fans.

But unlike many street courses, such as Vancouver, Denver, Baltimore and Houston that have come and gone or even come back again for a little bit – Long Beach has been taking place in some form since 1975. Formula 5000, Formula One, CART/Champ Car and the Verizon IndyCar Series have taken their turn hosting events at Long Beach for the past forty years.

Past winners at Long Beach reads like a Who’s Who list in racing. Names like Niki Lauda, Nelson Picquet, Clay Regazzoni and Mario Andretti won Formula One races at the beach. When CART came in 1984, its long list of winners included legendary names like Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti, Al Unser, Jr., Danny Sullivan, Paul Tracy, Jimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi, Juan Montoya, Helio Castroneves, Sébastien Bourdais, Will Power, Dario Franchitti and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

There will be six former Long Beach winners in this year’s field. Three of them, Power, Castroneves and Montoya drive for Team Penske; while the most recent winner in the field, Takuma Sato drives for AJ Foyt.

With the aero kits and the closed-in walls, I expect some pieces of carbon fiber to be flying; but maybe not as much as some. I think most of the drivers learned their lesson at St. Petersburg. Now that they know you can’t go banging into nearby cars, I think most of the drivers will keep their distance and play it safe. After all, it does you no good to press your advantage if you have to duck into the pits for a new front nose every time. And remember – there is not an infinite number of spare noses out there yet.

Honda will be anxious to prove that last weeks race at NOLA was no fluke, simply because of the rain. Chevy will be eager to prove that it was. I’m no engineer, but my money is on Chevy this weekend. But I’m thinking that the Penske juggernaut will not prevail this weekend. My pick for the win on Sunday? Sébastien Bourdais. After a bad call in qualifying last weekend and being in the wrong place at the wrong time when Hunter-Reay ran Simon Pagenaud off the road, I think he’s due. We’ll see.

George Phillips

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23 Responses to “Long Beach Preview”

  1. I agree George, the people who usually yell the loudest when a budget is cut or something gets no funding to begin with, know the least about what is required to put something like a business together and remain in business. One can only imagine how things would go if the cash was coming out of their pocket…
    I also think you are right about Bordais…

  2. Ron Ford Says:

    “Outrage on Social Media”. Oh yeah, that’s newsworthy. Ranting about that is like getting upset about something someone said at the local bar.

    Not having Simona at Long Beach takes a bit of the bloom off the rose for me, but one can’t fault Michael Andretti for that. It could be argued that he has often done a better job of promoting IndyCar than IndyCar management.

    On Throwback Thursday I watched the 2002 Long Beach race won by Michael Andretti. It was a very emotional win for him. Given what has transpired since 2002, it seemed a bit strange to see those Dixon and Franchitti “kids” struggling in that race. 20 year old Danica Partick beat Tommy Kendall in the Pro/Celeb race. She was dubbed as “someone to watch”.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    I was surprised to see no one in the #25 this weekend, as I was under the impression that it was entered in the Leaders Circle (as Ganassi’s #8 is) for this year. Obviously, that is not and has never been the case, which does not speak well for my reading comprehension skills.

    It is a very tall order in Indycar these days to announce a program and then figure the sponsorship out later, especially outside of Indy and without the Leaders Circle money. When Dale Coyne and even Ganassi have resorted to Draconean measures to keep cars on the grid, and Ganassi’s #8 is in the Leaders Circle, it seems unfathomable to blame Andretti for not funding a full season for Simona out of his own pocket. She knows the game. Here’s hoping we see her more often than not this year.

    Is this the week that Scott Dixon finds his way to the front, or do we have to wait for mid-season to see that?

  4. Phil Kaiser Says:

    George, Takuma won LBGP for Foyt in 2013….

    • Phil Kaiser Says:

      Jesus, I’m sorry, you clearly stated “in the field….”

      Humble apologies yet again! LOL!

    • Hal Bush Says:

      Why are you always so quick to correct people? Can’t you sit back and enjoy yourself without showing everyone how smart you are (but not in this case)?

      • Oh stop, you’re hurting my feeeeeeelings!
        Uh, aren’t you the pot calling the kettle black?
        What does it matter to you if I correct someone? I’ve even made fun of myself here because I was an idiot and read something when I was half asleep this morning, so sue me!
        Why don’t YOU just sit back and whatever?
        Like I’m the only person who comes in here to correct someone? Nice try Hal.

  5. Simona is lucky she has a ride at all. If I were her, I would be running to get MA coffee every chance I got. She does not “deserve” a ride in IndyCar. She left IndyCar for supposed greener pastures and she is lucky to have gotten the two rides she has, with MA so far. I have not heard of any sense of entitlement from her whatsoever. I would encourage her to just keep doing what she is doing and just be grateful she even has an opportunity with a top tier team in the first place . This is probably the best team she has driven for in her career so just keeping her mouth shut and driving would probably be the best approach.

