A look back, and one forward with IndyCar columnist Anne Proffit
There was an awful lot to think about after last weekend’s 40th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. I’ve been privileged enough to work every single one of them, and despite many of my friends’ carping about the number of fans, their arrival times, the lack of immediately blazing skies above and other sundry issues they may have had, I found this one of the better events at The Beach.
My ties to the city are due to this race; I came here in 1975 as a timer & scorer in F5000 and deeply understand the nature of this beast. And I live three blocks from the circuit, two corners away from what once was the infamous Linden Leap.
The Verizon IndyCar Series now has two events in the books and, while we’ve all been quick to chide INDYCAR for starting its season so late, this Easter weekend marks the start of the World Endurance Championship (WEC), so maybe it’s not so bad. Yes, they have fewer races, but they’re spread out amongst the year and also on a variety of continents.
It was great to see a good TUDOR United Sports Car Championship event take place on Saturday, without the same type of rancor we saw during the 36 Hours of Florida (Rolex 24 at Daytona and Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring). Yes, the rules are skewed to benefit Daytona Prototypes in the Prototype class, but since this is NASCAR racing, we should have expected nothing else.
Yes, the LM P2 cars are departing as quickly as they possibly can, but at least they can race in WEC this year should they choose to do so. It’s a shame the rules makers don’t want true competition between DPs and P2s, but that’s the way it’s going. On the other hand, it was delightful to see an official box score and points standings in my e-box just a couple of days after the race - sure beats two weeks for the prior pair of events.
The Indy cars put on a good show from start to finish. Nice to see three-time winner Sebastien Bourdais looking racy again as he and Simon Pagenaud, together with rookie Jack Hawksworth, led the first day’s practice. How about the grid for the race, with a Firestone Fast Six that had five Honda drivers and a single Chevy? And not a single Ganassi or Penske driver on the grid until Scott Dixon’s 7th place qualifying result. And there were no artificial penalties to skew the grid, either.
As an avowed Mike Conway fan - and a staunch Ed Carpenter admirer as well - I was stoked to see Conway take advantage of poor Dixie’s lack of E85 and take home his second Long Beach victory. And how about Carlos Munoz, keeping it clean and taking his second podium in an Indy car? If you’ve forgotten, his first was at Indy last May, a drive that likely cemented his entry to Andretti Autosport’s quartet.
OTOH, I join the chorus not too happy with the mid-race actions of 2012 champion Ryan Hunter-Reay. Even the Toyota Pro/Celebrity drivers know you can’t overtake in the fourth turn. What the heck was he thinking?
It would be my wish, come this weekend at Barber, to see RHR get the wrist-slap he deserves, which would be a five-place (minimum) penalty for taking out nearly a quarter of the field, including one of his three teammates, James Hinchcliffe. I also wish Beaux Barfield would take a second, third, or even 20th look at what he considered a “racing incident” between former teammates Will Power and Pagenaud.
Despite the long caution to clean up RHR’s mess, one of four overall, the race appeared to these eyes to be quite tidy with very few appreciable errors by the 23 participants. And it was a glorious weekend to be involved in motorsports of any type.
One thing I hope for prior to this weekend’s third race of the Verizon IndyCar Series season is a more definitive idea of what constitutes a penalty and what does not. Deciding that Will Power’s hit on Simon Pagenaud is just racing, well, I don’t go with that or with RHR’s optimistic pass on Josef Newgarden. Stupid moves have to be penalized because these “are” open wheel race cars and they are far more prone to damage to vehicle and human than are the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series sedans. While Robin Pemberton at NASCAR has said, “Boys have at it,” that type of retaliatory racing just doesn’t work in open wheel.
Here’s hoping Justin Wilson, also punted out of the Long Beach race, and the Indy car driver’s group can get together with Barfield and have a meaningful discussion about what the drivers consider a penalty, versus what race control calls. Maybe they can find some middle ground?