Random Thoughts On Long Beach

geothumbnail
Oddly enough, there will be some that will say that yesterday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach was boring. I will respectfully, yet strongly, disagree. Perhaps I’m a little enthusiastic after having just watched the race from the comfort of my easy chair, but after continuous decades of watching races at Long Beach – I’m thinking yesterday’s may have been the best of the bunch. Granted there have been some snoozers mixed in there, but even taking the very best ones into account – this one may have topped them all. I’m not afraid to call a parade a parade, but I thought this race had a little bit – no, a lot of everything.

First of all, there was a tremendous crowd on hand. There were different strategies at work from the very beginning – some worked, some did not – while others had to be tweaked throughout the day. There was drama from the outset as last year’s race winner had to start from the back. There was intrigue as we watched all four of the Andretti Autosport cars drop out one by one. And there was passing – lots of passing; perhaps not that much at the front, but Simon Pagenaud didn’t pass all of those cars in the pits.

Most importantly, seeing James Hinchcliffe win his first race after his near-death experience at Indianapolis almost two years ago gave this race a feel-good storyline that will resonate for quite a while.

Some of the aftermath of the first two races will continue to linger for the next two weeks. Honda has won the first two races that were dominated by Chevys last year. The Top-Three teams of Penske, Ganassi and Andretti are winless after two races, while Dale Coyne and Sébastien Bourdais actually extended their lead at the top of the points standings. I’m not sure that even the biggest optimist in the Dale Coyne camp saw that coming a month ago.

And all Michael Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay can do is scratch their heads and wonder what happened.

The biggest debate of the day was whether or not to use a two or three pit stop strategy. Some would say a two-stop strategy made sense because it was less time in the pits. But the two-stoppers would have to save fuel in order to make it, while the three-stoppers could run all-out. Plus, the three-stoppers could benefit from a third set of fresh tires.

Race winner James Hinchcliffe and the presumed second place finisher, Ryan Hunter-Reay, were both on a two-stop strategy. But Hunter-Reay dropped out with electrical issues six laps from the finish, leaving Hinchcliffe as the only car running that had only made two pit stops. Had it not been for an extended five-lap caution period and another two-lap yellow-flag for Hunter-Reay’s crippled car – I’m not sure Hinchcliffe would have had the luxury to pull away like he did. But that’s what racing is all about – capitalizing on the breaks that are given to you.

James Hinchcliffe had a bigger break go against him in the last race at St. Petersburg. After leading for twenty-one laps, an ill-timed yellow shuffled him back in the pack. He and those around him never recovered and he was forced to settle for a ninth-place finish, when he deserved so much more. If you follow this sport long enough, you know that the breaks generally even out over time. This time, they evened out from one race to the next.

But make no mistake – James Hinchcliffe deserved this win and I think this is going to be a very popular win throughout the paddock and the entire IndyCar community. Congratulations to driver James Hinchcliffe, car-owner Sam Schmidt and engineer Robert Gue, who laid out the strategy and committed to it.

TV Coverage: I found the voices in the booth to be knowledgeable and cohesive, considering they were going with a substitute play-by-play (lap-by-lap?) announcer. There is no noticeable drop-off between the regular Verizon IndyCar Series lead announcer Leigh Diffey and Rick Allen, who called yesterday’s race. I’ve said before that I would have no problem if Allen or even Brian Till were handed those duties. I’d love to see pit-reporter Kevin Lee get the gig. He has done well on the Indy Lights broadcasts in the past and we all know how well he handles Trackside.

The only gaffes that I heard from the booth was when Paul Tracy said that Marco Andretti last won in 2013 (it was 2011 at Iowa); and not once, but twice I heard Rick Allen refer to Ryan Hunter-Reay simply as “Reay”. The fact that I heard it twice tells me it wasn’t just a slip.

The pit reporters did not have such an error-free day. Well, actually – Robin Miller, Kevin Lee and Marty Snider were pretty much on point throughout the broadcast. I can’t say the same for Katie Hargitt, who may have had her worst day since she started covering IndyCar races in 2015. Her gaffes were too many to name, but she completely butchered the “Through the Field” segment. Twice she missed the “handoff” from her colleagues, which left the broadcast with awkward silence. Then when she handed it back to Kevin Lee, she referred to him as “Lee”.

