Random Thoughts On Long Beach

Cynics will say that yesterday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach was a boring race because there was only one yellow and the only pass for the lead all day took place in the pits. I will counter that it was a clean and exciting race throughout the day for that final spot on the podium.

The cynics will say that there is nothing exciting about Scott Dixon and Target Chip Ganassi Racing finishing ahead of the two Team Penske cars of Helio Castroneves and Juan Montoya, respectively. I will counter that three different winners from three different teams in the first three races is very exciting – especially when you consider that everything we saw from St. Petersburg would indicate that Team Penske was going to dominate the season.

The Verizon IndyCar Series needed a race like this. After the carnage we witnessed at St. Petersburg and the poor driving that was on display at NOLA, a clean race in front of packed stands in a huge market is exactly what the doctor ordered.

It now seems that order has been restored in the IndyCar universe. Suddenly, it seems that the drivers have realized that they can no longer get away with banging these cars against each other. Gabby Chaves, Charlie Kimball and Takuma Sato at the very end may have been the only drivers to suffer damage to the front or rear of the cars. There may have been more, but that’s all my feeble brain can recall at the moment. That’s a good thing, since spare parts are still very scarce in these early days of the aero kits.

While it’s true that Scott Dixon’s pass for the lead took place on Lap Thirty as Helio Castroneves was held up in the pits by traffic; there was a lot of good racing going on behind the two of them for third place. Juan Montoya and Simon Pagenaud had a very spirited battle for the final ten laps of the race. In the waning laps, Tony Kanaan and Sébastien Bourdais looked as if they may be ready to pounce in case the two Penske teammates took each other out. In the end, it was Montoya and Pagenaud finishing third and fourth, as Kanaan and Bourdais finished fifth and sixth.

Nashvillian Josef Newgarden finished seventh after running fifth for most of the day. By finishing eighth, Marco Andretti was the highest finishing Honda – underscoring the problems that the Japanese manufacturer has faced in the first three races. Carlos Muñoz and Sebastian Saavedra rounded out the Top Ten.

Casual fans tuning in may not have been sitting on the edge of their seats, but this was one for the die-hards. That’s not a bad thing because we’re important too. While new fans are vital for the future of this sport, you need to keep the die-hards happy. We are the ones that have sustained this sport through the years and are the ones keeping it going. We need to be entertained also.

And that’s what this race was – entertaining. I have used that word before to describe races and have been told that my definition of entertaining was off-base. That may be, but since I was the one entertained – I’m the one that can use it.

TV Coverage:  Although I’m partial to the NBCSN crew, I wouldn’t say this was their finest race weekend. Brian Till is OK at best, as a race announcer. I think he does a better job as a pit reporter. In the qualifying show, I got the feeling that Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy had been told to disagree a lot with each other to add spice. The result was a lot of arguing that seemed contrived and manufactured. If there are dissenting views, that’s great – but don’t argue on the air and take opposite sides for entertainment value. I can get that on any current reality TV show.

I don’t know if there is any pecking order among the pit reporters at NBCSN, but Kevin Lee is the consummate professional. He is pleasant, but not giddy – and he always gets to the facts. If he is not already, he should be the No.1 pit reporter. I’ve really grown to like Kelli Stavast, but her microphone was going in and out a couple of times. As is the case with Kevin Lee, Kelli Stavast comes across as very likable

Unlike Lee and Stavast, there is something very unlikable about Marty Snider. Last week at NOLA, we were in the pits during the entire race and saw all three pit reporters as they worked. Susan and I both observed the behavior of all three, when they were off-camera and interacting with the crew that follows them. Lee and Stavast seemed to get along with their crew very well on and off-camera. When the camera was on, Snider would flash a smile. But when it was off, he seemed gruff, arrogant and aloof. I’ll be glad when the NBC portion of the NASCAR schedule starts up and Snider will give way to Jon Beekhuis, who really brings a nice technical slant to the broadcast.

I was sorry to hear that Paul Tracy will not be in the booth next week at Barber. As brash and controversial as he was in his driving days, I’ve really grown to like PT as an analyst. I’m not sure if this is one conflict or if Tracy is not yet full-time. But he needs to be. Dan Wheldon was great in the booth the summer after he won Indianapolis and showed us that he had a future after racing. Tragically, that didn’t pan out. But Tracy has been a very pleasant surprise. NBCSN should try to get him into the booth as much as possible.

