Random Thoughts On Long Beach

It’s not often that you watch a race that is dominated as heavily as yesterday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach was, and you come away thinking that it was a fairly entertaining race. Alexander Rossi dominated not only Sunday’s race, but really the entire race weekend on his way to victory lane. He topped the charts in Sessions Two and Three of practice, then won the pole in qualifying. Rossi jumped to a huge lead at the start and never looked back. He led seventy-one of the eighty-five laps, trailing only after pitting and waiting for the pit-stops to cycle through.

I’m sure I’ve seen more dominating performances. But I’d have to think about it. I know Rossi was very dominant at his win at Watkins Glen last season and Graham Rahal owned both races of the double-header at Belle Isle last June, but yesterday’s performance was up there. The only real suspense was at the end, when Will Power put pressure on Rossi in the latter stages. Power had the bulk of his push-to-pass time left. Power used his liberally, while Rossi was frugal with his. It didn’t matter. Rossi was in a class of his own yesterday.

But while Rossi ran alone in front all day, there was a lot going on behind him. Simon Pagenaud started third, but never even broke a sweat before his day was done. He was an innocent victim to Graham Rahal’s locked up rear brakes before he even got to Turn One. Robert Wickens, the darling of the first two races, ran into mechanical gremlins early on and was quickly out of contention. Sébastien Bourdais made one of the best passes I’ve ever seen in all my years of watching this sport; while Ryan Hunter-Reay had one of the toughest days I’ve seen a driver have in quite some time.

Ed Jones hung around mid-pack most of the afternoon, but somehow ended up on the podium. Most of the rookies looked like rookies save one – Zach Veach, who drove a heads-up race to finish fourth. In his four previous IndyCar starts, Veach had never finished higher than sixteenth – but yesterday he kept his nose clean and it paid off. Graham Rahal was penalized early, but fought his way back to finish fifth.

It was a mistake-filled race. They weren’t the kind of mistakes that injured anyone or tore up too many race cars, but they were the kind of mistakes that can make the difference between a good season and a championship season. I know of only two drivers that had seemingly mistake-free days – Alexander Rossi and Will Power. It was only fitting that they should finish first and second yesterday.

But as I said earlier, Alexander Rossi was in a class of his own yesterday. Will Power said essentially the same when he admitted that the Honda engine had more power coming out of the hairpin. He said that Chevy had more top-end speed, but that was hard to tell as Rossi was pulling away from Power all the way down Shoreline Drive headed towards Turn One.

It’s still early in the season, but Alexander Rossi is making a strong case for the IndyCar championship. After three races, he has two third-place finishes and a win. No one else has been on the podium for all three races. As the Verizon IndyCar Series heads south to Barber Motorsports Park this weekend, Rossi has a twenty-two point lead over defending series champion Josef Newgarden and a thirty-three point lead over third place Graham Rahal. It should be interesting. Last year, Newgarden won and Rossi was fifth. Last year, Rahal was thirteenth, but he finished second at Barber the previous two years.

But for now, congratulations to Alexander Rossi on a brilliant drive at Long Beach yesterday. He did not put a wheel wrong the entire weekend, nor did his team. He is on a roll to start the season. Will it continue next week, or will he cool off heading into the Month of May? Stay tuned.

TV Coverage: First the good. I thought each segment in the pre-race show was excellent – especially on the piece by Robin Miller on the late Dan Gurney. But as much of a Josef Newgarden fan that I am, I thought it was a bit of a stretch to compare Newgarden to the legendary Gurney – at least in this stage of his career. To his credit, Newgarden himself seemed very uncomfortable with the comparison.

The on-air personalities were all good – especially Paul Tracy, who correctly pointed out that the great pass by Sébastien Bourdais may come under review. Tracy pointed that out almost immediately, and he was right.

Now the bad. I know that production crews have to make split-second decisions on what shot to switch to, but it seemed that yesterday the NBCSN crew made the wrong decisions more often than not. Josef Newgarden was setting himself up to pass his teammate, Will Power, coming out of Turn Five. The cameras had been following along, but just as it looked as if he was going to make his more, the shot inexplicably shifted to an empty section of the track. About a lap later, we were told that Newgarden did, in fact, get around Power for position.

That was just one example, but this seemed to be the rule of the day. When Bourdais made his beautiful pass on Shoreline Drive just before Turn One, instead of showing the replay immediately, we instead were treated to several angles of Ryan Hunter-Reay brushing the wall and making contact with Takuma Sato before they finally got to the replay we all wanted to see.

I’ll chalk it up to rust. This was the first non-oval that NBCSN has covered since Sonoma last season. From what I understand, it is a lot more difficult to cover a road/street course than it is an oval. Let’s hope they clean this up before Barber.

