Random Thoughts On Long Beach

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There’s a reason that I want to attend the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in person one day. That’s because the race is sometimes so boring to watch on TV, it’s got to be much better to be there in person, doesn’t it? Yesterday’s race was one of those races.

You know you’re watching a boring race when the pit reporters do “Through the Field” and they actually get all the way through the entire field, simply to fill some airtime. You also know things are a little dry when the two major points of the race involved watching a pitted car blend back into the field before heading into Turn One. The first time was when Scott Dixon beat Helio Castroneves to the turn. The second was when the eventual race winner, Simon Pagenaud, drove over the blend line in order to beat Dixon to the corner and take the lead that he never relinquished. More on that later.

The start of the race was impressively clean. The field came off of the hairpin better aligned than I’ve seen them as they took the green flag. As the field sped toward Turn One, there was a lot of jockeying for position as Helio held off a charge from Dixon. Except for some flying bodywork in the opening lap, things stayed green as they came around to complete Lap One…and Lap Two…

I never wish a crash on anyone. Nothing infuriates me more than hearing a non-racing fan tell me that I just go to races to watch the crashes. But an occasional legitimate yellow can spice up the show and make things interesting on restarts. Having said that, I credit IndyCar for not throwing the phantom yellow for debris or having a mandatory caution, like some racing series do.

The result was pretty much a single-file fuel-saving parade that featured very little passing, and stayed green from start to finish. The most bored person in Long Beach may have been the flagman who got to wave three flags – the green at the start of the race, the white and the twin-checkered flag at the end.

After the race, the general theme of the drivers was (1) the series needs to go back to the original DW12 and (2) the races need to add a few laps so that there is no way to do it on two stops. Add a few more laps and let them race full out instead of putting fans to sleep by saving fuel. I know it’s a part of racing, but watching drivers save fuel does not put butts in the seats. Fans want to see drivers racing at full song. Those that are interested in fuel economy are probably not racing fans to begin with.

It’s probably a good thing there was controversy at the finish, otherwise there would be very little to write about or have fans talking about over the next week.

But if you’re Simon Pagenaud, a win is a win. Many drivers in the past have won races with a cloud over them. Once the cloud disappears over time, the win is still there. Scott Dixon will always remember it, but most fans will forget about it – mainly because there will most certainly be more and bigger controversies along the way this season.

So congratulations to Simon Pagenaud on his fifth career win and his first since joining Team Penske last season. Leading the points and notching his first win after two second place finishes, three races into the season is not a bad start. Instead of wondering if Pagenaud would survive his second year at Penske, we may start wondering who might catch him if he keeps this pace up.

TV Coverage: I would have no problem at all if Rick Allen called every Verizon IndyCar Series race from this point on. As I said after the Phoenix race, you can’t tell that this is only his second-ever IndyCar race to call. He gives an understated, yet flawless delivery to set up a situation and then sits back and let the two experts in the booth, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy, take over.

Bell and Tracy have learned to curtail some of their banter and just give viewers enough to come off as witty, but not tiresome. Although this was only their second race together, this trio fits like an old glove.

I would also give a nice tip of the hat for including Al Unser, Jr. in the opening just before the start. Little Al was the King of the Beach, winning this race a record six times. With his personal issues, I understand why there may be some hesitancy – but we need to see more of Little Al. It was good to see him yesterday.

Pre-Race Ceremonies: It was good to hear a different voice on the PA at Long Beach, so we didn’t have to be asked if we were ready. I was very impressed with the voice and style of Sgt. Marcus D’Angelo of the California Army National Guard. He sang the National Anthem straight up and didn’t try to stylize it like so many “professional” singers do. I say seek out local military talent for every race, rather than trot out some no-name “star” who will usually use the unique opportunity only to butcher their own rendition just to get noticed.

We need more singers like Sgt. D’Angelo. Also, kudos for the choice of the C-17 Globemaster for the flyover. That is one impressive looking airplane.

As for Oscar de la Hoya giving the command to start engines, did he really need a cue card?