A New Low:  I’ve been chastised over the years, for my criticism of some of the bad renditions of our National Anthem we have had to endure. Our good friend, Pressdog, has been one of the most vocal about me and others who feel the need to comment.

To me, the National Anthem is important and should be treated with respect. I’m not saying it has to be solemn or played completely straight. But if you are going to stylize it, it had better be good and you need to have the talent to back it up.

Yesterday’s rendition by James Maslow may have been the worst I’ve ever heard. Not just the worst before an IndyCar race – the worst I’ve ever heard anywhere. It was painful to listen to.

When I tweeted out how horrible I thought it was, Pressdog tweaked my nose by saying if I had the stones, I should get up there and sing it. My response was that I had not been asked, but I would do it and would do it much better than (Maslow).

Someone else asked if I ever liked any rendition? The answer is yes. I’ve complimented many of the performers that IndyCar has had that have done a good job. In fact, about an hour before the race telecast started yesterday – I heard one of the most soul-stirring renditions you will ever hear. Our Nashville Predators were playing at the Chicago Blackhawks yesterday. Their longtime performer, Jim Cornelison, performed the National Anthem as only he can. If you want to get a quick dose of goose bumps, check out this video of him performing the National Anthem at Soldier Field on the ten-year anniversary of 9-11.

Few performers can match his talent, but few could be as bad as James Maslow was. He is supposedly a professional singer. I believe most amateurs would far surpass that effort we endured yesterday.

A Blessing in Disguise:  Dale Coyne does things different than most owners. After several stable seasons with Justin Wilson, he put Francesco Dracone in the No.19 for four races. Then this past Friday, we learned that the funding that Carlos Huertas had for the No.18 car fell through. If Dracone wasn’t enough of a curious choice, Coyne announced that Rocky Moran, Jr. would be in the No.18 car at Long Beach.

Moran, Jr. is thirty-five years old and has not driven any type of an open-wheel car since 2005 – and had never raced an Indy car before. In Friday’s first practice, Moran, Jr. was still 1.3 seconds faster than Dracone, which demonstrates just how off the pace Dracone is. In the second practice, Moran,Jr crashed with Carlos Muñoz. Although Moran didn’t know it at the time, his thumb was broken – effectively ending his weekend.

Enter Conor Daly. Fans have been clamoring for Daly to be in a car. He is the son of Derek Daly and the stepson of IMS President Doug Boles. He has one IndyCar start – the 2013 Indianapolis 500, when he drove a second car for AJ Foyt. It has been frustrating to see the young and very talented driver be left on the sidelines due to a lack of funding – while drivers like Dracone and others are running simply because they bring a big check.

But the break in the thumb of Rocky Moran, Jr. turned out to be the break that Conor Daly needed. He had one practice on Saturday morning, before qualifying a car he had never driven before, with a borrowed seat that didn’t fit him. Daly showed everyone what most already knew. The kid’s got talent. He took what has been a slow car this season, with minimal seat time and brought it home, moving up four spots to finish seventeenth in the process. In the meantime, his teammate Dracone finished four spots behind him, two laps down.

Daly is rumored to be in line for Sam Schmidt’s third car at Indianapolis, which would be a good one-off ride for him. Hopefully, his exposure to Long Beach will finally lead to more opportunities this season and a full-time IndyCar ride for next year.

Lime-Green Sunglasses:  OK, I know I’m an old fuddy-duddy – but what is it with the lime green sunglasses? Juan Montoya and Scott Dixon made sure they were prominently displayed in interviews and on the podium. It seems as though I saw someone else with them, but again – this feeble brain fails me.

I’m assuming that some eyewear company is paying a hefty price for them to look ridiculous wearing them. Let’s hope so. I’d hate to think that this was a sudden coincidence of similar bad taste.

Giving Credit When Due:  Most know that I am not a Sebastian Saavedra fan. After he ditched Bryan Herta’s Indy Lights team years ago in mid-season, I’ve never liked the guy. I took great pleasure in seeing teammate Pippa Mann qualify as a rookie for the Indianapolis 500 in 2011, while the full-time Saavedra couldn’t make it into the field.

When it looked as if he was going to be sitting on the sidelines for 2015, I considered it good-riddance.

After it was announced that Sage Karam was out of the No.8 car for Chip Ganassi at Long Beach and Saavedra was in, I just figured that Ganassi had gone from one destructive driver to another.

