Random Thoughts on Long Beach

If you are a longtime fan of the NTT IndyCar Series and you were disappointed in what you saw yesterday in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, then that’s on you. If you’ve been watching Indy cars at Long Beach for very long, you should have known what you were going to get. Yesterday’s race was fairly typical for Long Beach. It was a parade-like race with little passing that is usually won in dominant fashion. More times than not, that’s how it plays out at Long Beach; so no one should have been surprised yesterday.

But that didn’t stop the whining on social media during the race. My Twitter feed was filled with people moaning about how boring it was. What did they expect?

When your expectations are low, you’re not disappointed. That’s why I enjoyed yesterday’s race at Long Beach. Look, I’m not knocking this event. I hope to go there someday, maybe as soon as next year. It looks like a ton of fun and a gathering point for anyone associated with this sport over the last sixty years that lives on the west coast. But I wouldn’t go expecting to see a fantastic race, because that is not the norm at Long Beach. Obviously that history of non-excitement doesn’t deter the locals from going. The stands looked pack at the start. Some tracks would kill for a crowd half that size.

But when I settled into my TV chair yesterday afternoon, I knew what I was in for – and I got it.

In case you missed the race, Alexander Rossi won in dominant fashion. He started from the pole and fought off Scott Dixon as they headed into Turn One. But a three-car pileup in the Fountain Turn, involving Spencer Pigot, Jack Harvey and Marcus Ericsson, brought out the only full-course yellow of the day on Lap One. On the restart, Rossi and Dixon just checked out on the rest of the field before reaching the first turn. Rossi won the battle going into the turn again, but Dixon was right there. But it didn’t take long for Scott Dixon, and all of us at home, to realize that Alexander Rossi was on another planet from everyone else yesterday.

A ten to twelve second lead for Rossi over whoever was in second-place was the norm for the day. There were a few anxious moments, like when Will Power went way too hot into Turn One and had to use the runoff area – pretty well ending his day. Then rookie Colton Herta smacked the wall, breaking his front wing and bending his suspension – effectively ending his day on Lap Fifty.

Scott Dixon had his own drama, when he had fuel hose issues on his last pit stop. He slid all the way to sixth-place after that but made his way back to the podium after Ryan Hunter-Reay had late race issues and then a last lap battle with Graham Rahal (more on that later).

But except for pit stop shuffles, Rossi led from start to finish – leading eighty of the eighty-five laps. He had the entire field covered yesterday and was never even threatened. When he was interviewed in victory lane immediately after the race, his voice sounded like he just woke up – as if this was no exertion at all. But he did explain that he had just found out that his grandfather had passed away and he was dedicating his race win to him. That might explain the lack of enthusiasm in his voice.

This has to give Alexander Rossi a boost of confidence heading into the Month of May. As I’ve said for a couple of weeks now, Rossi has been driving good this season, but not great. Yesterday, he was better than great – he was brilliant. Those are the kind of drives that win championships. Now let’s see what he does for an encore in May.

TV Coverage: For the second time this season, we sat at home and watched the race on television. I am really enjoying the NBC Gold IndyCar Pass. Someone for my day job scheduled a two-hour conference call for Friday at noon, which meant I would miss Practice One. Then Practice Two was to wrap up after I left work to go home. No problem, I pulled them both up when I got home and watched them both on NBC Gold. Then I noticed that they had the 1985 and 1986 Long Beach races on there also. To Susan’s chagrin, I watched the entire 1985 race. Aside from Bruce Jenner being a pit reporter, I found the race fascinating. Susan did not, so I did not subject her to the 1986 race.

I’ve also found that I like watching qualifying through NBC Gold because they don’t have commercials. When the network feed went to break this past Saturday, the Gold coverage went to a desk onsite anchored by Krista Voda and AJ Allmendinger, giving their analysis on whatever had just transpired. I had something to do yesterday morning and missed the Morning Warmup, but I pulled it up and watched it just before the race coverage started on NBCSN. The full production with the entire NBCSN crew for the practices really elevates the enjoyment. It also forces the crew to gel a lot quicker. Four races in and they are already in mid-season form.

