Long Beach is the most historic road course race in America. It’s the one that everyone wants to win. Even Formula One wants to take it back from IndyCar and they’re only interested in big money and big extravagance which is something that Long Beach doesn’t do to nearly the extent that F1’s newest races.
While Long Beach has a long history of making heroes out of its winners, sometimes, it’s the underdogs that have their day on the streets of the California port. This time out, it was a part-timer driving an oval-specialist’s car taking the checkered flag as Mike Conway won his second Long Beach Grand Prix.
The race started with Andretti Autosport locking out the front row as Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe started up front for the 40th Grand Prix of Long Beach. The early running was really defined by the fact that there were two strategies. Some cars were running on a three-stop strategy while the majority, including the Andretti cars, were on a two-stop strategy.
The interesting subplot of the day was tires. Not the speed difference between the reds and blacks or how age affected the tires. It was all about tire temperature. Sebastian Bourdais was caught out by cold tires and slid into the tire barrier heading onto the backstretch, for example.
It was cold tires that changed the complexion of the race. Things ran fairly uneventfully for the first three-quarters of the race until cold tires happened. Josef Newgarden was able to jump Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe on the exchange of final pitstops but he came out right in front of him on cold tires. RHR tried a move coming out of the Fountain section and caused the three leaders to pile into the wall.
This shuffled the pit strategies again as Scott Dixon and Justin Wilson led while trying to stretch fuel mileage. Will Power and Mike Conway led the cars that could push to the finish. Dixon squeezed Wilson into the wall to end the Englishman’s day and bring out another caution.
With Dixon short on fuel, the battle for second was the battle for the win. It was Conway who was able to get the jump on Power thanks to a push-to-pass move. Dixon pitted for fuel with two laps to go which unleashed Conway into the lead and on to his second win at Long Beach and as a part-timer.
Behind Conway, Power finished 2nd which saw his winning streak snapped but it increases his points lead to 33 points (or ten points from a full race lead) over the next closest full-time driver, Simon Pagenaud. Carlos Munoz finished third in his second career podium finish and first on a road course.
Juan Montoya didn’t have a strong start in St. Pete but made up for it with a 4th place finish in Long Beach. Simon Pagenaud was punted into the wall early in the race by Power but came back to round out the top five. Munoz wasn’t the only rookie with a strong run as Russian rookie Mikhail Aleshin finished 6th. Oriol Servia showed that he’s still got it in the first of his four scheduled races by finishing 7th. Marco Andretti was the only other Andretti car running at the finish in 8th. Sebastian Saavedra crossed the line in 9th. And Carlos Huertas scored his first IndyCar top ten by rounding out that top ten for Dale Coyne.
Long Beach was NBC Sports Network’s first crack at calling an IndyCar race this year and we got a chance to look at their revised lineup for the season. Leigh Diffey and Townsend Bell are still featured this season but it’s Wally Dallenbach who was missing this weekend. Wally is still employed by NBCSN but is dialing back his involvement for more time with his family and focusing on his daughter’s racing career.
In Wally’s place, NBCSN has a rotating team of analysts that included this weekend’s analyst, Paul Tracy. PT didn’t come up with any new instant classic lines during the broadcast but I did hear “chrome horn” on a couple of occasions. You know that given the opportunity, he’ll definitely tell it like it is.
When PT or Wally aren’t in the booth, NBCSN’s F1 voices David Hobbs and Steve Matchett will make appearances. When Diffey is otherwise occupied with F1 duties on IndyCar weekends, Bob Varsha and Brian Till will fill in for the Aussie play-by-play man.
The new qualifying procedures for the Indy 500 have been set and I’m not sure whether I’m okay with them or hate them with a passion.
Last year, qualifying featured the top 24 cars getting locked into position on Saturday with the Fast Nine pole shootout late Saturday afternoon. Sunday was Bump Day with the final nine spots filled by the remaining cars.
This year, Saturday’s qualifying will lock drivers into the field. The 33 fastest cars on the first day of qualifying get a spot in the field get locked into the grid. If a car is unable to make an attempt on Saturday, they can bump their way into the back row of the grid on Sunday. The Fast Nine qualifying will be moved to Sunday.
Now, I said the field was locked in on Saturday but not set. On Sunday, cars that timed in 10th through 33rd on Saturday get one qualifying run to set their place on the grid (with the aforementioned exception). It’s timed out so that everyone should get two runs on Saturday but I’m not going to say this is a good idea until it actually happens without a massive failure.
I’m just concerned that by trying to bring action back to Indy 500 qualifying will instead turn it into a gimmick that destroys the purity of racing. Okay, we’ve said that about push-to-pass and DRS and wave-arounds and lucky dogs but racing has survived. I’m sure that IndyCar’s hardcore fans will complain about the gimmick but the large viewing audience that tunes in once a year won’t be arsed.
The IndyCar Series takes a weekend off for the Easter holiday but is back in two weeks time for the Grand Prix of Alabama from Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. This event marks the first run of the season for IndyCar on a purpose-built road course. With only four of 18 rounds on road courses, performance on these tracks won’t break your title hopes but you don’t want to be making up a large gap after only three rounds.
Will Power has won two Barber races and is on a hot streak right now so I would consider him to be the favourite heading into this week. Helio Castroneves picked up three podiums from four races in Alabama and never finished lower than 7th. And don’t sleep on Carlos Munoz. He won at Barber in 2013 in Indy Lights and has all the potential in the world. He could sneak in a win here.