TOYOTA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH
A Glamorous Parade
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 Tue, Apr 21, 2015
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
Story by Brian Kennedy, PhD
Pictures by Gabriela Moya
A parade. It’s what you never want in a race, but that’s what happened Sunday in Long Beach in a race that had just one caution period. The lead was swapped at the beginning and five times altogether amongst four drivers, but there was never a moment of truly thrilling suspense. Scott Dixon took the lead on lap 34 and held it for nearly 20. It was traded back to pole-sitter Helio Castroneves, and then on pit stops, briefly, it flipped to Sebastien Bourdais before being taken once more by Dixon at lap 57. He stayed on point until the checkered flag.
And the whole thing took just an hour and 37 minutes, almost unheard of for Long Beach. The race has only run caution-free three times in its history, the last time in 1989. Dixon averaged 96-plus mph, with his best lead lap at over 102 miles an hour.
Just to fill you in on some facts: the race distance was 80 laps, the course, 1.968 miles long, and thus the distance of the race about 157 miles. There are 11 turns in the current Long Beach configuration. The track itself is thrilling. The front straight is a long sweeping arc, leading to a fountain the cars must turn around. There’s a jog and a jig and they race down the long straight backstretch. Because that’s surrounded by a parking lot on one side and garage on the other, no fans sit there, but after that, the cars make a hard right, sweep left, and whip around again to the right onto the front straight.
It’s rough, with many surface changes, and thus technical in a sense. But on the other hand, there are so many different feels in different parts of the track that there’s nothing but compromise in setup. The guy who chooses the best often goes the fastest.
H gets new tires, reds versus blacks and things like that. It’s about two hours of racing, and the track changes a lot. For us, we kept constantly changing a little bit of the driving style because one lap is good and another was different.”
After the race, both winner Dixon and runner-up Castroneves described the action as being an intricate dance with tires and tire wear. But none of that was apparent to spectators. What they saw, instead, was no battle for the lead, nor for second, but a somewhat contested third-place battle. At one point, four drivers could have challenged for third, which was held by Juan Pablo Montoya. They were within a second of each other, but they were nine-plus seconds back of the leader. Montoya kept the spot, and said after that he didn’t think anyone was truly close enough to get a decent shot at a pass.
Even back in the pack, there wasn’t a great deal of drama. The most improved driver in terms of finishing position was Conor Daly, who started 21st of 23 and ended 17th. The rookies in the race, including Stefano Coletti, Gabby Chaves, and Francesco Dracone, finished near the bottom of the pack.
Dixon’s win was his 36th. Coming into the day, he was tied with Bobby Unser for 5th in all-time wins. He now holds that position alone.
A nice anomaly on the day was that the fastest lap was set by Stefano Coletti, at more than 104 mph, more than a mile per hour better than Dixon’s best single circuit. Who is he? A kid born in 1989 in Monaco. Checked that zip code lately? Yeah, nobody’s in the middle class there. He came up through the European GP2 series, which is a successor to F3000, the feeder series to the world of Formula Uno. Despite setting this fast lap, he finished the race eleven laps down, in last place.
Dixon commented on his day, saying, “This team has had great results here over the years, and that’s a tribute to Dario [Franchitti] as well. Today, good start, good momentum. The first pit stop exchange with TK [Tony Kanaan] allowed me to try and pass Helio.” That was on lap 29. He added, “It feels spectacular to win. We had a lot of people from Target here, probably a couple of hundred.” Clever sponsor work-in there. He talked also about how thrilling it was to be on the list of winners and people who have done well in their careers overall, but he said that different eras really cannot be compared. That, of course, was a nod to modesty. What’s interesting is that none of this chatter had much to do with the action on the track, because there really wasn’t much. Not that we’re saying the race wasn’t complicated and interesting from the cockpits. But for viewers, it was kind of a lot of “yep, there he goes again” when they saw their favorite driver pass their spot in the grandstands. On the other hand, the prior two races of the season, St. Pete’s Florida and NOLA in New Orleans or thereabouts, were caution-filled events, mostly due to track conditions and weather. “Conditions were pretty difficult at NOLA,” Dixon said. “St. Pete was the first race of the year,” which implied that people were rusty, and perhaps overeager. By contrast, Long Beach was ideal. No water on the track (or anywhere else in the state), and no problems with visibility, the track, or anything else. As Dixon said, “To have just one caution at Long Beach is pretty good.” So take it for what it was. Any day when you see cars screaming down a track within inches of each other and menacing concrete walls has to be a good day. Aside from winner Dixon, Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves were at the podium together, and they got joking. Montoya said, “We’ve got no chemistry here. It’s terrible. A French, a Brazilian, a Columbian, and where is the other one from? Australia?” He’s talking about Team Penske, and he ended up teasing Castroneves about his dancing (With the Stars appearance) and claiming that he himself does not dance. Irrelevant? Not if you do consider the matter of teammates getting along important, which most racing fans do. Castroneves put another spin on it: “The amount of data we have [available] on our team. You go back, and you ask, ‘How did he do it?’ You try and work together.” Four drivers, four altogether different setups, possibly. But Castroneves gave a good insight into the way modern racing works when he explained that they analyze every little bit of a lap, looking for differences. He later said, “Something at Team Penske, the number one thing is the team and the benefit of the team, and we understand that.” Of course, they each want to win as well, and in the points, at the moment, the Penske drivers are in first (Montoya), second (Castroneves), sixth (Power), and seventh (Pagenaud). Power’s performance so far, excellent in race one (first) and two (second), took a hit in the LBC. He finished 18th, and must rebound next weekend to stop from dropping further after having won the season’s title last year. In what seems like a busy and compact schedule (because it is), IndyCar now heads to Alabama, then the whorl of Indy comes up, with a road race and the oval. The series returns to California way earlier than it has for a while, for a tilt at Fontana the last week of June. Then it’s the Midwest and Canada, and back to Cali to finish up the season at Sonoma the last weekend of August. And so a different type of parade takes place now—to the South, via car hauler, and for fans of the Long Beach race, home, to watch the next one on TV. Read Brian Kennedy's The Light Road to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach [nggallery id=lbgpmoya2015]