I thought they did a superb job covering yesterday’s race. For the first time, Marty Snider seems to actually be enjoying covering IndyCar. It seems he has finally immersed himself into the sport, instead of treating it as a substitute until NBC’s NASCAR season cranks up later this summer. Kelli Stavast is a significant upgrade from Katie Hargitt and Kevin Lee is the consummate pro. Robin Miller also takes the broadcast to another level, in my opinion. I just wish they could find a way to work Jon Beekhuis into these early season telecasts, like they did at St. Petersburg. Maybe he’ll resurface at Indianapolis. What do I like best about all of the on-air talent that NBCSN has covering races? They all do a good job, but none of them take themselves too seriously.

They didn’t try to oversell Long Beach. They presented it as a great event that carries a lot of prestige. But they never once tried to make us think that we were in for a nail-biter of a day. That’s good, because we weren’t.

But overall, I thought this was one of NBCSN’s best days covering the NTT IndyCar Series. If you disagree, tell me.

Red-Flag Woes: For the fourth time in four races, at least one driver has been caught out playing the waiting game and it has cost a fast car the chance to move on to the next round. The latest casualty was Ryan Hunter-Reay, who lost a probable spot in the Firestone Fast Six on Saturday, when he sat cooling his heels in the pits for a while during Round Two. He had just started on a flyer when Felix Rosenqvist decided to bury the nose of his Dallara into the tire barrier, bringing out the red flag with just over a minute to go.

This has happened in seasons past, but never with this kind of frequency. When will the teams learn to not tempt fate so much?

National Anthem: I try to bite my tongue over bad renditions of our National Anthem, mainly because a few people get angry when I criticize them. They childishly say that I should get up there and try before criticizing others. I would never attempt to be a restaurant chef, but that doesn’t mean I can’t tell a good meal from a bad one. But I’ve been good at keeping my mouth shut…until now.

Mickey Guyton’s rendition of our National Anthem on Sunday was cringe-worthy. It was beyond bad. I was actually embarrassed for her. I kept wanting it to end for her sake, as well as mine. I’m not going to say it’s the worst I’ve ever heard, but it was probably in the Top-Ten. And that ranking isn’t limited to just IndyCar races. No, it includes any public performance I’ve ever heard in my life. When you look at it that way, that includes a lot of bad ones.

Do these “stars” not audition first? Surely whoever is in charge of such things insists on hearing them first. They do, right? Don’t they? Apparently not. If Ms. Guyton beat out others for yesterday’s gig, I’d hate to think what they sounded like.

Honda Power: When Alexander Rossi and Scott Dixon pulled away on the Lap Five restart, they left Will Power and Josef Newgarden in their dust. Rossi and Dixon both drive Hondas, while Power and Newgarden are both powered by Chevy. Was this an indication of superiority of the Honda over the Chevy, or did Power just get a bad restart?

Chevy won the first race of the season, but Honda has won the next three headed into May. Chevy was able to place three cars in yesterday’s final Top-Ten, but I think it’s safe to say that Honda has the edge at the moment. Of course, the Indianapolis 500 is a different beast. Chevy may have the upper hand next month, while Honda struggles. But right now, if I didn’t have a Honda engine under my cowling, I’d be a little nervous after four races.

Delta Force: No, this is not a reference to the soundtrack from the movie of the same name that was used in Indianapolis 500 intros for several years in the late eighties through the mid-nineties. This is in reference to Townsend Bell’s overuse of the word delta, instead of just using the simpler and easier to understand difference.

Yes we all learned in physics, science or math class to use the term delta to describe a difference in a measurement. But when talking about lap times, it just sounds a little pretentious to talk about the delta that Colton Herta needs to make up in the next stint. It sounds like your talking down to people. Most of us don’t use that term in our everyday conversations.