The (Non) Call: In any sport, there are two types of calls – judgment calls and those of the black & white variety. In a football game, we might get infuriated over a pass interference call or non-call – but that call is subject to the opinion of the official on the field. He presumably has a better angle than we do at home. But if the left tackle jumps before the snap, that’s pretty black & white. It’s hard to ignore. The lineman didn’t mean to jump, calling it could affect the outcome of the game, but his team is penalized five yards regardless. Those are the rules.

Racing is no different. There are judgment calls like blocking. You and I at home may look at a replay and swear our favorite driver was being blocked. The stewards in race control may see it differently and say the other driver did nothing wrong. We may not like it, but that is the interpretation of those that have the experience to know better.

But racing also has black & white rules that are not open for interpretation. Running over an air-hose is a good example. It’s not a question of intent or to what degree the air-hose was run over. There is no gray area. Either it was or it wasn’t.

It’s the same with the blend line at Long Beach. If the rule clearly states that the right tires must stay to the right of the line until it ends and never touch it – it’s a violation, if you do. I think there is no question that Pagenaud violated this rule, when he crossed the line in order to come out early enough to stay ahead of Scott Dixon. Every angle of every replay indicates that he did, and he improved his position by doing so. Yet, Pagenaud received only a warning even though it was the last round of pit stops in the race.

Somewhere when the new race stewards were announced before the start of the season, someone gave everyone the impression that there would be no warnings this season. I can’t say who said it or when, but they must have. Scott Dixon said that after the race. Paul Tracy said it during the broadcast and several in the media echoed it on social media during the race. I don’t recall hearing that, but since some fairly top people with IndyCar are all saying it – I don’t think it is just an urban legend.

However, IndyCar was quick to send out a tweet out after the race saying “Per IndyCar penalty guidelines 7.10.1.1; failing to follow procedures entering or exiting the pits can be a warning”.

That leads me to believe there is one truth among these possibilities. Either the stewards did not know the rulebook, when they gave the impression there would not be any warnings; the rulebook was printed after this statement was made; or that such a statement about warnings was never made.

Chip Ganassi was surprisingly calm in his post-race interview. He was right though – the stewards have a tough job. I would never want that job.

But after three races, it seems that the stewards in Race Control have been trying to avoid controversy by “swallowing their whistle” and making non-calls whenever a decision has to be made. I guess they are taking the approach that an official should not insert themselves into the outcome of a race unless a situation is so blatant, that they would be committing malpractice by not making the call.

I think what happened yesterday was that situation. Curt Cavin tweeted out that according to the Penalty Sheet, stewards can determine the extent of an infraction. If it is determined to be minimal, they can choose do nothing (in this case issue a warning – same result). If they consider an infraction to be a medium infraction, they can put the car at the back of the lead lap. An infraction determined to be flagrant can result in a drive-through penalty.

Not that I’m qualified to be a race steward, but common sense has to come into play somewhere. Doesn’t it? Had Pagenaud crossed the line and blended in behind Dixon, I would call that a minimal infraction. I would do likewise if he crossed it to blend in ahead of a lapped car. But not only was this move for position, it was for the lead and led to Pagenaud winning closely over Dixon.

Had I been in race control, regardless what the Penalty Sheet says – I would have made Pagenaud give up the position to Dixon on the track as soon as it happened. That way, Pagenaud is not heavily penalized and is still in a position to earn the win by passing Dixon on the track.

By sticking their head in the sand and doing nothing, the Race Control stewards have greatly affected the points battle. Dixon would have left Long Beach with his fortieth win and the points lead. Instead, Pagenaud leads the championship by fourteen points.

But the greater damage is the perception that drivers, teams and fans took away from Long Beach. What was promised to be new and improved now looks to be the same old, same old. There now appears to be as great an inconsistency in rule enforcement as ever. That won’t settle well with drivers or fans – and the perceptions of both are important.

