Long Beach: Sunday thoughts

IndyCar commentary — By on April 18, 2010 9:50 pm

(Originally posted by Steph to Planet-IRL.com.)

Apologies for not getting a report to you yesterday.  I didn’t get in until close to 2 AM Eastern time, so I thought it might be more productive to hold off on writing until I was capable of more conscious thought.

Let’s talk about the racing first, and then I’ll fill you in on some of my experiences at the track.The racing. This weekend, we had a ton of racing, but the two open-wheel series — the IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights — both ran on Sunday.  However, there was an open-wheel related racing note on Saturday in that Jimmy Vasser won the pro class of the pro/celebrity race after a hard-fought battle with Tanner Foust.  The celebrity class win went to Brian Austin Green, and the entire event was extremely popular and a riot to watch as always.

Fast-forward to Sunday, where both races were unfortunately somewhat processional.  Despite the high volume of yellow flags, the front end of the FIL field changed very little, and James Hinchcliffe managed to hold off hard-charging hometown favorite Charlie Kimball to take his first FIL win.  It’s great to see Hinch finally get that monkey off his back (if I may parrot a well-worn cliché).  The pressure is now off, and he’s demonstrated in the early part of this season that he and Team Moore have what it takes to take a serious run at the championship.  As with today’s race, though, Charlie Kimball and Andretti/AFS (along with a number of other contenders) won’t make it easy for him.  It will be some time before we get to see how the next chapter unfolds, however:  with Kansas not being a part of the FIL schedule in 2010, the series is now cooling its heels until the Firestone Freedom 100 at IMS on Carb Day.

As for the IZOD IndyCar Series race, I can’t help but acknowledge the complaints right off the top.  Yes, it was a bit of a parade.  But fans can whine and cry and stomp their feet all they want — I promise you that this event is not going anywhere.  (More on that below.)  I think about the best we can hope for is that the car that’s selected for 2012 is a little racier on this style of track.  Apart from that, let’s all just accept that they can’t all be barn-burners and move on, shall we?

There were, however, a couple of defining moments worth discussing:

– In a freak incident, Will Power’s gearbox got stuck in first coming out of the hairpin on lap 18. The initial reports were that Will had hit the pit speed limiter, but when asked about this in the post-race press conference, he said it wasn’t the case.  Regardless, it allowed Ryan Hunter-Reay and Justin Wilson to get past him and cemented RHR’s victory, but at least our understanding of the inner workings of the universe haven’t been shattered by seeing Will make a mistake.  We can continue to fear his impending dominance confidently.

– And in another incident that generated quite the animated controversy on Twitter during the race, Justin Wilson attempted to pass a lapped Alex Lloyd on lap 53 to continue his chase for the lead.  Alex closed the door on Justin and clipped his front wing, forcing Justin to pit for a replacement nose and drop to 11th place.  The point ended up largely moot since Justin was able to charge back to a second-place finish, which ultimately meant that the only difference it made was that he had to work harder to achieve what would have likely been the same result.  But the argument on Twitter stemmed from determining blame for the incident.  My take was that, while it was fair for Alex to hold RHR up in an attempt to stay on the lead lap, once Alex had been passed and was a lap down he should have deferred to racing etiquette and been prepared to move out of the way of any leaders that were to come up behind him since such passes wouldn’t be for position.  Justin’s mentioned in the post-race press conference that Alex’s “corner was compromised” when he moved in to make the pass, and Alex should have allowed him through cleanly.  Instead, Alex “slammed the door in [his] face, no room to back out of it” and protected a line that he didn’t have a right or reason to protect.  Justin called it “poor racing,” and I vehemently agree.  Feel free to discuss the matter in the comments section below.

– The only other major incident of the day came when Mario Romancini punted Graham Rahal into the tire barrier in turn 1 on lap 60, which brought out the only full-course caution of the day.  Graham had already been struggling, and his frustration was evident when he climbed out of the car and leaned in to exchange words with Romancini following the incident.  Graham has undoubtedly been grateful to be in a car for the last three events, but one has to wonder if he might be a bit relieved to see his tenure with Sarah Fisher Racing evidently coming to an end.  The answer to that question likely lies in whether he does indeed have something lined up for the balance of the season, which remains to be seen but doesn’t seem as firm a deal as it did a few weeks ago.

– And, of course, I defy anyone to find an IZOD IndyCar fan who would disagree that a win by Ryan Hunter-Reay and Andretti Autosport is fantastic news for the Series on a number of levels.  A new face and team at the top of the podium, and both of them carrying the American flag, can only generate positive attention.  Let’s hope this is a sign of things to come.