The Block: The big controversy came at the end of the race. It didn’t involve Rossi’s dominance; instead it was about who would rightfully take the third step on the podium. Based on what I saw on social media after the race, the vast majority of fans saw it completely different than I did. Even Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy saw it differently.

I really have no interest either way, because I like both Scott Dixon and Graham Rahal. But just because he is in a bigger need for a points boost, I may have actually been pulling for Rahal to finish third over Dixon. But based on what I saw, Dixon deserved the final spot on the podium.

Graham Rahal handled himself well in the post-race interview. But he focused entirely on the initial move when he moved to his right in anticipation of Dixon attempting to pass there. Rahal was correct when he said that was a legal move. But he chose to ignore the second move and so did the announcers in the booth.

The second move was near the end of the straightaway, when Dixon tucked back in behind Rahal and then attempted to pass on his left side. Rahal then faded over to the left, making such a move impossible for Dixon. That move by Rahal was illegal, in my opinion. Matt Archuleta posted the following video on his Twitter account shortly after the race.

Although it cuts off about two seconds too soon, to me this clearly shows Rahal making the ill-advised second move. As I type, I have not read or heard any official explanation from Race Control. But I’m pretty confident that in reviewing the situation on the last lap between Rahal and Dixon, it was the second move by Rahal that put Scott Dixon on the podium and relegated Rahal to fourth. But something tells me that many of you will take a different stance, as practically everyone on social media did after the race.

Hidden Sponsor: This was discussed briefly in the comment section on Friday, but I think Will Power’s car needs a makeover. In these days of chrome wraps, the silver car of Will Power just sort of sits there. Worst of all, on television it’s difficult to tell who the sponsor is. The black lettering on the sidepods that spells out Verizon is practically invisible to viewers when the car is on track.

This new body kit that was introduced in 2018 features sidepods that are more rounded than the previous version. The result is a sidepod that is hard to read without colorful lettering. Black letters on a silver curved background is very hard for TV cameras to pick up. Perhaps if the lettering was the same color as the scarlet number on the nose of the car, it would be much easier to read the name of the sponsor. Most liveries have very easy to read sidepods on this new car. Verizon and/or Team Penske need to freshen that car up. Then maybe it will improve Power’s results on-track this season.

My Pick: For once, I was able to correctly pick the winner of the race when I made my pick on Friday for Rossi to repeat at Long Beach. That is a very rare feat for me. In all the years I’ve been doing this, I think I have correctly predicted the winning driver maybe five or six times. Normally, the driver I pick stuffs the car into the wall.

Take COTA, for example. I picked Felix Rosenqvist to win at COTA and he was the only car to crash and bring out a yellow all day long. So not only did Rossi outrun every car in the field yesterday, he was also able to outrun the curse of me picking him to win.

Reality Bites: After stellar performances in the first two races, it appears the IndyCar rookie class of 2019 has come back down to earth. After a solid performance in the race at St. Petersburg, Colton Herta backed that up with a win at COTA. But at Barber and Long Beach, he chalked up two finishes of dead-last. Pato O’Ward turned heads at COTA, but he has turned in underwhelming results in the last two races. Marcus Ericsson has had one good result thus far – a seventh at Barber. The rest of his results have been fairly dismal.

The best result by a rookie yesterday was Felix Rosenqvist finishing tenth, just as he did at Barber. Aside from his crash at COTA, Rosenqvist has been the most consistent rookie, so far this season.

All in All: If you are wanting racing that takes your breath away, that will come at either the Indianapolis 500 in May or at Texas in June. If you thought that was going to be the case yesterday, you set yourself up for disappointment.

I thought yesterday’s race was a prototypical race at Long Beach. Not every race at Long Beach is a snoozer, but more than half of them are. Based on social media, most considered yesterday’s race a snoozer. I didn’t. There were some interesting strategies going on behind Rossi and I actually enjoyed watching Rossi run away with it. I enjoy seeing greatness on display and yesterday’s performance by Rossi was an absolute masterpiece.