Katie Hargitt has had some good broadcasts. She is a racer who has raced on dirt, which qualifies anyone to talk about racing in my book. Broadcasting is much tougher than it looks. I can only imagine how tough a job it is to try and speak while a director is shouting at you in your earpiece. Recently retired Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is about to find that out as he gets moved immediately into the top seat at CBS. But she has to do better than what she showed yesterday.

I’m assuming that Katie Hargitt simply had a bad day and needed to shake off the rust from the offseason. Let’s all hope so.

The biggest gaffe of the day came from the production truck. Ryan Hunter-Reay was running second and Alexander Rossi was third. On the back part of the course, you could tell that Rossi was setting up to try and pass his teammate for second place. Suddenly the picture went blank for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only about five seconds. The scroll kept running at the top, so I know it wasn’t the fault of my cable company. When the picture returned, I could see that Rossi was able to complete the pass. Unfortunately, no one in the booth caught it for another half lap or so. Nor did they ever go back and show a replay. That left me more than a little frustrated.

On a lighter note, I found the Robin Miller grid-run to be entertaining, but for once – too short. He only interviewed two drivers; Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti. I’m guessing they suddenly realized they were up against a commercial, but I felt a little shortchanged.

Medical Update: In the closing laps, JR Hildebrand tried to overtake Mikhail Aleshin on the main straightaway. Aleshin squeezed him and Hildebrand’s right-front wheel collided with the left-rear wheel of Aleshin. Hildebrand continued harmlessly straight into the runoff area for Turn One, while Aleshin sustained damage to the rear of the car.

Sunday night, we learned that it was not so harmless. JR Hildebrand sustained a broken left hand. After an evaluation, Hildebrand could not be cleared to return to competition. He will be re-evaluated this week back in Indianapolis before he can be cleared for Barber in two weeks. If not, Ed Carpenter will have an unwanted decision on his hands.

Kimball Again: In my post following the St. Petersburg race, I mentioned how frequent it is becoming for Charlie Kimball to make boneheaded moves early in races and taking out some of his competitors in the process. A few of you came to his defense for his Lap One contact with Graham Rahal at St. Petersburg. Apparently, Kimball did not learn his lesson because he took himself out with another boneheaded move about a quarter of the way through Lap One yesterday – this time ruining Will Power’s day. Power was able to continue after getting his damage repaired, but he was immediately taken out of contention and had to settle for a thirteenth-place finish.

It’s an old saying in racing that says you can’t win the race on the first lap, but you can certainly lose it on the first lap. Both races in 2017, Charlie Kimball has lost the race for himself and others while making idiotic moves on the first lap of each race. At some point, he might want to realize that there is a distinct possibility that he might just be the problem.

Chevy Woes: Since Chevrolet returned to the series in 2012, I’ve started a few sections entitled Honda Woes, but never about Chevy – not until now. We learned this past weekend that St. Petersburg was no fluke. Honda has rebounded from a series of embarrassments to the point that the first two races suggest that Honda may even dominate the 2017 season.

St. Petersburg and Long Beach were the sort of tracks that Chevy had dominated over the past few seasons. But at both races this season, Honda has won both of them and took seven of the Top-Ten races in each race. The only thing Honda really had going for it the past two seasons was that they seemed to have an advantage at the large superspeedways like Indianapolis and Pocono. One can assume that Honda has not lost that advantage, so it now looks like the shoe is on the other foot.

I’ll be curious to see if Honda continues its resurgence at Barber in a couple of weeks, or if Chevy can dominate there like it has for the last couple of years. After all, Honda is the title sponsor of the race at Barber.

Andretti Woes: Not since the 1992 Indianapolis 500, when two of the three Penske cars were taken out in separate incidents on the same lap; have I seen a team’s fortunes turn so sour, so suddenly as they did for Andretti Autosport yesterday.

