Long Beach Preview

The IZOD IndyCar Series heads west this weekend. They traveled a lot of miles in a short amount of time. The teams had to load their cars in Alabama on Sunday, haul them back to their respective shops and send them cross-country to the west coast to hit the streets of Long Beach on Friday. It’s a tall order for any team, even worse if one of their cars suffered damage at Barber.

The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is a big event – make no question about it. I’ve heard it referred to as the Monaco of the US, the Indy 500 of street courses, etc. I’ve never been to Long Beach – OK…I’ve been to the city, but not the event – but I hear it’s quite the party atmosphere. The problem is that it seems like one giant three-day party that happens to have a lot a racecars zooming by in the background. It’s great that people enjoy themselves, but we’d sort of like to hook a few new fans in the process.

Something tells me that the majority of those in attendance this weekend won’t be setting their DVR’s for the Brazil race two weeks later. But who’s complaining. It’s better to have a lot of people there having a great time and filling the stands than it would be to have a lot of empty aluminum seats for the TV cameras to show the world. If it looks good on TV, that’s all that matters. As for the racing, that may be another story.

As they said on Trackside last night, it’s funny how so many people complain about the lack of passing at Barber, yet they seem to love Long Beach. I’ve seen some exciting and compelling races at Long Beach over the years, and I’ve seen some duds. But the same can be said for just about any track – even Texas. So, let’s see how Sunday plays out before we pronounce it to be another parade.

While the theme for the crowd may be to party, there is one word that can describe the mindset of a lot of top drivers this weekend – urgency. It’s not time to panic, but for some it’s getting close.

Ryan Briscoe’s season has been a disaster so far, and none of it is his doing. His day at St. Petersburg was over before it started. Last week at Barber, he was headed for a solid finish when Ryan Hunter-Reay suddenly veered into him. Briscoe has finished eighteenth and twenty-first respectively in his first two races and finds himself buried in twenty-fifth in the point standings. He desperately needs a good run this weekend.

Briscoe’s teammate, Helio Castroneves, is a little better off. He sits in eleventh after a seventh place finish at Barber. Still, Helio needs a podium finish at Long Beach to stay in touch with his teammate Will Power.

Scott Dixon did what he needed to do by finishing second at Barber and now sits in fourth place in the standings. Others that expected to be higher up the ladder are Justin Wilson and Mike Conway. Wilson was expected to excel on the road/street courses, yet he sits in fifteenth behind rookies JR Hildebrand and Charlie Kimball. Just one point back is Danica Patrick who hasn’t really flourished turning right. Justin Wilson is another that is close to desperation when it comes to a strong finish this weekend.

Mike Conway’s season has started off poorly, to say the least. After being fast all weekend in St. Pete, he failed to make it past the first turn at the start of the race. He struggled at Barber, then was taken out at the midway point. He needs for something good to happen this weekend.

I’ve been impressed with this year’s rookie class, so far. James Hinchcliffe suffered a rookie mistake on the first lap at Barber, but was able to continue albeit from the back of the field. Still, he qualified well and doesn’t seem the least bit intimidated by these cars. JR Hildebrand has been solid as well as Charlie Kimball. The iron-man (or woman) award in this young season goes to Ana Beatriz. She broke her wrist on Lap Five at St. Pete, yet finished the race in fourteenth. Remember that IndyCars do not have power steering. The injury was bad enough that it required surgery and she missed the race at Barber. She has now been cleared to drive for Long Beach. Good luck to her. I’m impressed. James Jakes has been unspectacular but is holding his own.

The tight turns and concrete barriers are Long Beach are unforgiving. Be prepared for more griping about the double-file re-starts as they go two-by-two through the concrete canyons on every single re-start. When I heard that the IZOD IndyCar Series was adopting double-file re=starts, I was not happy. I saw it as a gimmick and it looked as if we were just trying to copy NASCAR. After St. Petersburg, I was still not crazy about them, but felt like the series should stick with their plan. After seeing them in person at Barber last weekend, I’ve reversed my position. The fans were cheering before every re—start. That’s something that was not common before. They add excitement. I know the drivers don’t like it, but drivers didn’t like having to use seat belts either. They got used to it.