You can say this is an isolated incident. After all, these stewards are new on the job. To think they will go through even one season without controversy would be asinine. If this is the worst they do this season, hats off to them. The optimist in me wants to believe that. The pessimist in me says that this is the first of many blunders for the new stewards. Reality is probably somewhere in the middle.

Unless you’re Scott Dixon, we should probably raise our collective eyebrows at this incident, mentally file it away in case it happens again and then move on. But if you are Scott Dixon, you have every right in the world to be absolutely livid. He should be given championship points just for showing the restraint he did in the post-race interview. Race Control needs to regroup over the next week and figure out a way to become more consistent in their rulings, or else they’re going to have a mess on their hands. They never need to be the story of a race. Period.

All in All: There’s no way to spin this one. It was a dull and boring race. There were a few decent moves by a couple of drivers, but nothing that you could classify as breathtaking. It’s no big deal. It happens. Not every race can be scintillating.

As I said earlier, had there not been the controversy at the end – this race would have no chatter at all about it afterwards. I do think the drivers are on to something regarding extending the race a few laps in order to force three fuel stops, so that fuel mileage is not a concern.

Other than that, it’s time to turn the page and move on to Barber.

George Phillips

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32 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Long Beach”

  1. Olderfan Says:

    “Not that I’m qualified to be a race steward, …”

    Actually George, given the rational and detailed thought process that you appear to apply to the overwhelming majority of your writing, about even the most arcane aspects of IndyCar, I’d argue that you may in fact be MORE than qualified.

    And the fact that you are not ( and have never been) associated with any of the teams makes you more objective. I wouldn’t mind seeing an experienced reporter/racing writer as a steward; I’d say that you’re an upgrade on Brian Barhardt.

    At least Pagenaud didn’t lap the track with half his fuel rig attached.

  2. Agree that the non call does not settle well with fans. This year I have finally gotten my neighbor here in Charlotte, who is a lifelong stock car fan, watching the Indycar races. He noted to me afterwards how ridiculous that was to let someone clearly break the rules and win the race. Said it reminded him of that other series and if Indycar is going to be the same way he just won’t watch anymore. I think the position should have been given back and then we could have watched Simon try and track down Dixon for the race win. It would have been just as much, if not more, entertaining and also would have been without as much controversy. Either way though George, congrats on picking the correct winner and ending your winless streak!

  3. I agree with you George on Rick Allen.
    – I think it is clear to assume aero-kits will be gone next year.
    -I hope the Indy 500 isn’t this boring- I don’t think it will.
    -Scott Dixon has some amazing composure.
    -Race Control is not off to a good start. I have lost my faith already in RC.

  4. To be honest, I was ok with it but if Dixon had done it I would be crying foul! I was just ready to see Simon get a win. Either way though, I don’t like seeing races come down to a silly line rule in Indycar or NASCAR.

  5. It looks like Honda and Chevy are now even again when it comes to non-called stop-and-go-penalties. It’s like officials gave back a non-call to Chevy for Pagenaud crossing the line at Long Beach after they had given one to Honda for Rahal had taken the fuel nozzle with him at Fontana last year. Back then, it was not clear if Honda would remain in the sport.

    I didn’t watch this race due to conflicting time zones and being too tired to stay up. Congrats to Simon Pagenaud anyway. He is a well-deserved points leader and it looks like he has now established himself as Team Penske’s driver in the fight for the championship this year.

    But what happened to the 4 Andretti drivers? Do they not know how to set up a car for bumpy surfaces anymore? Here’s hoping they improve.

    • billytheskink Says:

      Considering that the driver Pagenaud passed by breaking the rules also runs a Chevrolet, I don’t see how the lack of a penalty yesterday would have anything to do with Chevrolet being owed something for Rahal’s fuel nozzle incident last year.