Marco Andretti went out early on Lap 14 with electrical issues. While disappointing for Marco, his father still had three bullets in his gun. Takuma Sato had run as high as twelfth. Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay had been running in the Top-Three for much of the day and looked poised to bring home at least a podium finish or two.

It all started going wrong on Lap 62 with only twenty-three laps remaining. First, Rossi experienced an engine failure, while running second, that left his car smoldering on the side of the track. With seven laps to go, Sato experienced a similar engine failure. On the very next lap, Hunter-Reay experienced an electrical issue that caused his car to shut down. Within a seventeen-lap span, three out of the four Andretti cars dropped out with mechanical issues. Like Marco’s problem, none of the four cars dropped out due to driver error.

Michael Andretti was shown on the pit box with his head buried in his hands, undoubtedly thinking of what might have been. What looked so promising among the four cars could only produce a best finish of seventeenth by Ryan Hunter-Reay. That team deserved more. They won’t have too much time to dwell on it. The trucks left for Indianapolis Sunday night. After a quick turnaround over Easter Sunday, they will head south for Barber – hoping for a much better outcome than they got yesterday.

Not Entirely Reliable: While some of the other teams in the Honda camp may be a little concerned after watching the Andretti cars fall out with various engine or electrical issues, the lack of total reliability adds an element that has been missing from the Verizon IndyCar Series for more than a decade.

For years, even when a driver was seemingly running away with a race – you knew that there was always a chance that a driver’s engine could give way with little or no warning. We have all seen the dreaded plume of smoke billowing behind a car in the lead with just a few laps to go. It was a part of racing that held our suspense, knowing that that was a distinct possibility.

When Honda became the sole engine provider to the series in 2006, they significantly detuned the engine since they had no other competition. While performance dropped a little, engine reliability rose dramatically. While that was good for Honda and the teams, it removed a level of intrigue for the fans. Perhaps Honda’s improved performance comes at the price of reliability. Quite honestly, that doesn’t bother me. Racing is all about running on the edge. I like that fine line between achieving high performance and taking it too far. That level of intrigue is much better than some of the manufactured drama we’ve seen show up in other forms of racing.

No Fluke: I think there were some that felt that Sébastien Bourdais’ win at St. Petersburg was a fluke and that he and his Dale Coyne Racing team would get a dose of reality at Long Beach and crash down to earth. Instead, Bourdais finished second at Long Beach and his rookie teammate, Ed Jones, came in sixth to bolster the idea that there is more than luck associated with this team. Bourdais’ second place finish actually extended his points lead to nineteen points over second place, which is now occupied by James Hinchcliffe.

It’s still early, but I’m guessing even the skeptics are thinking that the investments and personnel changes that Dale Coyne made to his team are paying off. I’m sticking with my prediction after St. Petersburg that Bourdais will finish in the Top-Five for the season. That may now be a bit conservative.

Happy Household: One of the happiest households this week probably belongs to Robert Gue and his wife, Pippa Mann. Gue did a phenomenal job calling the race for James Hinchcliffe’s winning effort yesterday. His driver is now comfortably in second place in the points and the future is looking bright with the Honda package they have.

Pippa Mann is now confirmed to drive in her sixth Indianapolis 500 next month, and her fifth straight “500” with Dale Coyne Racing – the team that happens to lead in the points. Pippa will also have what appears to be the preferred Honda engine in May, meaning she could very well improve on her career-best finish (eighteenth) Indianapolis 500 finish with Coyne last May.

All in All: While the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is always a spectacle and a very well attended race; the racing there can sometimes be a little boring to watch – especially on television. That was not the case this year. With the different strategies in play, the question of engine reliability and the sudden strength of some of the smaller teams, I watched yesterday’s race with no idea how it would all play out.

It ended up with an extremely popular winner, victorious for only the fifth time in his career, a low-budget team expanding its points lead and an engine manufacturer continuing a newfound resurgence. What more could you want in a street race? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This looks to be a very interesting season.

George Phillips

Advertisements

19 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Long Beach”

  1. Kimble also cut down TK’s left rear tire just prior to taking out himself and wrecking Power. TK Mentioned something about it being the second race in a row he was hit by the same person…

  2. S0CSeven Says:

    Loved PT talking about Michael Andretti’s tire slicing expertise.