This will be the first race for Paul Tracy to sample the double-file re-starts. He is back in a car with Jay Penske’s revived Dragon Racing. I still want to know what went on behind the scenes when Gil de Ferran threw in the towel just before Jay Penske re-opened the team under his leadership.

So unless there is mayhem at the start or on a re-start, my pick for Long Beach goes way out on a limb. I have to go with Will Power. He is just too good on road/street courses. Right now he is on another planet than the rest of the field on road courses. He has still not proven he can win on an oval. If he ever does that start engraving his name on that bizarre looking trophy. My dark horse pick is Ryan Briscoe if you can really call a Penske driver a dark horse. He needs it.

Enjoy the race!

George Phillips

10 Responses to “Long Beach Preview”

  1. The Lapper Says:

    I am going with Ryan Brisco.

  2. re: long beach. yeah, it’s a big party. but for all of my formative years, so was the Indy 500.

    re: winner. hard to pick against willpower.

  3. Nice shout out from Cavin in todays IndyStar!

    Long Beach is owned by Tracy and Boudais. I doubt either will win in their current equipment, but they both will run well. Power will win it. He had it last year but oddly stalled on the front stretch and gave it away. not this year.

  4. I’ll be there today for 1st day of practice. This is the race that’s local to me, the only one I’ve seen live, so I can’t compare it properly against any other. Having seen it both on tv and from the grandstands, I’ll take the former on Sunday. But for being to tour the paddock, see the sites, and generally blow a day off work at the beach instead of my gray fabric-walled office, 1st day of practice is a hoot.

  5. George,

    I went to Long beach last year and was pleasantly surprised by the level of engagment the fans had with stuff other than the Tecate beer stands. frankly this “Long Beach is nothing but a party” stuff is a bunch of crap put forward by midwestern Oval fans who have to find a way to discredit the street events that draw well to make themselves feel better that their Ovals (other than Indy) have been drawing such pathetic crowds in recent years.

    The reserved seating bleacher I sat in was loaded with knowledeable race fans who knew exactly who was in what car, who was racing fair and cleanly and who was in the way. The ALMS Pits, which admission was free, were stuffed full of fans of all ages and knowledge levels wandering through on raceday. I have wondered since then, if for IndyCar the amount of fan connection and fanbase building a free paddock would have would far out weigh the gate revenue they collect from selling access.

    The truth is that even for the 500, Carb day and the snake pit are as much a bacchanalean party as long beach. If the argument can be made that Carb day and the snake pit can help build a fan base for the 500 and the sport, then the same argument holds true for the GA attendees of Long Beach.

    • I made it to Long Beach last year and have to agree with JP on the crowd.

    • Bent Wickerbill Says:

      I agree, oval fans have been deriding (whining about) road and streets for years, but as each year passes the crowds grow larger and larger at both St. Pete and Barber. Note: I have been attending St. Pete since it’s inception in 2005 and attendance on all days has grown exponentially from what it was in 05….

      • Robin Hiller Says:

        Come on, man.

        St. Pete had 20,000 people tops there this year on race day. They take bleachers away every year.

        That race isn’t growing.

        Long Beach is a ghost town compared to what it used to be.

        You road racing (actually street racing, since many real road racing fans HATE street racing) fans need to realize that street races are money losers that usually go away and that most have fewer fans in attendance then the worst oval race attendance on the Indy Car schedule.

        20,000 at St. Pete is considered “great”. 20,000 at Richmond or Phoenix? Got to get it off the schedule.

  6. Hinchcliffe has definatly caught me eye and it was good to see Briscoe and RHR bounce back.

    • Of course, after qualifying it is apparent that it is Will Power and RHR. The qualifying format is fantastic.

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