FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

First Impressions, IndyCar, IndyCar commentary — By on April 13, 2014 7:32 pm
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It was a very interesting day at the 40th running of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Here are our first impressions of the race. Feel free to add yours in the comments section below!

PAUL’S IMPRESSIONS:

What the hell just happened?

Southern California is known for their amateur car clubs. Apparently they took over the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach today.

From the very beginning when the two-seater spun out on the formation lap, it was a really odd race that left me shaking my head on pit road.

The major talking points coming out of the race will be focused on how Will Power again avoided a penalty when he ruined Simon Pagenaud’s race way too early, Scott Dixon likewise avoided penalty for taking out Justin Wilson, and of course the clown-car carnage that took place when Ryan Hunter-Reay lost his mind and tried a nearly impossible pass in Turn 4.

What shouldn’t be discounted, though, was the victory of Mike Conway and Ed Carpenter Racing. Many people congratulated and admired Ed Carpenter for stepping away from the car for the road and street course portion of the schedule, noting that the presence of Conway immediately made that car a contender every week. Conway made good on those predictions, winning in only his second race. Conway was driving strong before the big accident and this victory shouldn’t be discounted in any way whatsoever. Congrats to Mike, Ed, and the whole Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing crew!

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STEPH’S IMPRESSIONS:

I’ve got two opening lines in mind to use here, and I honestly can’t decide between them.

The first goes like this: “There was so much ridiculousness and brainfartery in this race that it can hardly be considered worthy of being the 40th running on the greatest street course in North America.”

Here’s the other: “I refuse to let so much ridiculousness and brainfartery ruin for me what was otherwise a fantastic 40th running on the greatest street course in North America.”

And let the ambivalence continue: on the one hand, and though I know many will disagree, track-blocking brain fade incidents that cost brilliant young drivers very promising results are never high on my favorite things to see in IndyCar races. But on the other hand, how many times have we seen Long Beach turn into a runaway snoozefest over its 40-year history? Neither extreme is ideal, but if forced to choose I suppose I’ll take the option we got today.

Still, I hate it for Newgarden, I hate it for Hawksworth, and I hate it for all the other guys caught up in incidents they have nothing to do with, and it’s a shame that an event that was otherwise mostly racy had to be so marred.

I also would really like to see IndyCar start to head off the conspiracy theories at the pass and issue an official explanation for why Rahal was penalized for avoidable contact for spinning Wilson while Power wasn’t penalized for punting Pagenaud. Note that I’m not saying that a good explanation doesn’t exist — only that I think it’s important for the fan base at large to hear it, especially since we’re now into the second race in a row in which suspicions are emerging that Power is now the untouchable Verizon golden boy.

But at the end of the day, it’s hard to hold negativity toward a race that saw Ed Carpenter’s decision to hire Mike Conway for road and street courses pay off. He stayed out of trouble (mostly), kept a cool head, and won the thing in his second race with an underdog team — and did it with a broken front wing. Amazing stuff.

Major kudos also go out to Carlos Munoz, who posted a similar performance to claim the second podium in only his fifth Verizon IndyCar Series outing.

And one more positive to be taken away from Long Beach: it’s certainly given us a fascinating setup for the points battle over the remainder of the season!

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JOHN’S IMPRESSIONS:

Remember when road and street circuits were almost always boring follow-the-leader affairs in the IRL days? Well, those days are thankfully long gone. What an event!

The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach was everything that St. Petersburg wasn’t for me. There was lots of great racing throughout the field, but most of it was overshadowed by some head-scratching moments, some of which drew the ire of race control and some that somehow managed not to.

Graham Rahal, Will Power, Scott Dixon, and Ryan Hunter-Reay all triggered crashes, Sebastien Bourdais had not one but two incidents that sent him head first into the tire barriers, and Helio Castroneves and Carlos Huertas were tagged for jumping restarts.

The RHR incident will understandably draw the most ire from fans, though, as his team owner and teammate James Hinchcliffe both assigned blame to him for his ill-timed maneuver on Josef Newgarden. Regardless of whether he had a gap, turn 4 was not the place try the move, and everyone seemed to realize it afterward.

Huge congratulations go out to Mike Conway, and even more so to Ed Carpenter for having the wherewithal to step aside for a faster driver on road and street circuits. Conway could be looking at two in a row if not for a missed radio transmission at St. Pete, and he definitely hasn’t given Carpenter any reason to doubt his decision so far.

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BASH’S IMPRESSIONS:

Holy street race, Batman!

Passing, contact, pit/tire/fuel strategy intrigue and a bone-headed move by the race leader made this race highly watchable throughout. The rookies made strong runs (nice podium, Muñoz!), Josef Newgarden again showed his strength at this track and may have won this race if Ryan Hunter-Reay hadn’t taken him (and about five other cars) out, and Mike Conway did his thing and made Ed Carpenter’s decision to hire him for twisties look just as smart as it was.

And that big wreck just played into the interest of such a closely-matched field. Back in the old days, a wreck like that may have taken out the leader but usually the other guy who always wins would get the benefit of it. These days, there are 10 to 12 guys who can take advantage of such a mess.

I was holding my breath as Dixon reeled off the last few laps low on fuel and had to pit with two to go. It would have been nice to see a Long Beach miracle and have the place be nice to Scott, but what happened in fact was just as exciting. It was a terrific race.

To quote Castroneves, “That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout!”

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