The Punt: The aerial shots of the start showed it all – an out-of-control Graham Rahal driving straight into the back of Simon Pagenaud, turning him around and punting him into the wall. From above, it looked like Rahal didn’t even try to stop. Afterwards, we learned that his rear-brakes locked up and he couldn’t stop. Both drivers handled it well. Rahal was apologetic and was expecting the drive-through penalty that came. Pagenaud was obviously disappointed, but calm as he philosophically said “On to the next one”.

My problem was with Marty Snider, who seemed to be trying to stir the pot when he pointed out that Rahal was serving his penalty as they were talking. As Rahal drove by, Snider asked Pagenaud if the penalty fit the crime.

I don’t know what Marty Snider expected. Did he think that Rahal should be parked? Granted it looked egregious from the air, but this was not anything malicious on Rahal’s part. It was unfortunate, but it could have just as easily ended Rahal’s day as well. Rahal got a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact and he went to the back of the field. Yes, Rahal finished fifth, but he worked incredibly hard for that fifth-place finish. Rahal has been on the other end of these type of incidents. These things have a way of evening out.

I guess Snider sees his job as creating a controversy if one doesn’t already exist. But if both drivers see it as an unfortunate racing incident, I think he should just leave well enough alone.

The Pass: On Lap 47, one lap after a restart, Sébastien Bourdais made one of the prettiest and gutsiest passes I’ve ever seen. Headed down the long main straightaway, Bourdais made it three wide as he was overtaking Spencer Pigot and Scott Dixon. As the threesome came upon the lapped car of Matheus Leist, something had to give. I figured Bourdais would back off and fall in line. Instead, Bourdais darted across Dixon’s nose and got to the inside of Leist, just in time to make the corner. Bourdais was now second, and Dixon third.

Unfortunately, it was all for naught. It took Race Control six laps to determine that Bourdais had crossed into a line marking pit lane that was not allowed. Bourdais had to give the spot back.

Replay shows that Bourdais was clearly in violation of the rule and should have given the spot back to Dixon. My problem is, why did it take six laps to determine that? By the time Bourdais was notified of the penalty, he had already pulled a large lead over Dixon and was trying to chase down Rossi. By this time, Bourdais had to slow down and back up to let Dixon pass him to give the position back. Two corners later, Bourdais passed Dixon again. But the damage had been done. By this time Rossi had pulled away out of sight.

Had Race Control acted swiftly and forced Bourdais to givce the position back immediately, Bourdais could have been in a better position to chase down Rossi. As it was, Bourdais had to give up a lot of time and track position to give back the spot. I have no problem with Race Control’s decision, but I do have a problem with them taking so long to act on it.

The Pit Stop: On Lap 60, Zachary Claman De Melo clouted the wall bringing out a full-course yellow. Bourdais and Dixon were already headed to the pits when the yellow came out just as they were both committed to pit lane. At that point, the pits were immediately closed. Bourdais did the correct thing and drove through the pits without service. Dixon pulled in and after some hesitation, his crew serviced his car. Dixon was assessed a drive-through penalty as soon as the course went green. Dixon and Bourdais were essentially taken out of contention at that point.

I’ve long been an opponent to closing the pits at the beginning of the caution. I don’t think either driver was trying to get away with anything, They had both committed to the pits just as the yellow came out. Were they to dart away and into the path of another car on the straightaway? I know the arguments for and against closing the pits. I thought they were going to revamp this rule, but what I saw yesterday was pretty much the old rule in place. All I know is that two fast cars were taken out of the running because of a rule they did not intentionally break.

Dixon Unhappy: When asked about his car taking service during the illegal pit stop, Dixon expressed his displeasure with his team leaving him out so long. We’ve seen teams get greedy before in this situation. They see their competitors pit ahead of them. Instead of following suit, they try to run some hot laps thinking they can get ahead and come back out in the lead when they finally do pit. It seems that more times than not, the plan backfires when a caution comes out. It happened again yesterday.

Dixon was very pointed in his comments against his team’s decision and rightfully so. He had a potential podium finish going. He wasn’t going to catch Rossi unless Rossi made a mistake. But he could have easily gotten a second-place finish. Instead, Dixon finished eleventh and now sits sixth in points.

Bittersweet for Andretti Autosport: Not only did Alexander Rossi win in convincing fashion, most of his teammates had good days as well. As mentioned before, rookie Zach Veach posted a very impressive fourth-place finish. Marco Andretti finished sixth, giving him his best finish since he finished fourth at Toronto last summer – eight races ago. The new standings show Rossi in the lead for the championship, with Marco tenth and Veach thirteenth.

