Long Beach: Saturday thoughts

IndyCar commentary — By on April 16, 2011 8:38 pm
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It was another gorgeous day in Long Beach with crowds filing in early for a full day of racing action.

Practice came bright and early for the Firestone Indy Lights drivers. Unfortunately, I missed that practice while getting into the Long Beach area and getting parked. I arrived at the course with about five minutes left in the session. Esteban Guerrieri had the fastest lap this morning.

Saturday’s IZOD IndyCar Series practice saw Ryan Briscoe continue to lead the way, followed by Will Power, Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti and Ryan Hunter-Reay rounding out the top 5. Surprises this morning included Sebastian Saavedra’s sixth-fastest time, and Justin Wilson and Graham Rahal both struggling throughout the session. Both teams were working hard to find the right setups for their cars and just weren’t making the progress they’d hoped for. Another notable practice result was James Hinchcliffe in 10th after switching to the team’s backup car due to a fire in Hinch’s primary machine. Hinch is turning heads — every time he gets a chance in an IndyCar, he’s fast.

After practice, Bryan Herta Autosport held a press conference to announce the sponsor package for their Indy 500 run with Dan Wheldon. BHA will partner with Curb/Agajanian/Big Machine Records to enter the car, which carries William Rast sponsorship. There were plenty of quips about Wheldon’s well-known love of fashion: Dan said a shopping spree at William Rast Century City forced him to buy two extra suitcases and that he’d now have to take over his wife’s closet. When asked about additional races for Dan this season, Herta answered that there were plans afoot, but they wouldn’t be discussing those at this time.

Early in the afternoon, Esteban Guerrieri continued his speed by capturing the pole for the Firestone Indy Lights race. The rest of the top five were Peter Dempsey, Josef Newgarden, Conor Daly, and Anders Krohn.

IndyCar qualifying proved difficult to follow from the pits — I could hardly move, could not get online to see timing and scoring or tweets, and couldn’t get near a monitor to see what was happening. I also couldn’t see the timing and scoring at the Firestone stand due to the crowds. It was quite warm, and one of the electronic devices that keeps me connected to things overheated. I ended up stationed near Oriol Servia’s pit, so I was aware he had made successive rounds due to the cheers going up in his stall. It’s ironic that you can be so close to the action and yet know so little about what’s happening when without several small electronic devices.

When I could see what was going on, I noted that Oriol’s teammate was doing well early on but did not make the final round. I was astounded to see Dario Franchitti walk past us during the Fast 6 — and noticed that his teammate’s pit was quiet as well. Wow. And the guy who dominated the weekend, Ryan Briscoe, didn’t make the Fast 6 either. His season hasn’t been too kind to him so far.

It was not at all surprising to see Will Power on the pole again. Things just seem to be rolling his way. He’ll need to add a new room to his house for all the pole award trophies he’s hauled in these last couple of seasons. We’ll have to watch his chief rival, Dario Franchitti, try to cut through three rows to catch him tomorrow.

I talked to someone who’s been coming to the Grand Prix for years, and he said the crowd was terribly small this year compared to the past. While things seemed very crowded to me yesterday, it has been a little easier to navigate today, and the grandstands across from the pits were sparsely populated during qualifying. That’s pretty disappointing given that this is the strongest IndyCar field we’ve had in quite some time — it would be great to have a large audience to appreciate the action. The double-file restarts should prove extremely challenging tomorrow, and I hope cooler temperatures will entice the locals to come out and see it.

Please continue to follow the weekend’s action here at MoreFrontWing.com and through my Twitter account @SpeedFreakBash.

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