  6. Your opening paragraph could go for all street races, because they seem to be more about the in-person experience than the actual race. Not really a criticism — that’s just the nature of the beast. If I did go to a street race, I’d walk around during the race and see just how many people are paying attention and how many are having cocktails and glancing randomly at the track. (I honestly don’t know how that experiment would turn out.) PLUS you get to see multiple other races on the street course during the weekend, so it strikes me as a good ticket value. I knew it was officially a parade when Paul Tracy took a moment to talk about how beautiful the race course was, Gorgeous Facility-like. I bet even the IMS radio network guys were calling it boring. KIDDING. Har! If that ever happens we know the apocalypse is upon us. I can’t recall the last time IndyCar called a penalty at a moment that would most likely screw the leader. I may be forgetting some. They’ll penalize the leader early in the race, but after the last stop on a street course? Forget about it. Pagenaud could have thrown live chickens out of his car at Dixon without penalty. Long Beach lives on its history and the party, (which seems to work for them, so, MURICA), if the race rises to a 5 on the 1-10 excitement scale, that’s a bonus.

  7. This was a typical Long Beach ‘race’. It really is a parade. But, its also one of the big events on the west coast. Precious few there even care about the ‘race’. Because it makes Indycar so much money, its the one and only street course they ought to leave on the schedule. If all the citizens want is some cars parading at their event, might as well take the money and run.

    Even better for the people of southern California. Now they have the Rams back so they can go back to ignoring their own NFL team. How long until the Rams go back to St. Louis?

  8. Ron Ford Says:

    More Allen. Less DIFFEY!!!

    More laps. Less fuel savin’ (fuel savin’ ain’t racin’)

    If you are a Indycar driver, do you really want Scott Dixon racing with extra motivation? Plain and simple Simon cheated when looking for an edge with 1st place at stake. Twas ever thus in racing.

    The IndyCar race was on cable. The series and the teams continue to struggle to find sponsors. Meanwhile, yesterday the bull riding deal was on network TV with advertising from major national sponsors plastered everywhere in the barn except on the bull’s horns. With all due respect to cowboys and cowgirls everywhere, how did that happen? (and the bulls did not pace themselves. They went all out all the time)

    • Har. SPRINT CAR BULLS. Wide open all the time.

    • billytheskink Says:

      PBR draws ratings comparable to Indycar on over-the-air television, is very inexpensive to produce (compared to Indycar), and has a solid group of advertisers who will buy much of the national time during their broadcasts. It is also willing to show tape-delayed broadcasts in order to get CBS time slots.

      Most of the PBR schedule, and all of their live broadcasts (including their biggest event, the finals in Las Vegas), air on CBS Sports Network, which is available in 20-30 million fewer homes than NBCSN.

      In fairness to the Indycar race, there was no shortage of sponsor signage at Long Beach. And man did Toyota buy a ton of ads during the broadcast.

  9. Let’s review the actual rule regarding how infraction determinations are made, and how they are to be penalized…

    9.1.2 When any Race Steward or an Official identifies
    an On-Track violation of these Rules, the Race
    Stewards shall be immediately informed of the
    violation. Upon receipt of the violation, the Race
    Stewards shall deliberate on the violation to
    determine if a penalty will be issued. The
    Competitors and broadcast/media are informed but
    the Race will not stop, unless directed by the Race
    Director. During this review, all available camera
    views, the time line data and the Rules references
    will be made available to the Race Stewards. Each
    Race Steward votes for or against the issuance of a
    penalty and a majority vote determines if a penalty
    is issued. Once this determination is made, the
    Senior Steward shall determine the severity of the
    penalty from the penalty guidelines as established
    by INDYCAR. The Senior Steward will notify the
    Race Director who shall advise the Competitors and
    broadcast/media either: (i) “Car #___ was under
    review and no further action is required” or (ii)
    “Quoting Rule #___ and Car #___, the penalty is
    issued.”

    Thus at least 2, if not all 3 stewards believed that Pagenaud violated the pit out line rule, but Davis (assuming he was senior steward) was solely responsible for making the call on whether it was a warning or an actual penalty.

    That is, if they followed their own rules, assuming that there was no change in 9.1.2 after the 2016 book was first issued.