    As far as social media- this is what drives me crazy about Twitter. People that have no capital investment whatsoever in the sport,not risking anything financially , are running their mouths about subjects,and relationships they know nothing about. Its a double edged sword with Twitter. It’s great to get the instant “scoop” and account(s) from individual(s) what is going on but unfortunately you get the clueless blabber from idiots that have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. Everybody is an expert on Twitter. They can just sit in the comfort of their momma’s basements and spew verbal diarrhea about how they think other people should spend their money in a high risk, low return business. Unfortunately there are no credentials to be had anywhere on Twitter. Qualifications are not a requirement. Just a heart beat and fingers is all one needs to have a Twitter account. My two year old could get a handle and go to town on any interaction he wants. How scary is that?

    Keep on doing what you are doing Simona. I would venture to guess you will look back on this season as your first real legitimate shot at a career in open wheel racing.

    • Ron Ford Says:

      I think you would agree that to her credit Simona has not been whining or complaining about her situation. I think that quality is one reason she is so well liked by race fans.

      Regarding your second paragraph about social media and the twitterazzi: Amen to that, or as Robin Miller might say, “Amen to that brother”!

  6. Well stated George about Andretti and Simona. I think that a lot of people don’t realize what a damn good owner Michael is. His teams are, more than not, front runners and they are well equipped. They will get the Honda areokit worked out and I expect them in the first three rows at Indianapolis. I also expect Simona to give a great showing, too.

    Now, as for Long Beach, I am hoping that we don’t see the crunch of the carbon fiber as we have in the two previous races. If this keeps up I vote to get rid of the kits.

  7. SkipinSC Says:

    You’re absolutely correct in your assessment of Michael Andretti and Simona DiSilvestro. As Ron pointed out above, Simona has been quiet on the subject, not whining (Hell, she didn’t whine when she burned her hands at Indy, and she only issued an occasional “peep” when forced to drive that PIG of a car she called “pork chop.”)

    I get that everyone wants to see Simona in the series full time, as do I. But financial responsibility being what it is, I’m sure she’d rather have the ride for Indy than for Long Beach. I admit I was somewhat surprised when he put her in the car for NOLA. If she should happen to do well at Indy, that might lead to more rides for her going forward.

    What truly surprises me is that no one has stepped up to assist in funding her effort. She has, in my opinion, proven herself very capable of bringing home a podium finish on the road/street courses, far more so than some who are driving on a full time basis.

    Moreover, far more than his responsibilities as a car owner, Michael Andretti has poured a LOT of his funds into promotion of events in this series, something a lot of keyboard pounders probably don’t realize. Without Michael and his group, Milwaukee is almost certainly not happening and that would truly be a tragedy.

    • Ron Ford Says:

      Speaking as a Milwaukee area resident for 75 years, I can say without hesitation that no one has ever promoted the Milwaukee Mile better than Michaei Andretti’s group. The fact that the race currently draws about 25,000 is due to a declining interest in open wheel racing nationwide. So the projected 4 PM start for this summer’s race is beyond dumb. When Danica was still in IndyCar there was a very noticeable increase in young girls attending the race. Now, not so much, so I hope Simona gets a full time ride.

  8. I will join George in his rant. I am one of Simona’s biggest fans and I am very thankful for Michael giving her the best opportunity she,s ever had. I even sent a thank you letter to the team headquarters. I am frustrated, however, that she can’t find a sponsor. She seems like someone that young women and girls could easily identify with. She is always pleasant, well spoken, has potential race winning talent, and is now connected to the magical Andretti name. Just last year she was named on a list of 50 most marketable athletes. Hopefully a major sponsor will appear to keep her with the Andretti team for years to come. But I agree that insulting Michael is not the proper way to support Simona. She is not a crybaby and I’d like to see the fans show the same class she does.

  9. theamericanmutt Says:

    I don’t understand the penalty on RHR. He didn’t run pags off the road, if he’d “given” up that room on the left then all three cars are coming together in that right hander a half second later. You put three cars into a two car turn, and it’s the last guy in who should back off. I guess Eds crash at Indy last year was his fault?

  10. pete1945 Says:

    Frankly, the only thing that surprises me on social media is when there is no outrage. (Did that ever happen?) Outrage is the normal setting on social media.

  11. This will be Montoya v Power. This is not a Dixon track–the only hole on his resume.

    I have been to the 500 once and Long Beach once. Both won by RHR coincidentally enough. I may get banned for saying this, but I had much more fun at Long Beach.

    I’ll take Power this time.

  12. Mike Silver Says:

    I am at Long Beach and though it’s only 11 am Friday this event has already matched the hype. Impressive involvement of the city. Hope you make it here someday, George.

  13. Bruce Waine Says:

    Another example ……. Simple economics at work ……………… Herta announced that he will run only one entry at INDY.

  14. My “outrage” can be summed up in one word:

    “Saavedra”?!!!

    Whiskey Tango Foxtrot????

  15. Lawrence Tate Says:

    My main issue with Simona de Silvestro not getting a ride at Long Beach is the fact that she happens to be in sixth place in the standings. If I was Michael Andretti or any team owner (which I am NOT nor could I be) the conversation in my head would be “I can’t fathom why no one will step up and sponsor Simona but since she IS in sixth place I have no choice but to put her in a car for Long Beach. After that, we’ll see.”

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