The event. And what an event it is!  Despite the endless hype going into the weekend, my first Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach far exceeded my expectations.  There was so much to see and do this weekend that, despite being wall-to-wall busy, I barely scratched the surface.  I’m just not used to an event where you can see hours of racing, visit the paddocks, walk through a massive fan expo, attend a racing industry conference on green racing (which I didn’t even get to, unfortunately), and select from a multitude of great bars and restaurants without ever leaving the track grounds.  It’s all very mind-boggling, and managing one’s time effectively can be an intimidating prospect.

Oh, remember on Friday when I said there was no way I was going to walk the long length of the track because it would take too long?  Well, I had occasion to do so yesterday evening after I went from watching the ALMS race from a grandstand at the hairpin to meeting some friends for dinner at a restaurant outside turn 2.  Without a word of a lie, it took me upwards of half an hour.  Now, granted, it was the end of the day and I was walking pretty slowly, but still — have I mentioned that this place is huge?  Because THIS PLACE IS HUGE.

However, one thing this race is not is cheap.  The greater Los Angeles area is a pricy place, and Long Beach is no exception — you need a sizeable budget to enjoy this event properly.  Even the track food — which offered an excellent variety of options, including burgers, tacos, pizza, kettle corn, smoked turkey legs and more — was at a somewhat higher price point than other tracks I’ve attended, and that’s not even taking the restaurants into account.  The alcohol was among the most expensive I’ve seen at $9.75 for a bottle of Tecate and $12 for a cocktail, but the price certainly didn’t seem to be slowing anyone down.

Regarding ticketing, there’s a great general admission grandstand opposite the end of pit road.  It filled up very early this morning, but if you have the wherewithal to snag a seat, it would be an excellent and affordable way to watch the race.  There are also plenty of spots around the circuit where a decent GA view could be found, and grandstand options are excellent and plentiful as well.  The only grandstand I made it into this weekend was 18 on the outside of turn 10.  It gave an excellent view of turns 9 and 10 and all the way around the hairpin.  There are also some great grandstands clustered around turn 1 that give you views of the cars twice in a lap as you get them going into and coming out of the fountain complex.  It could take years of hopping around between seats to work out a personal preference.  Sounds like a fun project, at any rate.

A paddock pass is well worth the expense, particularly if you’re looking for autographs.  But if I was going to pick a race to buy a pit pass for, this wouldn’t be it.  The pit lane was very narrow and crowded for most of the weekend, and there were very few vantage points that offered both a decent view of pit lane and access to a CCTV.  Unless you’re a hardcore fan of pit lane action and you can’t make it to any other events, go ahead and skip this one.  You won’t be missing much.

Accommodation options in the area are plentiful, of course, and I’m told that there are even affordable options in downtown Long Beach that aren’t terrible and are within walking or shuttle distance of the track.  I won’t personally endorse any of them since I don’t know the relative filth tolerance of others, but it would be worth investigating if making the trip on a budget.  There are, of course, unlimited options if you’re willing to rent a car and drive in (as is the thing to do in California).  Traffic around the circuit is a nightmare, though, and parking is plentiful but expensive.  It’s a matter of deciding how much money your vacation time is worth and what your tolerance level is for frustration.  (It’s probably possible to build an equation for that, but I was never very good with math.)

On a final note, to say that the crowd here is enthusiastic and jovial doesn’t even begin to capture the atmosphere.  Paul would be annoyed at the fact that a fair chunk of the crowd appeared to be present for the party at least as much as the racing, but at the profit that the Series no doubt sees from it, I expect that complaints would fall on deaf ears.  This place prints money no matter how exciting the main event is.  It’s Long Beach — enough said.  But regardless, if a three-day party works for you as an enjoyable race experience, this one needs to move to the top of your list.  There’s a lot about this event that the other street races on the schedule must continually strive for and may never be able to attain.  The legendary status that this race has reached is justified, and everyone should give it a try at least once.

Thanks so much for following the coverage on Planet-IRL this weekend.  Our next live race coverage will be the Indianapolis 500.  Paul’s a seasoned veteran at Indy, and this year’s event will be my first.  It’s going to be nothing short of epic, and we hope you’re looking forward to it as much as we are.  But first, we can look forward to Kansas as we find the first oval portion of the schedule upon us.  Stay tuned!

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