    Regarding the “senior steward”, I believe that Davis was designated as senior steward for the season, even though this is the final sentence in the definition of “Race Steward” in the 2016 book:

    “… At each Race, the President of Competition and Operations will select one of the Race Stewards to be the Senior Steward.”

  10. S0CSeven Says:

    It sounds to me like there are two rules. The one in the book and the one PT said the drivers were told in the drivers meeting. You can’t do that…. and that’s my biggest complaint. Personally, I don’t think the violation affected the race outcome and a warning was appropriate. The hysteria over the call (or non-call) was just a last gasp of announcers desperately trying to find something to talk about.

    I also replayed the race noting pit exits and there were many who came REALLY close to the Pagenaud deal, but only one car I saw who violated the blend line worse than Pagenaud (I think it was Sato) and narry a word was mentioned.

    Changing direction, I think the race length is chosen to fit into a fixed TV schedule making allowances for a couple of yellows etc. That race ended with enough time to interview almost the whole field but it isn’t always so. I’m not sure Indycar has the clout (ala Nascar) to run into overtime at their whim so lengthing the race distance may be problematic.

    • Ron Ford Says:

      Good point about TV suits running the show. I don’t like it and I hate saying “it is what it is” but, well, it is what it is.

      • S0CSeven Says:

        BTW, at Toronto at least, Paul dresses from the waist up. Below the waist he’s wearing old khaki shorts and battle worn sneakers. Just like you might imagine.

    • Here’s the definition, as it may be, of “Rules” in the 2016 book:

      “Rules – This 2016 IndyCar Series Rule Book, including
      without limitation, Aero Kit Regulations, Engine
      Regulations, supplementary guidelines, Substance
      Abuse Policy, Social Media Policy, Style Guide and
      bulletins issued by Officials, whether containing Rules
      applicable only to a particular Event(s) or containing
      Rules of general applicability. The Rules are made
      available in electronic format. Because of the ability to
      alter the electronic format, the electronic copy issued
      by INDYCAR controls as to any discrepancies.
      Notwithstanding the foregoing, Rules may be issued
      verbally in mandatory meetings such as Drivers
      meetings held during Events.”

    • Brian McKay Says:

      Pagenaud said “another inch to the right” doesn’t make much difference?!
      BOTH right tires were more than a foot and a half over the yellow lines. Every video replay shows the inside edge/left edge of Pagenaud’s right front tire FAR over the yellow lines.

      INDYCAR needs to make a real change to that pit lane exit, such as backing-up the end of the exit six feet and installing a cone for the racers to drive past before turning.

      And it can lengthen the race to 90-100 laps.

      I suppose that INDYCAR only issued a warning to Pagenaud because it had not penalized Chilton, Muñoz, Sato, and Castroneves for short-cutting the course. The drivers and fans don’t like inconsistent enforcement of rules/imposition of penalties.

  11. I’m probably in the minority, but as good as Rick Allen was at Phoenix, I felt he was much worse at Long Beach. I got the feeling that this was the first street course event he’d ever seen.

  12. I’ve yet to feel excited about an Indycar race in 2016. It’s the perfect storm of boredom, with Penske and Ganassi dominant, Honda awful, less than compelling tracks, and ECR struggling. I’m concerned the 100th anniversary of the Indy 500 will look a lot more like last year’s race than 2014’s. The last half of last season saw better racing than the first half so I kind of assume (hope) that once we get past Texas, exciting racing will return.

    One problem is ECR is bad this year. They clearly are having some sort of budget problem because their pit crew is not up to speed, their setups are weak, and they lost the #20 on road courses. It’s incredibly depressing because it really looked like ECR was a team which could grown into a serious contender week in and week out. Instead they’ve fallen back into KV esque obscurity. I can’t imagine Newgarden staying with ECR much longer, and maybe that’s why they’ve started to give up. I’m so bored with Penske and Ganassi winning, and it is really frustrating that every time a team comes close to them, that team then falls apart. Newman Haas (in 08), KV, Andretti Autosport 2012, Dale Coyne multiple times, and now ECR/SFH.