But I couldn’t help but be impressed with Saavedra’s performance yesterday. He had not driven a car since last August and had never driven either of the new aero kits. Yet, he qualified eleventh and finished tenth. He was racy all day and kept his nose clean in the process. It makes me think that under that unlikable exterior, there may be a talented driver after all. Good for him!

Bad Day For Power:  While Will Power was fast in practice, he got caught in the pits when the red flag came out in the first round of qualifying. He was relegated to starting eighteenth in yesterday’s race. His race went from bad to worse when he got caught behind a slowed Luca Filippi entering the pits. In a moment of confusion, Power stalled the car. He finished twentieth and dropped to sixth in the points standings – thirty-nine points behind points-leader Juan Montoya.

To Power’s credit, he took full responsibility for the mess he’s in. He could have blamed his crew or Filippi or anyone else for that matter. Instead, he manned up and said the whole thing was on him. You’ve got to like someone who does that.

Gray-Beards Excel:  Being very long-in-the-tooth myself, it’s very comforting to check the points standings and see that the Top-Three are either approaching or already past the age of forty. Points leader Juan Montoya is the baby of the Top-Three. He’ll turn forty in September. Helio Castroneves sits second in points and will turn forty this May. Third place Tony Kanaan turned forty this past New Year’s Eve. Scott Dixon is fourth and is a mere babe who will turn thirty-five this summer. Who said this was a young man’s game?

Good-Luck Charm:  Scott Dixon had gotten his season off to a slow start. After finishing fifteenth at St. Petersburg, he followed up with a very forgettable eleventh place finish at NOLA. He asked his wife, Emma Davies Dixon, to come out to Long Beach to change his fortunes and bring him some good luck.

It obviously worked, as Dixon won the race easily. For many reasons, I think if I were Scott Dixon – I would have Emma attend every race weekend from here on out.

All in All:  The race was a good show for the fans in attendance. The fans of southern California certainly turn out for this race, and yesterday was no exception. It was good that they weren’t treated to the series of yellow-flags that the fans in New Orleans got for their inaugural event.

The IndyCar drivers showed that they do know how to race hard, but race cleanly with each other. Now let’s hope they can continue to keep things clean heading to Barber and into the month of May.

George Phillips

28 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Long Beach”

  1. IMHO, on a scale of 1-10 the race was a 6. Great turnout as always in LB, far too little passing, too much parade, the unfortunate part of any spec series.
    Totally agree on the mook they had “singing” and I use that term loosely, the National Anthem, however I put a good portion of the blame on whomever selected this individual to “sing”… BTW, it has little to do with stones and everything to do with ability. If you are a singer and what passes for a singer these days is laughable and someone asks you to sing the national anthem, one should think long and hard before accepting and think even longer and harder if they are thinking of “stylizing” said anthem.
    My daughter at 18 could sing the NA acapella, she did so at senior day in front of hundreds of people in high school. Again it just takes talent and common sense. As Harry Callahan would say, “knowing ones limitations”…

  2. Count me in as one of the cynics. That was one boring “race.” 5 Penske and Ganassi cars started in the top 5, and 5 Penske/Ganassi cars finished there. I’ve read a lot of people say this was the “race Indycar needed” and while I agree that Indycar needed a race without any major disasters, what Indycar “needed” was some parity and passing, both of which have been in short supply this season. And while I get that different people like different things, to me Scott Dixon, Matt Kenseth, and Jimmie Johnson represent the absolute worst in terms of boring and unlikeable drivers. Compare and contrast those 3 with Lewis Hamilton or Valentino Rossi or Brad Keselowski or other more interesting racers. If you like technical racing and out laps determining wins I guess it was an interesting race, but for those of us who like to see some actual passing, there were like 5 passes total.

    I don’t want to see as many cautions as NOLA or St Pete had, but a race needs more than 1 caution or it gets incredibly spread out. All 3 races this year have seen minimal passing inside the top 10. It was basically an F1 race, and while some people like F1, to me it was incredibly boring. Every complaint/criticism I had about Indycar last season can just be doubled for this year. The focus is on strategy, fuel saving, and aero kits rather than passing on track.

    • Unfortunately that is the way it is going to be with the new aero kits. There will be a lot less passing at Indy. They have had parity since 2012. No one attended events with parity so no one will notice the lack of passing.

