6:08 PM (PT) – Just a few observations to wrap up the day. Once again, the crowd here was fantastic. That’s not surprising given the absolutely perfect weather here this weekend but people still have to make the effort to come to the track. It’s wonderful to see a race so well embraced by the community. From the vantage point I had during qualifying, I was able to see all the grandstands on either side of Shoreline Drive between turn 6 and turn 1. If those stands weren’t completely full, they were certainly near capacity. The fans span all possible demographics as well. Whatever model the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is using to draw consistently large crowds, I hope more street events begin to emulate it. If the rumored street race in Chicago would ever come to fruition, it has long been speculated it would be run in the downtown area along Lake Shore Drive and Lake Michigan. Seeing this event in person gives me hope it could happen and happen successfully. Then again, it is the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois…
One of the great aspects of a street course event is the constant action on track besides the Verizon IndyCar Series. Fans today were also kept engaged with the Indy Lights, TUDOR United Sports Car Championship, Toyota Pro Celebrity Race, and Pirelli World Challenge. Even without the bottom two rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy, it was an action packed day that was only quiet as one series got off track and another fired up. And to finish off the day, there is a free concert tonight by Paul Rodgers, the former front man for Bad Company and recent tour guest with Queen.
So what do we expect for tomorrow race? With so many typical contenders starting back in the field, the opening laps may be crazy. The start by Will Power will be especially exciting to watch as he comes through the field from his provisional 14th starting position. Also keep an eye on Tony Kanaan and Takuma Sato who will start on either side of Power. All in that trio are aggressive drivers who like to make big moves. If they see an opening going into Turn 1, it’s anyone’s guess as to who might make it out in one piece.
With that, we’re going to call it a day here. It’s been another great day, and race day at the 40th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach looks to be even better!
3:46 PM (PT) – Yep, it was a strange qualifying session after all. For the first time in recent memory, neither Penske nor Ganassi were represented the Firestone Fast 6. In fact, Will Power didn’t even make it out of the first round. I’ll have to check the record book, but I don’t recall when that last happened. According to IndyCar, it is only the second time in his career.
Also failing to advance to the second round was Power’s teammate Juan Pablo Montoya. In only his second IndyCar sanctioned street course, Montoya appears to be having trouble adjusting to the Firestone alternate red tires and is said to be battling constant understeer with his car.
On the flip side, rookie Jack Hawksworth continues to impress and actually did make it into the final round of qualifying. The rookie driving for Bryan Herta Autosport has not put a wheel wrong all weekend and is steadily making others take notice.
Also showing well in qualifying was Josef Newgarden, who put his SFHR Honda into the Fast 6 and finished with a fourth-place starting position. That is a career best for Newgarden.
It was also a nice turnaround for Oriol Servia to advance to the second round. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan team has had a dismal weekend and Graham continues to struggle. Oriol must have found something after morning practice to get him a bit more speed. The team is struggling with overall grip on both cars and will need to find more balance quickly or tomorrow will be a long day.
Of particular note was that Honda claimed five of the six spots in the Firestone Fast 6. That won’t sit well with Chevrolet engineers and teams. Two years ago, Chevrolet made Honda the laughing stock when the entire Chevy fleet took 10-spot grid penalties yet still dominated the race. Those days seem to be long gone, though, as Honda’s new twin-turbo V-6 seems more than up to the challenge set forth by their Bowtie competitors.
Several drivers, including Helio Castroneves and pole-winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, made mention of the alternate red Firestones being exceptional here this weekend. Given that lap times were more than 1 second faster on reds versus blacks, it’s apparent that belief is held by many in the field.
After qualifications, KV Racing Technology announced that Townsend Bell will drive the team’s third car in this year’s Indianapolis 500. Sponsorship will be from Robert Graham and Royal Purple. Co-owner Jimmy Vasser says Bell gives the team another fantastic chance at victory and the team will be looking toward Townsend to provide leadership as the most veteran driver in the stable. The pair previously finished fourth together in the 2009 Indianapolis 500.
We’ll be back shortly with another update, including some quotes from the post-qualifying press conference.
NEXT PAGE: More coverage from day two of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach