Random Thoughts on Long Beach

Sometimes the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach does not live up to the hype. That was not the case with yesterday’s race. There was strategy, drama, excitement, chaos and a first-time IndyCar winner, in Kyle Kirkwood.. There was also a reshuffling of the point standings that saw Kirkwood move up a whopping fourteen spots to fifth. There is also a new points leader, as Marcus Ericsson reclaims the top spot he held after St. Petersburg. After a rough day, Pato O’Ward moves back to second in points – fifteen points behind Ericsson.

Near the end of the first stint, it looked as if Josef Newgarden was the man to beat. He started eighth and quickly worked his way near the front. When pole-sitter Kirkwood got caught behind slower traffic, Newgarden seized the opportunity and shot to the lead and it looked like he was going to check out. After the first round of pit stops, Newgarden quickly retook the lead from Augustin Canapino, who cycled to the front on a different strategy.

But Newgarden was now on the alternate tires, that appeared to fall off quicker than expected. He also appeared to be in fuel-saving mode, and he was no longer running away from Kirkwood and the rest in the lead pack. Kirkwood took a page from Newgarden’s playbook a year ago at Long Beach. When Newgarden pitted early for his second stop, Kirkwood had a clear track in front of him and he laid down two very quick laps.

Romain Grosjean had been running third, behind Newgarden and Kirkwood, before Newgarden pitted. Grosjean pitted on the next lap and came out just ahead of Newgarden. Kirkwood pitted on the following lap and came out way ahead of both Grosjean and Newgarden. At this point, you figured that this would be a three-way battle to the end between Kirkwood, Grosjean and Newgarden. But Newgarden went into major fuel-save mode, making one wonder if he had gotten a full fill on his last stop. Newgarden began dropping like a stone. By the end of the race, he had fallen from a competitive third, to a very forgettable ninth-place finish – almost two seconds behind rookie Marcus Armstrong.

While Kirkwood and Grosjean seemed as if they might pull away, there was a lot of back-and-forth going on behind them. Marcus Ericsson had seemed to be having a solid day, but he certainly poured it on and was suddenly in third, looking as if he very well could have taken second-place away from Grosjean and could have possibly threatened Kirkwood. I don’t known if he decided leaving Long Beach with the points lead was good enough, or if he really had something for the two Andretti cars in front of him. Regardless, the victory podium ended up with Kirkwood earning his first career NTT IndyCar Series win, Romain Grosjean with his fourth second-place finish and Marcus Ericsson with another very good run.

On the flip side, there were a lot of uncharacteristic bad runs for a lot of front-running teams and drivers. Altogether, it was a very mediocre day for Team Penske. Aside from Newgarden’s disappointing ninth-place finish, no Team Penske driver made the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying. Will Power started thirteenth and seemed happy to move up to finish sixth. Scott McLaughlin started ninth and finished tenth. Yes all three Penske drivers finished in the Top-Ten, but they were all in the second-half of the Top-Ten. I’m sure they envisioned more entering the weekend.

Chip Ganassi Racing ended up on the podium with Ericsson, and had two more cars in the Top-Ten with Alex Palou finishing fifth and Marcus Armstrong finishing a very respectable eighth, but Scott Dixon was put into the tire barriers by an unapologetic Pato O’Ward on Lap 20 and finished dead-last. While Palou was pleased to finish fifth, he was never considered a threat for the win. Palou now sits third in points, in the spot previously held by Dixon who fell to sixth.

Arrow McLaren had finished second in the previous two races, but their highest finishing driver on Sunday was Felix Rosenqvist in seventh. Alexander Rossi had been running in sixth or seventh for most of the day, but he somehow ended up in the tire barriers on the final lap and finished twenty-second. Pato O’Ward had driven two patient, mature races coming into Long Beach. On Sunday, he made several unforced errors, taking out Scott Dixon in one incident and almost taking out Kirkwood in another that ended up costing O’Ward multiple positions. He finished seventeenth, after starting sixth.

TV Coverage: After a rather cheesy opening that saw Townsend Bell (supposedly) arrive on whatever you call that powered surfboard, I thought the race broadcast was generally good once the race got started. I will continue to complain every week about the dreaded in-car interview on the pace lap with the booth. This week it was James Hinchcliffe interviewing Romain Grosjean. Between the vibration of the car and his accent – I couldn’t understand a word Grosjean said. It doesn’t matter, I can tell you it was pointless. These interviews are so awkward and cringeworthy. I have no idea why they still do them.

Other than that, I thought the booth guys and the pit reporters did an excellent job. I really think Dave Burns is a very underrated pit reporter, although I still miss Jon Beekhuis. If you think back to one year ago, I think we forget how improved James Hinchcliffe is in the booth. His first few races last year were OK, but not stellar. Now I think Hinchcliffe is as good as any motorsports analyst on television.