We now turn our attention to the Month of May, and we’ll have plenty of time to think about it. Although Leigh Diffey said the IndyCar Grand Prix is three weeks away, it’s really four. OK…The Grand Prix is four weeks from this past Saturday. So like it or not, the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach is going to have to hold us for almost a month. But then it’s the Month of May.

George Phillips

16 Responses to “Random Thoughts on Long Beach”

  1. Well if anyone thought Long Beach was boring don’t watch the Chinese F1 race from Sunday then. I genuinely fell asleep during the race……

  2. For being a parade, I thought it was a good event with some action. Indycar is better than NASCAR right now, more teams winning and there is at least some action and the drivers are actually having to wheel the cars in Indycar.

    Problem though, first off, I feel that Dixon gets a lot of calls and yesterday was no different. St Pete qualifying was a joke for example, I just get the feeling that a driver in the gang (Papis) of guys who hung out and still do shouldn’t be in race control. Luyendyk is ok because he hasn’t raced against these guys.

    Anyway, it’s just a real bad taste for anyone watching to see that guys can’t race for position on the last lap. One of the few passes that could have happened and it happened because of race control. Not a good look at all!

  3. The race was a bit of an (expected) snoozer but was still entertaining to watch, unlike the F1 race where I literally dozed off at least three times.

    “Delta” doesn’t bother me nearly as much as “danger zone”, or the one that pisses me off more every time I hear it is “…the depth of talent/competition in (insert series here)”. I want to throw something at my tv each time I hear that.

    Regarding the Rahal penalty, I’m not clear on the specifics of the IndyCar blocking rule but typically the driver is allowed one move (to the inside like Rahal did) but are allowed to retake the proper driving line for the corner entry, which is what he did. I don’t recall if IndyCar is one of the series that allows the driver to retake the proper line for corner entry or not. That being said, it was hard racing between two good drivers on the last lap for a podium position, I kinda wished they had just let the result stand. I believe any driver in the field worth their salt would have done exactly what Graham did.

    I thought Pato still did pretty good for the rookies, he had a couple of the most exciting moments of the race and bringing a Carlin car home in P12 in only your fourth IndyCar race is nothing to sneeze at. And he beat his far more experienced teammate yet again.

  4. I immediately thought Rahal blocked when it happened. The race went just as I expected, so no disappointment here. May should really shake up the points if Power does what he did last year.

  5. billytheskink Says:

    I thought it interesting, but not surprising, that the “normal” order of things in Indycar was restored at Long Beach. Andretti, Penske, and Ganassi controlled qualifying and the race with RLL the only interloper (but racing like a Big Three team so far this season) and the quality rookies were all well down the order.

    The call on Rahal was close, he seemed to violate the spirit of the rule more so than the letter, but I don’t really struggle with it… that is provided race control is consistent with such calls in similar situations as the season goes on. I’m not sure I would bet on that, though I’ll concede that officiating is a challenging and largely thankless job. I do think they may well have called that situation differently with different drivers, or if it had occurred before the final lap. Frustrating, but a fact of the racing life. Rahal’s point of view on the penalty is understandable, and the fade/second move that seems to have dinged him is a move that Power, Castroneves (so, so much), Franchitti, and, yes, even Dixon have used largely without penalty for many years.

  6. The build up for the “American Monaco” was a snoozer, as usual. If young fans are looking at the race and turn the channel after 15 to 20 laps, then who could blame them? Well, I expected a dud and I got a dud, but just because I am an IndyCar fan I don’t have to accept it. Yesterday was too pretty to stay in and watch that. Next year I will tape it and scoot through it for the highlights.

    • If you subscribe to the Gold Pass on NBCSN, they put up a video called Fast Forward where they condense the race down to 30 minutes so you get just the good stuff. The Long Beach edition is already up and ready for viewing.

