As frustrated, irritated, and incredulous as I was after last year’s Long Beach race, my feelings this year are 180° different. I thought the Barber race was great a couple weeks ago, and it was, but this race had perhaps even more going for it. This race had pre-race controversy with the Chevrolet engine situation and ensuing grid penalties, a bit of in-race contact, some really great pit strategy, an astounding drive by Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports driver Simon Pagenaud, and a nail-biting finish that was in question until the very last corner. This was a race that truly had me on the edge of my seat from the green flag all the way to the checkers.
So what am I taking away from this weekend? First, Chevrolet is a huge force that appears to have not only an across-the-board power advantage but is getting that power with great fuel mileage. Second, it was such a good race, I didn’t even mind seeing Will Power win. He didn’t dominate the race by any means, but coming from 12th on the grid showed that he could still carve his way through traffic, save the car when possible, yet still be aggressive when necessary. Finally (at least for now), I am completely falling in love with the new DW12. This car has produced thrilling results at both of the last two events, races that traditionally have had little passing and usually features finishing results that were overly dependent on qualifying results. The new car, whether because of the actual design of the car or simply because of the newness of the machine, has silenced most of its initial critics and is really showing off on some of INDYCAR’s most notoriously single-file tracks.
I’d be remiss to not point out the concern I have after seeing the Graham Rahal/Marco Andretti incident and watching Marco’s car launch over Graham’s right rear wheel, the very type of incident the rear “bumpers” on the DW12 were intended to prevent. I haven’t had a chance to really dissect the accident to confirm the specifics, but it certainly appeared from initial replays that Marco’s left front wheel launched right over Graham’s right rear without any regard to the bumpers, causing Marco to sail quite some distance through the air and taking a pretty viscous hit in the turn 8 tire barriers. I hope more testing can be done to confirm whether these bumpers are actually effective or whether they are but wasted weight. As it is, today’s incident has me worried that perhaps launching cars may not be a thing of the past as we had all hoped, especially when the Series hits the ovals.
It was as perfect as a race day gets today in Long Beach. The weather was phenomenal, the vibe at the track was phenomenal, and the race itself gave us plenty to talk about.
We saw a busy first few laps, a middle section that was more about fuel and pit strategy, and then Pagenaud tried to make things interesting right at the end. It seems to my memory that many a Grand Prix of Long Beach has played out this way. It’s enough to make a girl get nostalgic.
Though a win by Will Power may look boring on paper, that fact alone doesn’t do this race justice. The mere fact alone that he and Verizon Team Penske were able to overcome the defecit of the grid penalty to best the entire field makes for a fantastic story.
One thing I found very encouraging was the outcome of the incident between Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal. Yes, Marco took air, and that’s not supposed to happen with these new cars. But he didn’t end up on his lid, and I’m not sure the same would have been true in last year’s cars. It was heartening to see the DW12 get through its first true incidents this weekend and perform admirably.
With the first three races of the year having been so great, it should be very interesting to get to Brazil and see what happens in a race where we’re already used to seeing plenty of passing!