Pre-Race Ceremonies: I don’t know whose job it is to test the audio equipment, but they failed. The Invocation was mostly inaudible, as the audio kept going in and out, and mostly out. I can’t say for certain, but it appeared to go out over the PA at the tracks as well.

As far as the National Anthem went, I was unaware who Tim Kepler was before yesterday’s bad performance just before the race. When I Googled his name, I was shocked to find out he had ever sung it before. It sounded like a blind first attempt. I was shocked to find out he has performed the National Anthem at Los Angeles Angels baseball games and Anaheim Ducks NHL games. To be kind, I will assume he woke up yesterday morning with an acute case of laryngitis.

The Start: Not only was Scott Dixon unhappy with Pato O’Ward, he was also not happy with IndyCar officials just after the start. Dixon started on the inside of Row Three, but claims that those in Rows Five and Six jumped the start and were passing him before the front-row got their jump. Long Beach is always a ragged start, due to the hairpin leading onto the front-straightaway. But I noticed when I was watching the start live, that this start looked exceptionally ragged. Then when Dixon complained and they showed the replay, I have to say that I agree with Dixon. They can’t really do anything about those in the back rows being out of formation at the start, but I thought a few cars were already passing just as the green flag flew.

No Escape From Reality: Juncos Hollinger Racing had a surprisingly strong start to the season during pre-season testing and the first two races of the season. While everyone was happy to see this little team overachieve, you wondered when they might fall back down to earth. The answer was this weekend. It all started on Saturday, when Callum Ilott fell victim to some curbing that had been placed overnight in Turn Five after the Friday practice. Ilott found the tire barrier early in the Saturday morning practice. His team had to thrash his car together in time for qualifying, where he qualified twenty-second. He had issues all day Sunday and finished a hard-fought nineteenth.

It was worse for Augustin Canapino. He qualified a disappointing twenty-sixth and finished twenty-fifth in the race. Was this just a bad weekend to forget, or was this a sign of things to come? We will get a better clue in two weeks at Barber.

Local Yellow: IndyCar Race Control rediscovered an old tool on Sunday, that was used quite often thirty years ago in CART’s glory years – the local yellow. Benjamin Pedersen of AJ Foyt Enterprises stalled his car on Lap 45 Sunday in the runoff area, coming off of Turn One. It was in the middle of the second fuel stint and a full-course yellow would have really messed up a lot of ongoing strategies. When I saw his stalled car, I was not happy because that would have normally been a full-course yellow in today’s IndyCar. Fortunately, the AMR Safety Team pulled the stalled car of Pedersen back out of harms way under a simple local yellow. They re-fired the car, and Pedersen took off to rejoin the fight, without the race skipping a beat. We are always so quick to point out when Race Control does something wrong. This time, I thought they got it right.

Good Day for Honda: When one engine manufacturer sweeps the Top-Five spots in qualifying, then sweeps the To-Five spots in the race, you tend to assume that they had a very good day. Such was the case with Honda as they took the first five spots on both days, even thought Chevy took four of the next five on both days.

My question is…is this luck, coincidence or is there something about Long Beach that makes Honda the preferred powerplant? Remember, Josef Newgarden won in a Chevy at Long Beach last year.

I am not a gearhead, but I’ve always wondered…Is there such a thing that is predictable as a track more suited for one manufacturer over the other? Whatever the case, it seemed to be a very good day for Honda yesterday. It wasn’t so clear cut at Texas. Chevy swept the first two spots, but Honda had the next three. If anyone that knows engines has an answer, I would greatly appreciate it.

Good Sport: While Pato O’Ward raised the ire of several drivers yesterday, he at least did the right thing in the late stages of the race. Kyle Kirkwood was closing in on his first career win, with those just behind him in hot pursuit. They were coming up on the car of O’Ward, who had not been lapped yet and was still on the lead lap. With that being the case, he was under no obligation to pull over and let the leaders pass. He would have been in his rights to fight to stay on the lead lap. Instead, he graciously pulled over to the side in the first passing zone he came to with the leaders right behind him and let them go by without affecting their race. Good job on his part.

Drive of the Day: Several drivers had excellent days yesterday, but we heard very little about them because they were never in serious contention for the win. Santino Ferrucci was making only his second IndyCar start at Long Beach. He did not qualify well (eighteenth), but he kept his nose clean and had some very nice and timely passes. He finished eleventh and threatened to crack the Top-Ten a couple of times.

Will Power overcame a thirteenth starting spot and was the highest finishing Penske car, finishing sixth.