    For a while there I was getting a little miffed that the TV crew were only following the leaders but that finally changed.

    Good race. I really enjoyed that one.

  3. Maybe the IndyCar Honda guys should talk to the F1 Honda guys. The F1 team is truly lamentable, both out of the China GP….

  4. S0CSeven Says:

    Team Andretti’s misfortunes were indeed unfortunate, and we’ve been lead to believe that you can’t change anything but the shocks on an Indycar ………… but this smells to me like the team was ‘trying something’ and it didn’t work.

    Kudos to the team if they were ‘trying something’ . Sorry about the outcome.

    We’ll never know……..

    • Bruce Waine Says:

      SOCSeven – Here is the report direct from Andretti Autosport.

      Apparently not what you may have speculated regarding a particular “smell.”

      What started as a promising day for the Andretti Autosport team ended in disappointment on the streets of Long Beach.

      Teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi both ran consistently in the top three after starting third and fifth, respectively. The duo’s pace put them on track for a pair of podium finishes before mechanical issues forced early retirement.

      The racing machine of Hunter-Reay was running in second place, charging for the lead when an electrical issue sidelined the DHL team on Lap 79 of 85.

      California-native Rossi was challenging for a podium finish, running in second place on Lap 62 when the No. 98 experienced engine failure.

      The days of Marco Andretti and Takuma Sato were also cut short after suffering issues of their own. Sato experienced engine failure on Lap 78, forcing the No. 26 to retire early, while Andretti completed just 14 laps before an electrical sensor failure ended the day early for the No. 27 team.

      The four unrelated and unforeseeable issues served a blow to the quartet as they now look to fight back in Birmingham in two-weeks time.

  5. Even though the coverage had some gaffes. I will take NBCSN any day over ABC. They are not even in the same zip code when it comes to watch ability.

  6. If I am not mistaken, Conor Daly had a podium at Detroit last year. Production truck said none for a period of time.
    Not sure that Charlie was at fault, when Power’s LF hits Kimball’s RR, that tells me who was at fault. I believe there is a brake pedal in all these cars. Power is just as controversial as Kimball.
    All in all, a very entertaining race.

  7. billytheskink Says:

    If you care about Indycar, that was surely an intriguing race. It had an uncertain outcome and a popular winner. What more could you want? I guess it would have been nice if the broadcast team had gone and figured out why Rahal dropped out of the top 10 in the closing laps, but that’s a pretty minor complaint all things considered.

    I saw the Kimball-Power incident, much like St. Petersburg’s Kimball-Rahal incident, as a racing incident, two drivers fighting for the same spot on the track and refusing to concede the position to the other. Kimball finds himself as a common denominator in more than his fair share of such incidents, it seems. Other racers should take note of that if they are engaged in an early-lap game of chicken with Kimball. He blinks later than he brakes… and he brakes late.

    • The common denominator factor may be real, but if CK and Power’s roles in the accident had been reversed, then I think we’d all be blaming Kimball.

    • Although I think it was a bit of a racing incident, not necessarily either drivers fault, I somewhat blame Will. As experienced as Power is, he’s gotta know he can’t race Charlie like that. Kimball is too dangerous. Take your time and be safe around that guy or he’ll put you in the wall.

  8. Whether a race is considered boring by some folks watching from their coucn or a recliner should never matter. Consider all the effort put in by local Long Beach foks getting the course race ready, Consider all the effort put in by the teams and their hauler drivers, and everyone else involved in staging a race. After that what you get is what you get. A race.
    As I suggested in a previous comment, I think a “push to pass Kimball” app should be added to the steering wheel display.

    I suppose you need to add a TV report to have something to write about, but I am not sure we need to care if Katie has a good day or bad day. She is not in any danger of losing her gig. I usually watch the non-network races via streaming so I thankfully miss Diffey’s over-the-top delivery. For network races I turn off the sound.

    I think Coyne and Bourdais will continue to do well on oval tracks. Some folks consider Bourdais to be just a twisty specialist, but I witnessed Seb run away and hide from the field at the last Milwaukee Mile race.

