5:05 PM (PT) – Strange things are afoot here at Long Beach where Simon Pagenaud, Sebastien Bourdais, and Jack Hawksworth made up the fast 3 in the afternoon practice session. Bourdais noted in the post-practice press conference that he felt the track was still a bit slow, though it should be noted that Pagenaud’s fastest lap of 1:09.1488 was still quicker than the fastest lap of opening day in 2013 of 1:09.4224 by Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Perhaps as surprising as who was at the pointy end of the time chart are those drivers who found themselves closer to the bottom. Graham Rahal continues to struggle in the National Guard Honda, posting a fast lap more than a second slower than Pagenaud and winding up a disappointing 21st out of 23 cars. Also having disappointing afternoons were the entire Andretti Autosport team, both Target Chip Ganassi Cars, and Helio Castroneves, who could manage only 19th position in the session. Tomorrow’s early practice will give a good indication of who has speed and who still lacks, but qualifying will go off tomorrow afternoon under conditions very similar to what teams experienced this afternoon.
For a full run down of the speeds from both practice sessions today, be sure to check out the MFW Event Summary linked above. Special thanks to Steph for keeping that updated throughout the day while I’ve been playing working hard.
One interesting note to point out — Charter Communications appears as the primary sponsor on both Simon Pagenaud’s and Jack Hawksworth’s car. Though both rides are powered by Honda, they are, of course, entered by different teams. That’s not a situation you often see in auto racing.
I noted earlier in the day I had hoped to give my impressions of the western portion of the track, that portion near turn 1, the fountain, and the run back toward turn 6. Those impressions will have to wait a little longer as I spent a majority of the second practice trying to figure out how to get out there with no success. I did, however, make a handful of interesting observations.
As I presumed, it is a LONG way down to turn 1 from the paddock and start/finish line. The pit lane here seems to go on for an eternity and then the front straight continues for quite some distance beyond that. If you’re planning to make the trip to Long Beach and take in various portions of the track, bring your walking shoes!!
One thing TV does not do justice for is the elevation difference between turns 6/7 and 8 and the speed drivers carry through that section. I would guess the run down the hill toward turn 8 drops a driver about 20 feet and they are certainly running full song through the area. Standing there and watching the cars scream by made me have a whole new appreciation for the violence and energy that must have been released in the Marco Andretti/Graham Rahal accident in 2012. I haven’t actually found where the track comes back up in elevation but I’m guessing it must be along the back stretch heading toward turn 9.
As I noted on Twitter this afternoon, the crowd here today was truly fantastic. If this had been race day, I would have considered this a pretty decent crowd. For a Friday, it was certainly the biggest opening day crowd I’ve seen at any event. Not only were the expo areas full, the vendors (of which there are many) were all doing a good business and every grandstand I went by was 50-75% full. After 40 years, fans and families have made this a destination event and it’s clear they truly support it. Perhaps most importantly, it seemed a good percentage of the fans were younger families and many of them brought kids in tow. Getting youngesters exposed to the racing is always good and will hopefully pay dividends down the road.
That’s going to wrap it up for today. I’ll be back bright and early tomorrow morning to cover qualifying day for the Verizon IndyCar Series. As always, thanks again for following along. Feel free to send us messages on Twitter or Facebook, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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