Long Beach: Thursday thoughts

IndyCar commentary — By on April 16, 2010 1:05 am
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Wow.

I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of everything there is to see and do at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach — in fact, official track activity doesn’t even start until tomorrow.  But I already can’t believe how gorgeous the track and surrounding area are in person, nor the immense size and scope of the event that’s put on here.  There’s so much to see and do that it’s mind-boggling.  I have no idea how I’m going to fit it all into these four days.

I haven’t attempted to walk the longest length of the track yet; that’s on the agenda for tomorrow.  But I’m already exhausted just thinking about it.  This place is huge.  And every square foot of the interior of the track is filled with paddocks, merchandise tents, food and drink stands, and product displays.  The Long Beach Convention Center also has a massive show floor set up inside with tons of fun stuff for car buffs.  It’s quite similar to the way that the Direct Energy Centre was set up in Toronto last year, only it’s about three times the size.

In fact, that analogy fits just about everything to do with Long Beach from my perspective:  like Toronto, only three times the size.  Toronto once approached this greatness, but it’s been so long that I’d almost forgotten.  Getting it back toward this level should be the promoters’ single-minded goal.  And there’s no reason at all for it to be unattainable.

Anyway, I spent a good portion of my first day at the track just learning my way around.  One of my first stops was to make a visit in the ALMS paddock that had very kindly been arranged for me by everyone’s favorite sports car guy, Declan Brennan.  Dex pulled a couple of strings and got me an extended visit with the Drayson Racing team.

I’ll be the first to admit that my sports car knowledge isn’t nearly at the level that it should be, but spending just 20 minutes with the Drayson team today increased it by an order of magnitude.  Given the complaints that come out of a lot of the old school IndyCar fans, it’s amazing that more of them haven’t looked to the ALMS to supplement their racing fix – from a technical perspective, the ALMS is a bit like an IndyCar Bizarro World right now.  There’s engine competition, chassis competition, and tire competition, and a number of different ethanol and diesel fuels are made available to the teams.  The apparently short nine-race ALMS schedule is also misleading as many of the teams participate in the European and Asian Le Mans Series as well, which of course culminates in running at the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.  True gear heads with a bit of extra time in their lives to follow another racing series should give these guys a look.  I know I plan to keep an eye on it.  Thanks, Dex!

After that, I spent the majority of my afternoon in the IndyCar paddock.  A handful of fans made it out to the track today, and their dedication paid off in spades — autographs and chatting time with drivers were easy to come by, and everyone was very open and relaxed.  If you’re in the area and can spare the day off, I highly recommend a Thursday visit.  It’s well worth it.

Having never made it to the track a day early before, I found it very interesting to stumble upon the Thursday technical inspection.  Oval fans won’t find this quite so remarkable because tech inspection is an ongoing process at those events, but for those who spend the majority of their time at road courses, it isn’t as easy to come by since it’s only mandatory on the day before the start of on-track activity.

The IZOD IndyCar Series inspection team was extremely nice and more than happy to answer questions anyone had.  They even brought a couple of kids right up next to the cars to take a closer look, no doubt cementing the dedication of some young fans in the process.  The team explained in great detail how each car is rolled up onto the riser while a team member lies underneath and attaches four magnetic disks to the underside of the body to ensure that it’s measured from the same point of reference as the others.  It’s then wheeled into place and weighed, and then the team springs into action and uses a variety of proprietary tools to measure things like the width of the wheel base, underside clearance, engine dimensions, and a number of attributes of the wings such as the width and thickness of the components, the flap angles, the wicker height, and the deflection.  (This last part was particularly cool to watch — the team piles 100 lbs of weight onto each side of the front wing and measures the height differential.  If it drops too far, the component fails.)  Despite the number of measurements taken, the entire process takes less than three minutes per car.  These guys have it down like clockwork.

It was at the tech inspection that I found the comedic highlight of my day.  The Andretti Autosport team wheeled the 37 car in, and after the initial weigh-in, there was a bit of a fuss over it and they requested another weigh after the rest of the inspection was complete.  The tech that was working at the front wing removed it to take a measurement, and as he did so, he had a quizzical look on his face and flipped the nose around to have a look.  “How close was this car on weight?” he asked as he turned the nose cone toward one of the AA mechanics.  The mechanic grimaced, reached into the hollow portion of the nose cone, and pulled out a small hand tool as the rest of the team laughed.  It was awesome.

I left the track relatively early in the afternoon to rest up — there’s a very busy weekend ahead, and today will no doubt be the shortest day by far.  Remember to follow along here at Planet-IRL.com and on Twitter (@99forever).

More tomorrow.

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