I SAW IT FOR MYSELF IN LONG BEACH
2014 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach
This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Sat, Apr 12, 2014
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
Story by Brian Kennedy
Pictures by Gabiela Moya
There was a bit of a yuck-up after Indycar qualifying at Long Beach on Saturday. Three of the top five qualifiers, James Hinchcliffe, Sebastien Bourdais, and Simon Pagenaud, got joking about getting mistaken for each other. “The two French guys,” as the Canadian called the others, were both simply referred to as “Simon,” and he, Hinchcliffe said, is often called, “JR”—for Hildebrand, who is not racing until this year’s Indy 500 in May.
All of that in the aftermath of a session which has seen Ryan Hunter-Reay surge to the top of the Indycar pole fight at a place where he has started second a number of times and which is very special to him for a number of reasons. He won the race a few years ago after just losing his mom. She had been a fan, and “this was her favorite race,” the driver said. He met his wife at this race, and they later got engaged in the LBC.
So for him to have lost the pole in the past, “by hundredths of a second, not even tenths, hundredths,” as he described it, was always a disappointment. But to win it, a great joy. He trotted out of the interview room holding his tiny blond-haired boy with a crowd in tow as if to signal his happiness.
Before the race on Sunday is a couple of minutes old, that joy could turn to despair, however. He and his twenty-two running mates will have to make their best go at a standing start. The series does that on certain of its circuits, F1 style. Hunter Reay said if it were up to him, “We’d do that same thing all year,” but he’s resigned to the fact that he’s just a driver, and that “I’ll show up and start however they’re doing it that week.”
“The first twenty or thirty feet make all the difference,” he said, and that little box might be best navigated with the series’ more sticky tire, called the “Bridgestone Red” for the compound that’s used and the fact that they’ve got a red stripe along the sidewall.
The advantage of that tire is grip, but shorter wear is the price. The other tire, the “blacks,” is less grippy early but comes in well, and then lasts a good deal longer.
What will he use? He carefully avoided saying, but he talked about the grip and the early advantage of the reds, and then said, “I think you’re getting the idea where I’m going with that” when pressed a little more on his choice. Of course, he said that, like he says everything, with a smile.
Back to the start—he mentioned, as race fans know, that it will mirror what’s done in F1 every week, but “we have the width of a pool and they have the width of a football field,” which is why it can be so tricky in the Indycar iteration. Further, as he said, “On a street circuit, you have inches to spare, not feet. You make a mistake, and it’s not much space you have to work with.” He had broadsided the wall earlier in the day, but since he hit equally with the front and rear wheels, it hadn’t done any damage.
In other Long Beach news, the racetrack seemed about as well-subscribed on Saturday as I’ve seen it in a while. The stands were mostly full and the paddock crowd big. Those of you considering whether to come out for your first Indycar experience need to know that the scene is as much the thing as the racing here.
Of course, the racing is good, but you see only one spot from wherever you plunk down, and thus the action is likely to be elsewhere from you if anything spectacular happens, unless you’re very lucky or you’re on the front straight, which Hinchcliffe pointed to as the most thrilling part of the track, being cambered and curved. Or in the first turn, where Bourdais promised to make whatever move he might come Sunday.
If you find yourself elsewhere, you’ll likely be happy that there’s lots of beer around and the weather is sunny and in the 70s.
But if you’re intent on the racing itself, know that Sunday is not just Indycar series day. Long before the big race, which begins about 1:50, is the Indy Lights race. That goes at 10:15 and will feature drivers you’re likely to see in the big show in a year or two. And after the Indycar circus is long packed up, there’s the Pirelli World Challenge, which is a production-based sportscar race that features everything from Aston Martins to Mustangs and Kias, all pretty close to stock with lots of showroom bits on them—in other words, the antithesis of the NASCAR-type of all-but-unlike-their-namesake street cars. That long race day, 10am to nearly 6pm, should give you all the time you need to devour the giant cube of fries available near the Indycar paddock, smoke a cigar available in a booth near the entry to the lifestyle expo, and perhaps spend some time indoors spinning wheels and giving all your personal information (don’t, really) to vendors promising the goodie of a free trip or a new set of windows for your casa. To sum up if you’re a real fan of racing, this is a spectacular venue. If it’s no more fantastic than St. Petersburg, FL, was a couple of weeks ago on TV, no matter. The point is to experience it for yourself. And if you do, then in a few weeks hence, when these same Indycars are racing first the streets of their namesake town, Indianapolis, and then the famous Speedway, you can confidently say, “I saw it for myself in Long Beach.”