    I prefer to think that Hinch’s use of the repro (?) red Greg Moore gloves contribute a bit to his success. Do the Andretti Racing folks need to start going to early Sunday church services? I can’t imagine how disappointing and frustrating they must feel today.

    • Hey Ron, I think the folks at INDYCAR counting the TV ratings really do care whether or not folks are bored by a “race” on a boring street course, especially when the bored viewers turn off the race and watch something else.

      The TV crew was almost as bad as ABC’s this week, don’t know who this Rick Allen guy is, but he is clueless. I mean, he even said to Robin Miller after his abbreviated Grid Run “I’ve never seen you move so fast.” HOW LONG has Miller been doing those, and this Allen guy is just now seeing one? That one comment spoke volumes to me about his lack of knowledge concerning my beloved series.

      NOBODY even mentioned Daly’s spin coming to the green flag (which one could clearly see at the back of the field) until after the first commercial break. I guess it didn’t matter. And those are just a couple of moments to add to what George has already listed. But after all of that I will say that this Long Beach race was more interesting to me than almost all of the last ones because we did get to see more than the leader more often than not, and that’s a huge plus in my book!

      Phil Kaiser
      Indianapolis

  9. JP in Colorado Springs Says:

    One more gaffe on the broadcast: PT & TB kept referring to the push to pass on restarts. Unless I missed a late rules change, I believe push to pass is disabled for starts and restarts. Great race though. Good start to the year with a couple of “David’s” upsetting the “Goliaths”.

  10. Bruce Waine Says:

    FROM ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT

    What started as a promising day for the Andretti Autosport team ended in disappointment on the streets of Long Beach.

    Teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi both ran consistently in the top three after starting third and fifth, respectively. The duo’s pace put them on track for a pair of podium finishes before mechanical issues forced early retirement. The racing machine of Hunter-Reay was running in second place, charging for the lead when an electrical issue sidelined the DHL team on Lap 79 of 85.

    California-native Rossi was challenging for a podium finish, running in second place on Lap 62 when the No. 98 experienced engine failure.

    The days of Marco Andretti and Takuma Sato were also cut short after suffering issues of their own. Sato experienced engine failure on Lap 78, forcing the No. 26 to retire early, while Andretti completed just 14 laps before an electrical sensor failure ended the day early for the No. 27 team.

    The four unrelated and unforeseeable issues served a blow to the quartet as they now look to fight back in Birmingham in two-weeks time.

  11. Great win for Hinch!!!!!!

  12. Bruce Waine Says:

    SO WHO IS ON FIRST ? ?

    The Following from AUTOWEEK today:

    Angry IndyCar driver Will Power says he’s had enough with ‘the most dangerous guy on the track’

    POWER RIPS FELLOW DRIVER CHARLIE KIMBALL FOLLOWING INDYCAR RACE IN LONG BEACH

    APRIL 9, 2017
    Team Penske’s Will Power has harbored hard feelings toward Chip Ganassi Racing driver Charlie Kimball ever since last September’s crash at Watkins Glen International that left the driver from Australia with a concussion and affected his shot at the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series championship.

    Another incident between the two drivers on the first lap of Sunday’s 43rd Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach escalated their relationship from simmering to a full-boil feud.

    The two drivers were racing side by side from turn one until the collision in turn four sent Power’s Chevrolet into the wall. Power had to wait for the safety crew to refire the engine so the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion could return to the pits and replace the front wing assembly. Power returned to the track and finished 13th, one lap off the pace. Kimball’s Honda suffered a broken rear suspension and he was out of the race on lap one.

    When approached by Autoweek after the race, Power had some strong words for Kimball.
    “This guy is a big problem,” Power told Autoweek. “He always has been. He is the only one that has incidents in every race. He is the only one. The only guy. He is a big problem. I’m going to let him know it, too.

    “I’m so sick of this guy. He ruined my championship last year at Watkins Glen. He did. Yes, yes. I’m really, really mad at him.”
    Last September at Watkins Glen, Power was legitimately in a fierce title fight with Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud before he was involved in a crash with Kimball coming out of turn four on lap 39 of the 11-turn, 3.37-mile road course.