  7. Absolutely nowhere near as bad as Chinese GP, which was the big 1000th F1 world championship race, but the promoters did little to hype up the event. In my opinion from my recent viewing of Indycar, the Indy GP event held before Indy 500 tends to be fairly lackluster in its own right

  8. The previous round at Barber and this round at Long Beach make it appear like Team Rahal has caught up to the “Big Three”, effectively turning it into a “Big Four”. I feel delighted by this development, having guessed before the start of the season that 2019 was going to be Team Penske running away into the distance and nobody in their mirrors even.

    I don’t get the bashing of Long Beach. Sometimes in IndyCar, dominant performances do happen. It’s just that now, they have happened twice in a row, and both times for 2 very popular drivers at that.

    Up next is a bit of a break which makes me wonder if Jaye Frye had originally intended to schedule a race in there for which the deal might not have come together.

    And then, it’s time for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. I know the official name of the race is now different to this wording but I prefer the original way of saying it from the inaugural event a few years back because it more closely resembles the name of the F1 race that this event has effectively replaced on the schedule of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

    The road race at Indianapolis is always a bit different because it requires a car setup that does not have much in common with most of the circuits on the schedule (though I’m not sure about COTA when it comes to this). It’s going to be an interesting race for sure, if only to find out if another team is going to break the winning streak of Team Penske at this track this year.

  9. Talón de Brea Says:

    As has been said by many people, many times, the nature of non-oval racing is by nature processional. You simply don’t — can’t — get the “Pack Cycling on a Velodrome” effect. And yes, in some ways Long Beach is somewhat Mickey Mouse, like other temporary circuits (it was a little more dramatic in its late-70s incarnation).

    For example, the sector just after Turn 1 serves merely to get the cars back to a racier portion of the track (and makes for a TV-friendly shot of the fountain). Yet I’m amazed the circuit races as well as it does. We get to witness degrees of excellence in cars, teams and drivers throughout the field. And when a Mario, Little Al or Rossi runs the rest of the field into the ground, that’s the way it goes — and when that happens in a spec series, you’ve really seen something. Maybe it’s subtle, like a 1-0 baseball pitchers’ duel or a 1-0 soccer game, but it’s part of the diversity of a truly underappreciated racing series.

    As George mentioned, the stands appeared well filled — and there are many thousands more just milling around or hanging out in bars with only a vague sense that there’s a noisy race going on. For one who likes racing and being at a race circuit, it’s a great event.

    My favorite day at Long Beach is always Saturday — there’s actually TOO much going on: you see the entire IndyCar field in morning practice, so if a car wrecks on lap one of the race, at least you’ve seen it that weekend. I’m a sports car guy first, so I get a (ridiculously brief but commercially important for the manufacturers) glimpse of the IMSA cars in the (free) paddock and then in the too-short race (imagine going to an IndyCar race for a 50-mile event — that’s what it’s like for me). Then there’s IndyCar qualifying, which to me is exciting both on TV and in person — a short, intense burst of competitive activity, with positions on the timing charts changing rapidly. This might be sacriligious on an IndyCar-related site, but I think qualifying is sometimes more exciting than a race (your mileage may vary, and I did say “sometimes”). Add in the trucks, Pirelli Challenge cars, this year’s IMSA GTO vintage cars, and the people watching, and Long Beach is a big event — capped by a, yes, generally processional feature race.

    Does all this translate to engaging TV viewing? I think NBCSN did a fine job of conveying the weekend. Manage expectations going in, as George suggests, and you have a better shot at enjoying the viewing experience and not switching to an infomercial.

  10. Long Beach has another amazing crowd!

  11. Thanks for blogging, George. You rock.

  12. Are we the only ones who had audio trouble on NBC Gold for the Practice 3 on Saturday? I really like Gold and am glad I subscribed. I am always happy to attend this weekend, Still enjoy seeing everyone and everything up close and personal. I too was thrilled that the stands were packed for the race.

  13. I enjoy seeing greatness on display as well! It’s real life, not artificial outcomes to please the “fans,” get over it.

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