  3. Cynic: “a person who has negative opinions about other people and about the things people do; especially : a person who believes that people are selfish and are only interested in helping themselves.” I’m not a cynic, just a guy with a lot of other interests and activities competing for my time and attention. If you liked the race, fantastic. I lost interest quickly and the race lost the competition for my time and attention. I don’t see the need for labeling those who don’t as some kind of flawed human.

    • Hal Bush Says:

      Snarky Pressdog. Pretty snarky.
      1: crotchety, snappish
      2: sarcastic, impertinent, or irreverent in tone or manner

  4. When that first yellow came out I thought “here we go- yellow fest” but in the end it did not turn out to be a race disproportionate with yellows. I am still baffled why it takes so long to pick up a big piece of carbon fiber however. IndyCar really needs to work on that .

    Let the grey beards reign! I too find myself rooting for the older guys- being an older guy myself. I remember being a kid and the drivers being so much older than me. Now I am older than all of them. What happened?

    Who the hell is James Maslow? I have never heard of him and glad I missed the NA, I was hanging drywall.

    With pit lane speed limits, LB seems like an eternity. It must just kill those guys to have to go that slow for that long.

    Despite your criticisms of TB and PT being a little contrived yesterday, I will take those two hands over the ABC guys. The best part is the NBCSP guys have a sense of humor and chemistry- a must have asset that will put anybody to the top in my opinion.

    They mentioned on the broadcast, turnout for the weekend was as high as it’s been in 15 years. That is a positive step and IndyCar needed this.

    One thing about the aero kits: Chevy mentioned their disappointment on the rabbit ear elimination mandate by IndyCar until they can find a solution. It was mentioned somewhere on the broadcast, they may not have a fix for the rest of the season. Did I hear that right? They are only held on by 4 fasteners on each corner. I am surprised they are caught out by this. From the sounds of it the rabbit ears are crucial to the overall aero design, yet Chevy still dominates the race. It seems like when the aero kits were released, most half way educated people mentioned concern about the elevated wings coming off and being a problem. What was Chevy thinking? Honda seems to have their woes taken care of.

    I am bringing my parents , wife and both kids, ages 1 and 3 to Barber this weekend from Louisville, KY. Looking forward to fun. I hope the weather is good.

    Here is to the die hards. Cheers.

  5. Just what you would expect at Long Beach. Which isn’t much.

    This is just the kind of race current Indycar management wants. And just the kind that will kill the sport in America.

  6. Long Beach is a terrific event (didn’t say race) that other street races should use as a model. Seems like they had a great crowd.

    Scott Dixon is maybe the most under-appreciated driver ever.

    The race was just okay. Maybe the hard-cores were entertained but I don’t think it was entertaining enough to grow the fan base.

    The embarrassingly stupid “are you ready?” announcer is still there, these drivers (hello Helio) refuse to line up properly for starts or restarts, it takes way too many yellow laps to pick up a piece of wing, I still want the stupid fuel knob ripped out of there and I don’t care how heavy or expensive they are, I want these cars to have on-board starters. But then I always say the same thing.

  7. You are right, IndyCar seems to be having a lot of trouble pleasing the fans. Either it’s too many yellows or it’s a boring parade. The problem, in my opinion is the spec cars that, notwithstanding the aero kits, all have basically the same strengths and weaknesses. Couple this with the street circuits and you get the product you see. St. Pete is too narrow and twisty so you have to bump and run, Long Beach gives you room but the relative equality of the cars makes a parade. NOLA, being a “natural terrain” (if you call billiard table flat natural terrain) road course may evolve into a good venue. Just as fans lament the ride buying unqualified drivers they should also lament the fact that spec cars in lieu of open design; and street courses in lieu of open terrain road courses make for bad racing.

  8. Ron Ford Says:

    Some races are more exciting than others. Just one of them racin’ deals. If you did not find it exciting you could retire to your basement and read your dictionary as some did. Twas ever thus.

    Yesterday’s performance(?) of the national anthem was even worse than the one done some years ago by a comediene who name I have thankfully forgotten because hers was deliberately bad. One of the best I have ever heard was the one done by four student-athletes at this years NCAA final four game between Wisconsin and Kentucky. “That’s what it’s s’posed to be”.

    Now I will turn my attention toward Barber and perhaps we will be treated to the sight of George and Susan in their lime-green sunglasses.

    And yes, Emma Dixon should be at all the races. I am willing to pay their babysitter.