  13. The call that was made would be a non issue if the cars were the original DW12, which would allow a greater bottom downforce and thus passing. If the cars could pass I believe Dixon could have passed Simon. So when you have a parade instead of a race a minor thing becomes the most important. Indycar needs to stop messing with the cars and let them actually race. I pray everyday the Indy500 isn’t a snoozer because of the domed skids

  14. billytheskink Says:

    There would have been more passing, less fuel-saving, and fewer complaints from all parties had there been a couple of cautions.

    Caution-free races are generally less-competitive races at all track types and in all series. Prior to yesterday, there hadn’t been a caution-free Indycar race at Long Beach since 1989. What happened yesterday was unexpected, especially since we saw several incidents of near-incidents in practice and qualifying. Indycar can (or should) address things to make its races more competitive, but the biggest reason we had a “boring” race is that there were no cautions, and Indycar can’t (or shouldn’t) really control that.

    I agree with George on the Pagenaud non-call. I too would have called for Pagenaud to give up the position. If the announcers are to be believed, the blend line rule is black-and-white. A warning makes little logical sense when the violation can be objectively identified, especially when the warning is for actions in a situation that would not be repeated. Pagenaud crossed the blend line too early on his final pit stop, a warning not to do it *again* rings pretty hollow in that situation.

    • Well sir, once again you arrive here with well- thought- out comments and common sense reasoning, while I usually just throw stuff at the wall. So thank you for that.

  15. I have to say, it was a tough call. I certainly wouldn’t want to be making that decision, although it appears Dixon did the very same thing exiting after his first pit stop. I too am of the belief that the aero kits need to go, and just go with the DW12. I realize it’s Honda’s own fault, but the whining and testing for new aero parts, etc, it’s just wasting a lot of money, not really bringing any in.

  16. Brian in Florida Says:

    I’ve been a Pagenaud fan for years. I agree with everything that George wrote from the top, phrased well at every turn, EXCEPT this unimportant, not-racing-related quibble: Sergeant D did not sing our national anthem well but mispronounced it. Peroolus isn’t a word in the anthem. This isn’t the lahn of the free. I’m sorry that no one auditions these ‘performers,’ or if anyone auditions them, no one knows the words peril and perilous or cares about a proper presentation. In other nations, spectators at sports contests and other large gatherings sing their anthems. We don’t need persons “here to perform for us our national anthem”) when we can sing it. Lyrics can be shown on the jumbo video screens.

  17. Good to see Takuma Sato having a good run once again

  18. I was at Long Beach for the first time ever, and I was getting bored and even tweeted that someone needed to stuff it into the tires to liven things up. I was GA and stood in the main GA area that was over pit out, and we couldn’t here the PA and the only visible video board was impossible to actually see anything on. (According to a yearly attendee I stood next to, there has been a GA stand in the past but for some reason they decided to not have it this year?)

  19. Thanks George for you analysis. I too am a Pagenaud fan, saw this race live in LB, and was thrilled to be present for his first win for Penske. However, we thought Simon would have to give up the position to Dixon and kept waiting for that to happen. It was not a thrilling race, but my friend and I had a great time as did most of the people around us. [Not everyone comes only for the party.] My seats were in the hairpin and I held my breath a few times as the cars converged. Surprised there was not carnage. I may choose to sit there again next year.

    I agree with NickP that it was a real plus to see Sato have a solid performance for Foyt Racing. Not sure what happened to poor Jack, but he has a new engineer today.

    Three days of all kinds of racing, close proximity to the cars and drivers, and at a reasonable price.

  20. EDGAR Emmitt Says:

    Long Beach is a beautiful setting for any event.
    But that race was so boring I fell asleep during the race .
    What’s bothering is the lack of excitement at any of the races this year.
    Let’s hope the 100th running has the edge of the seat racing we have all come to expect.

    • We’ll have it back when they get rid of the damn aerokits. The DW 12 is a fantastic car, why screw with it?

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