But the Drive of the Day goes to someone who has earned the honor of this website’s Drive of the Day many times. He and his team have had some hard luck this season – especially at Texas, and you wondered how this driver would do Sunday, after qualifying twenty-fourth on Saturday. But as he usually does, Graham Rahal raced very well and worked his way up to finish a very respectable twelfth. If only he could qualify better…

All in All: By Long Beach standards, I thought yesterday’s race was a good race. It was entertaining and there were some excellent passes made. Were the last fifteen laps as scintillating as the last fifteen laps at Texas? No, but it was very intriguing nonetheless. It looked like a fun time was had by everyone there, and it furthered my commitment to get to that race someday, sooner than later.

In two weeks, the NTT IndyCar Series moves to the first natural terrain road course of the season – the truly beautiful facility at Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds, Alabama; just east of Birmingham.

Before that, we get a prelude to the Month of May – the Open Test on the IMS Oval this Thursday and Friday, April 20-21. I have decided at the last minute, that I am going to attend the test, so I will be on-site both days. Susan is not going, as she has cake duties this week. The test will be available on Peacock both days. May will be here before we know it.

George Phillips

8 Responses to “Random Thoughts on Long Beach”

  1. S0CSeven Says:

    Local yellow flags ROCK!
    That’s what they’re for … but you need a really big hammer to penalize the drivers who fail to slow down.

  2. The start. Have a standing start at long beach (on all non-ovals?) and any jumpers will be penalised while the fact that the latter half of the field are so far back is ridiculous. I remember when I saw it live the first time I thought they would have a restart it is so crazy. The hairpin does not lend itself to rolling starts.

    Drive of the day. Santino. Beat all the Rahal cars in an Foyt car and Graham must have found it ironic ( as he followed in a good fight with Santino ) how he had chosen Harvey over SF.

    Commentary. Dave Burns is good and the best but the questions overall are so pathetic you can see the drivers taking a breath rather than walking off. What were your emotions etc etc. wow it’s children’s time! The in car is completely pointless, what does the producer think the driver is going to say that might be of interest. I wish the driver said F off and let me do my job. The booth don’t really tick my box as Leigh Diffeys enthusiasm is kind of plastic. He is much better in a one to one interview I feel. I used to think he was brilliant but he now grates.

    Great win for Kyle proving all the doubters wrong and Andretti. Imagine if the number of eyes watching Indycar was to vastly improve bringing with it the $$$$$$$ from sponsors and then we could say good bye to defrancesco, Peterson, daly etc and make the series even better.

    Big crowd although overhead shots showed surprisingly less than full stands. Looked like a win for indycar and I enjoyed the race thoroughly.

    • billytheskink Says:

      Lundgaard, not Harvey, was chosen over Ferrucci. Harvey’s signing was likely progressing before Ferrucci even strapped into a Rahal car in 2021, and was practically done by the time Harvey announced he was leaving Shank in the summer of 2021.

      I don’t think Lundgaard was Graham’s call either, though I’d expect he had some input. If Marshall Pruett’s silly season analysis from a few years ago is to be believed, then-RLL president Piers Phillips was Lundgaard’s biggest backer, while Bobby Rahal preferred Oliver Askew and Mike Lanigan favored Ferrucci.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    Cleaner race than I thought it would be. Really rough day for the Chevrolets. Not only locked out of the top 5 but their top car was 20+ seconds back from 5th! Only Newgarden looked like a podium contender among Chevy drivers at any point yesterday… and we saw how that ended up.

    Good drive for Ferrucci. “What is going on at Rahal?” is a fair question… but “what is going on at Meyer Shank?” might be a fairer one. Last season was rough there but the start to this one has been even worse.

  4. Agreed about the race, and about Dave Burns. As a former NASCAR viewer, I’ve been familiar with Dave for a couple of decades. If any of you don’t know much about him, he’s from Kalamazoo, and was a pit reporter for TNN’s ASA races in the 90s before TNN brought him to their Busch & Cup races. He later worked for NBC/TNT & ESPN before coming back to NBC Sports.

    He had some fun segments on TNT in the early 2000s called “Dave Discovers”, and worked with Noel Blanc (son of the late Mel Blanc) for some voiceovers for the Looney Tunes 400.

  5. Looked like a great one from start to finish Congrats to Kyle Kirkwood for his first career win!

  6. Why did Race Control call full-course caution for Scott Dixon’s incident?!
    He was quickly pulled from the tire bundle and then resumed driving!
    Year after year after year after year after year
    I wonder why,
    when wreckage and fluids are not on tracks, and cars have RESUMED running,
    Race Control says, ‘Everyone stop racing!’
    I guarantee that the spectators on-site hate this more than hone viewers do.

  7. When the invocation started breaking up, my first thought was somebody doesn’t want God involved in this. Sounded to me like everything Christian was lost.

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