  9. Die Hard. Spot on. Those who thought the race was boring, while of course entitled to their opinion, might seek a deeper understanding of what goes on during a clean race. It was a good race. The F1 race was a good race too. Thought the IMSA race could have been better. All were more entertaining than the Cup race last week at Texas. Really couldn’t focus on Bristol, but what I watched seemed ok. Probably would have liked it better without the Edwards/Bush crash at the end.

  10. billytheskink Says:

    I thought the sanity (other than the #18 driver carousel) was welcome this weekend, given the loony happenings at the first two races. It was a decent Long Beach race, one of many over the years, more so than some harbinger doom for the series. Even so, I thought the weekend’s best performances were from Spencer Pigot and Patrick Stewart, neither of whom drove in the Indycar race.

  11. I thought that Dale Coyne should have had Conor Daly in the cockpit to begin with. With that said, I thought the race was terrific and I, too, like PT in the booth. As for the National Anthem, that would not happen here in Nashville. There are too many talented professional singers and musicians from all genres of music living and working here to ever let that happen. Every time they perform the anthem it is a “showcase” for them.

  12. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    Overall Race? Fine.
    Entertaining to me? Mostly..
    LBGP National Anthem? Painful.
    TV coverage? Very Good. Like Bell and Tracy. Till had some noticeable bobbles (Dracone/DalyColletti misindentification).
    Colletti? What happened? We’ll never know…
    IndyLights? Saw it, good run by Pigot.
    Saavedra? impressive, still not a fan, but respect the job he did this weekend.
    Daly? Got an opportunity, did his job well.
    Power? Once-a-year brain-fade weekend.
    Emma Dixon? Lovely even in the retro, high-waisted denim shorts.
    Scott Dixon? Legend.

    • As I mentioned above, China has just banned scantily clad, sexy models at their car shows. Prospective Chinese car buyers are encouraged to admire the curvy, sleek lines of the cars instead. Yeah right! So now I’m thinking perhaps they should put them in those retro, high-waisted denim shorts. Works for me.

      Sorry George, we will focus back to racing now.

  13. Chris Lukens Says:

    So far in 2015 we have had 3 races, 237 laps of competition, and there has yet to be a single on-track pass for the lead. Pretty hard to be excited by this kind of racing.

    I watched the IndyLights race and except for the first lap, first turn kerfuffel it was a better race. The cars seem racier and they certainly look better.

    • Ron Ford Says:

      Chris, I must admit I have not watched many IndyLights races in the past. But I am this season for the reasons you just stated.

  14. Is the biggest race Dixon has failed to win now the Indy GP? The man is awesome and very likable from my point of view. We all know Helio is a world class blocker. Dixon pushed at the start and restart, couldn’t get him, then started saving fuel. Helio never pulled away. The 9 crew is the best in IndyCar. He might have gotten Helio on that pit stop without Kanaan’s help. The rest of the race Dixon cruised. It was vintage Scott Dixon…smarts, speed, and skill.

    Dixon didn’t just have neon yellow Oakleys’s he also appeared to have picked up a Coke sponsorship.

    Big props to Penske. Not for their speed, but for the liveries. The four cars are all identical but each guy has his own dominant color. I hope Helio will keep his blue when Hitatchi comes back and leave Power alone in black.

    Fear not Honda, your slow car will be different when we start making 2.5 mile laps. I sure hope you guys got that one right.

    Neegarden needs more copper on his livery. Good looking car.

    Chevy may be dominant, but we have a six way fight for the championship. What more could you ask for?

    • billytheskink Says:

      Coca-Cola is one of the companies participating in Target’s vendor program, they are also featured on Kyle Larson’s stock car though he is not a part of their “Coca Cola Racing Family” of NASCAR drivers.

      Coke was a prominent part of Target’s vendor program back in the 90’s and early 2000’s too. It appears that they have replaced Mountain Dew in this season’s vendor program.

    • You’ve asked “Is the biggest race Dixon has failed to win now the Indy GP?”

      No, I’d rather say it’s Road America (which he hasn’t had a chance to run yet).

      • If you go with that logic, then I would say Le Mans, Daytona 500, or the Monaco GP.

      • LurkingKiwi Says:

        Well, he did run at Road America in CART, coming 4th in 2001 after getting whacked in the head by the bit of Memo Gidley’s car which wiped off his rear wing. He did 4 or 5 laps without a rear wing, popping into the pits for a bit more work each time then catching up to the train again. They got the new wing fitted just before it went green. Must have been a real handfull to manage on a damp track!

  15. Brian Till one of the busiest commentators in auto racing

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