What more could the Verizon IndyCar Series ask of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach? They had beautiful weather, tremendous crowds all weekend, and almost non-stop track action throughout the three days. After the debris debacle in St. Pete and the weather worries in NOLA, the series had everything they needed…except an exciting race. I understand that beauty is in the eye of the beholder but woof. This was an ugly race in a totally different way than the the first two. Here are five totally worthless opinions about why that is true.
1. The Start: The new sheriffs (plural) in race control decided that since all the cars were on the track at the same time, it was close enough to perfect for a green flag start. That’s one way to keep poor driver decision making at bay. Long Beach has always been a difficult start for the series with the hairpin at the beginning of the front stretch and antsy leaders like Helio Castroneves refusing to wait for the pack to form up. Helio simply decided that since he was ready to go, everyone should be ready to go. Race control appeared to take the public employees’ mantra of “Close enough for government work” to heart and turned a blind eye to prevent mayhem. Maybe it was a good choice. Maybe not. Two words: standing start. That shouldn’t be hard for the most versatile drivers in the world, should it?
2. Debris Free: The drivers did behave themselves, though. There was only one yellow for four laps. Deep down in my heart, I want that to be because of their innate respect for each other and superior driving skills. The more likely scenario is that they don’t have enough spare parts to replace the glass-like front wings and box kite-like rear bumpers. The lack of yellows for wing debris is an absolute positive. Drivers being unable or unwilling to force an issue or dive bomb a pass due to the fragility of the wings is not.
3. No Passing: A big part of the no-passing issue at Long Beach was the tenderness of the wings. The drivers know that damage to a wing, winglet, flick, or kick can ruin an otherwise great day. Another part of the problem was all the dirty air that the Honda and Chevy aero kits produced. The end of the race had the four cars of Juan Pablo Montoya, Simon Pagenaud, Tony Kanaan, and Sebatien Bourdais nose-to-tail for positions three through six. Not one attempt to pass was made. Maybe I’m reading too much into this. Maybe the drivers, hard chargers all, simply decided to points race since race winner Scott Dixon was long gone for the victory. Maybe. Last year there would would have been a tussle, a nudge, a bomb, and some harsh words after the race. Some passing attempts would be nice, though.
4. Strategy: This was a strategy race. Drivers needed good in-laps, out-laps, and pit decisions. Helio Castroneves lost the lead to Scott Dixon, and likely the race, when his left front tire changer wisely held him up as Tony Kanaan was pulling into his pit stall directly in front of Castroneves. The human factor of pit road service and decisions is and should be part of a driver winning or losing a race. I’m not sure I want it to be the only reason a race is won or lost. That may have been the case at Long Beach.
5. Dominance: Must be nice to have a Chevy engine so you can have a Chevy aero kit. There’s a chance that the oval configuration may be different for Honda, but the road and street circuits are Chevy’s playground, the fuel strategy win of James Hinchcliffe in a Honda at NOLA notwithstanding. Will the fans, and the Honda teams, be longing for the halcyon days of parity that the DW12 spec aero kit provided? The first seven positions were Chevy and the first five were Ganassi and Penske. As The Who sang many years ago, “Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.”
The negatives did not exactly outweigh the positives at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. In fact, some might say that the esoteric nature of strategy and aero made a race like Long Beach sublime. Tell those esoterics that IndyCar isn’t soccer. I hope.