But it was made bittersweet by the disastrous day that Ryan Hunter-Reay had. It all started when he was penalized during qualifying on Saturday for a seemingly minor violation when leaving the pits. It was downhill from there. Hunter-Reay seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time all day Sunday. He kept fighting back only to run into more trouble – some of his own doing, but most not. In the end, Hunter-Reay finished twentieth – four laps down and seventh in points.

Butterball: After the last couple of weeks, we’ve all seen the Butterball Turkey commercial featuring Ryan Hunter-Reay and Michael Andretti. I commend Butterball for using drivers in their ads. I wish more companies would do that.

But I do have just one question…Just what exactly is Ryan Hunter-Reay looking at as he crawls from underneath the front of his race car? Is he looking at the undertray? The skid plate? If you’ve ever seen the bottom of an Indy car, there’s not a whole lot under there – especially in the front part of the car where Hunter-Reay is looking.

I guess some Madison Avenue director was insistent that Hunter-Reay crawl out from under the car. I’m also guessing that he and Michael Andretti went along with it to keep the sponsor happy (smart move). But if you’ve ever seen the bottom-side of an Indy car, you know this wouldn’t really happen.

Drive of the Day: Some would say that Alexander Rossi deserved this designation. After all, he dominated the entire race weekend. What else could he do?

I agree, but Rossi is a little too obvious. Sébastien Bourdais was the leading candidate for this distinction, but after he pulled into the closed pits, his day turned sour quickly. When Jordan King spun him around in the hairpin late in the race, it was a sad end to a day that looked so promising.

Simon Pagenaud fans will probably disagree with me, but I think the drive of the day came from Graham Rahal. After he admittedly took out Pagenaud before the first corner of the race, he served his penalty and fought hard all day to a well-earned fifth-place finish. He never gave up and he now sits in third in the points battle.

All in All: Had some random winner inherited the lead late in the race, Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach would have been considered an ugly race with a forgettable ending. But that’s not what happened.

Multiple mistakes aside, yesterday’s race was a thing of beauty simply because of the way Alexander Rossi drove and won. He was fastest practically all weekend. He pulled away at every restart, to the point where there was very little suspense.

I’ve seen races like this in the past where a driver I didn’t care for dominated the entire race, and I didn’t like it. I would find those races boring and monotonous. But I like Rossi. I’m a Rossi fan. Therefore, I found Sunday’s race entertaining – not only because my guy won, but the way in which he won. I enjoy seeing dominating performances. I love a 45-0 football game, so long as it’s my team doing the scoring. If I’m on the short end – not so much.

But this does set up a very interesting battle between the Top-Three in points heading into Barber. In fact, it is now looking like it will be a very fun season to watch. Whoever wins this championship will have earned it.

George Phillips

8 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Long Beach”

  1. BrandonWright77 Says:

    Really entertaining race I thought. After watching the snoozer of an IMSA race my hopes weren’t high for IndyCar but I was pleasantly surprised. And shockingly, George has now correctly picked two winners on the trot! 🙂

  2. Why does IndyCar have an “out of bounds”? The pass of the decade was nullified by this stupid rule. And if you must have this, then use a bright fluorescent color the drivers can see, not a blending blue color which mixes with the tire marks already there.

    Why did I need a code to sign onto Race Control to watch a streaming practice on Saturday? I can only assume this will cost me money at some time in the future.

    All in all, a good race made better by NBCSN.

    • billytheskink Says:

      Much like how the shoulder of the road is “out of bounds” for freeway driving, so too is the pit exit lane of a race track. Using the pit exit lane for racing is unsafe, as a car exiting the pits would neither expect nor see the much faster car on the racing surface entering its area. I very much doubt Bourdais could not see or was unaware of the blue pit exit boundary line.

      It was a heck of a pass, but the rule is a good one (the pass was only safe because no one was exiting the pits, which Bourdais did not know when he veered right) and the very mild penalty that he received was certainly earned.

  3. Ron Ford Says:

    There were problems with Race Control streaming all weekend, not the least of which was needing some kind of code to sign in.

  4. BrandonWright77 Says:

    I saw the thing on RaceControl asking for a code but I just watched from the YouTube channel like normal (no code required) and didn’t have any problems at all. Starting next year you’ll have to pay for all of that stuff through NBC Gold though.

    • Ron Ford Says:

      I am pretty sure that you will be able to avoid NBC Gold by watching the Canadian streaming. Norris McDonald of the Toronto Star usually provides links to that.

  5. ed emmitt Says:

    I signed up for the code to use race day for track position. But during practice just go to the Youtube sign and you can get it without the code.

  6. Maybe Hunter-Reay is checking to see if the air jacks are catching on the skid plate as they were at Phoenix.

    Graham did screw up on the start, but if you look at the aerial shot, Graham is decelerating at the same rate as the other cars around him. It is Simon who jumped on the brakes earlier than everyone else and started the series of events. So I give Simon a little blame for initiating the incident.

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