Sunday, April 17, 2016

First Impressions: Long Beach 2016

1. At least there was drama. Simon Pagenaud wins the race but his blend line violation was the talk of the race. The Frenchman clearly cut over the line but he was only issued a warning by race control. Many were adamant that the officials said in the drivers' meeting that warnings would not be issued. If race control is consistent with its calls, then I can live with every driver being allowed to violate the blend line rule once a race. But the blend line rule exists so drivers don't just swing out on track after a pit stop. Pagenaud may have violated it at the last possible moment but he still did it. It shouldn't come down to whether or not a driver is making a kamikaze move or just being careless, it should be black and white.

2. With that said, Scott Dixon made one last gasp effort to get Pagenaud at the hairpin and finished 0.3032 seconds back in second, the closest Long Beach finish. He may have had a little help with lap traffic. Pagenaud is fortunate Dixon is a classy driver. Others may have plowed into him and I would have consider it as well. Pagenaud may not be as lucky the next time.

3. Hélio Castroneves dominated the start of the race but got caught in traffic before the final pit stop and was jumped by Pagenaud and Dixon. Another good showing for Castroneves but if he can't master the simple things like lapping cars or pitting ahead of time so that won't be an issue, Castroneves won't win a championship.

4. Juan Pablo Montoya ran in the top five all race but was never a factor in this one. 

5. Takuma Sato went from eighth to fifth. He saved his pushes to pass until late in the race and he got by the likes of James Hinchcliffe and Will Power through strategy. He passed Tony Kanaan on the track and gave Montoya a run for his money for fourth. I don't know if this is the season Sato is consistently finishing races and bringing equipment home in one piece, I doubt it, but this was a good weekend for Sato.

6. Tony Kanaan finished sixth but wasn't really a factor in this one. He faded a little bit. 

7. If Will Power had not caused that red flag in qualifying, who knows what would have happened in this one. He really couldn't compete at the front today.

8. James Hinchcliffe ran in the top ten all day. It was a good race for Hinchcliffe. He needed a race like this. He got laps in and he ran with the big boys. He had a good race at Barber last year. Maybe he is in the top ten again next week.

9. Sébastien Bourdais is the only Chevrolet that is struggling and he still pulled off a top ten by finishing ninth. If only he can find his form in qualifying.

10. Josef Newgarden finished tenth but he was rarely mentioned. He had a good day but good days aren't going to win a championship. He will be returning to the site of his first career victory next week at Barber. Let's see if he can feed off the emotion of return to the site of his first time on the top step of the podium. 

11. Charlie Kimball made three pit stops and came home in 11th. He scored fastest lap. For all the work he did, to only gain four position from his starting position is kind of a disappointment. By the way, this is Kimball's best Long Beach finish. 

12. Quick round up: Carlos Muñoz finished 12th but was never mentioned. Conor Daly finished 13th but he had a better day than that. Max Chilton finished 14th but was cutting turn five like a motherfucker. Graham Rahal faded and a top ten slipped from his grasp. He finished 15th. Mikhail Aleshin did nothing and finished 16th. Luca Filippi scored his best finish of 2016 with a 17th. The Andretti cars were lost all day. Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Alexander Rossi rounded out the top twenty. Jack Hawksworth went from the best Honda on Friday to the worst car in the entire field. 

13. Here are the fastest laps for each driver at Long Beach by manufacture:
Kimball: 67.6661
Newgarden: 67.9674
Chilton: 68.0288
Power: 68.5893
Kanaan: 68.6639
Pagenaud: 68.8640
Montoya: 68.9418
Castroneves: 68.9995
Bourdais: 69.0223
Dixon: 69.0460

Aleshin: 68.2593
Filippi: 68.5054
Sato: 68.8606
Hinchcliffe: 68.9907
Rossi: 68.9952
Rahal: 69.0000
Hunter-Reay: 69.0795
Daly: 69.2215
Muñoz: 69.2281
Hawksworth: 69.2427
Andretti: 69.3295

Chevrolet clearly had a slight advantage at Long Beach. Nobody is going to tune into a race to watch Chevrolet wipe the floor with Honda. Forget tinkering with the aero kits. Allow Honda to run a little extra turbo boost and let's mix it up a little bit. No one is going to complain if there is more passing. 

14. Nobody saw a caution-free race coming. This was apparently the fastest Grand Prix of Long Beach. The drivers are calling for more laps so drivers can't make it in two stops. Regardless of the distance, drivers and teams are always going to try and do it in as few stops as possible. And this race was shortened so drivers could do it in two stops and not have to worry about stretching it to three. I like caution-free races. It's nonstop action. It's better than four laps of green, eight laps of caution. Nine laps of green, seven laps of caution. There was something pure about today's race, aside from the blend line snafu. 

15. Barber is next week. When IndyCar first went to Barber everyone said there would be no passing. Barber has turned out to be one of the best IndyCar races every year with a fair amount of passing. Everybody loves back-to-back weekends with races. Let's see if we are still talking about blending in Alabama. We probably will.