    Power’s Chevy drilled into the tire barrier and hit the steel reinforcement, bringing the car to a sudden stop. Power was taken to the infield care center, where he was treated and released with concussion-like symptoms. After he exited the care center, Power had some strong words for Kimball, a driver from the United States who has a fairly clean reputation on the race track from his fellow competitors.

    “It’s just racing with Kimball, that’s expected,” Power said at the time. “No one in the paddock likes racing him. They all talk about it — he’s the most dangerous guy on the track. I haven’t seen the replay, but he’s just a pain in the ass. It was very disappointing.”
    Power entered the Watkins Glen race 28 points behind Pagenaud of France in the battle for the 2016 championship. After the crash, Power finished 20th in the 22-car field and headed into the final race of the 2016 season at Sonoma Raceway 43 points behind Pagenaud.

    Fast forward to the start of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season in the March 12 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Kimball crashed into Graham Rahal on the first lap of that race. Rahal had some strong words involving the driver after that incident.

    And then came Sunday and another crash with Power.
    “I was right up beside him and I thought he would realize that I had him and it was a bad corner,” Power said. “He just went hard and took me out.”

    Naturally, Kimball saw the incident quite differently and was incredulous when told of Power’s comments.
    “He’s upset with me? If Will wants to talk to me he can come talk to me,” Kimball told Autoweek. “He was behind me at that point wheel-to-wheel, right-rear to left-front. It’s hard to know he is still there, having gotten the better drive off of turn three.

    “On a street circuit, it’s real close corners and went side-by-side with the 12 car (Power) through turns one, two and three and I got a better exit out of turn three and he was losing ground. I assumed that having ground out of the corner and being on my right-rear corner that I would be able to turn in for the corner. I started to turn in and then there was contact and I ended up in the wall.

    “That’s unfortunate. But the encouraging part is we’ve had pretty good pace and have qualified ninth and seventh and that is better than we have done last year. The pace is there and we are saving our luck for later in the year.”

    Power is a hot-tempered Australian while Kimball is a more laid-back Southern Californian from nearby Camarillo. These two drivers will be back on the track at Texas Motor Speedway on Wednesday for an open test session on the newly repaved 1.5-mile oval, so it will be interesting to see if they settle their differences there.
    By Bruce Martin

    • Olderfan Says:

      Maybe someone should remind ol’ Will that he isn’t the paragon of “always clean driving”. I’m sure, for example that Scott Dixon quite remembers Baltimore a few years ago when during a restart he punted Dixon in the wall.

  13. Kevin Lee is an OK pit reporter, but I don’t want to see him leading TV commentary. I don’t hear passion in his voice, and we’ve had enough beta males doing play by play for motorsport on TV (Adam Alexander, Marty Reid, and Vince Welch to be specific).

  14. Sorry my two cents is so late. I wanted to watch the race broadcast and then read all the coverage before commenting. Then the Alonso announcement came yesterday morning and that sent me off in another direction. I can’t seem to get anything done in retirement.

    I enjoyed my three days in Long Beach. Our seats were just at the exit of the hairpin and the pit entrance. Lots of action. What we enjoyed was seeing the different approaches the drivers took to maneuvered the hairpin. Conor spun out right in front of us. Still not sure what happened there. You do depend on the track announcer and the big screen (which at least I could see this year) on street and road courses.

    I was thrilled James won! It has been quite a while. He and the SPM team performed flawlessly. I am also looking forward to seeing how well Josef builds on his first Penske podium; a win is definitely around the corner. And Sebastien… still leading the series. Oh, and my condolences to Michael Andretti on one of his team’s worst luck weekends.

    Overall a fun weekend for my group. Even two younger race friends came and stayed for all the series’ action both Saturday and Sunday. These sports car guys are coming around to IndyCars. However, we were lamenting not being at Fontana again this year. And no, we are not all party only people. Most of the people I met and with whom I shared a conversation were at LB for the racing too. My next stop is Road America!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: