Sunday, April 9, 2017

First Impressions: Long Beach 2017

1. James Hinchcliffe wins for the first time since NOLA in 2015 and these races couldn't have been more polar opposites. That was a rainy, debacle. This was a sunny, strategy race. Hinchcliffe went on a two-stop strategy and was able to go a lap longer than Ryan Hunter-Reay on the final stint and came out ahead of him. Then a caution fell his way and he was fortunate that Hunter-Reay had an engine failure and his competition couldn't keep up with him. He ran well last year but couldn't win in his first year back after his injury. It finally came to him in race two of 2017 and they don't get much grander than Long Beach.

2. Dale Coyne is a realist and he said strategy wasn't going to play to Sébastien Bourdais' favor. And then a caution came out and Bourdais was ahead of Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon. He finished second and retains the championship lead over the Easter break. This is a dream start to the season for Bourdais. This race looked liked it wouldn't fall his way as Bourdais had to pit after lap one to replace a damaged rear wing. He leads Hinchcliffe by 19 points. It is still early in the season. The championship is too far away to think about. Coyne knows that.

3. Josef Newgarden was in the top ten all day but it didn't appear he would have anything to challenge the front-runners. Luckily, many of them had mechanical issues and his strategy, along with the caution for Rossi's engine failure allowed him to jump Scott Dixon on the final stop. Top Penske driver in his second race with the team. That isn't half bad. The Captain will be pleased.

4. Scott Dixon arguably had the car to win this race. Even if it remained green, I think Dixon could have caught the guys who were running a two-stop strategy. He was that quick but for the second consecutive race he has been bitten by a caution. This one was understandable though as you had a car stranded on the front straightaway. It is unfortunate but Dixon will win his fair share of races in 2017.

5. Simon Pagenaud benefitted from the lap one accident between Will Power and Charlie Kimball and a handful of drivers stopping after lap one. He charged to the front but ran out of steam on the next two stints. He still had a great race finishing fifth from 21st on the grid. Had he started at the front, perhaps he would have won for the second consecutive year at Long Beach.

6. Ed Jones has done nothing but keep his nose clean and he is the first driver in a decade to have two top ten finishes in his first two career starts as he finished sixth today. He hasn't been flashy but he is finishing laps and gaining crucial experience. I don't know how long it can last. I don't know if he can finish in the top ten of the championship but this is a great start to a rookie season for Jones.

7. Carlos Muñoz was not a factor in this one but as many stubbed toes, he didn't and finished seventh. A great rebound after what happened at St. Petersburg. A.J. Foyt should be happy.

8. After having a dream start at St. Petersburg only to have a brake explosion end his day early, Spencer Pigot came home to finish eighth. This is a really good run for him as he was on the two-stop strategy and he definitely would have struggled to finish in the top ten if it weren't for cautions but it was a promising day for Pigot.

9. Hélio Castroneves is known for jumping starts but today he bogged down at the green from pole position and was sixth after lap one. He didn't factor in this one and a pit-lane speeding penalty cost him but ninth is probably where he was going to finish anyway.

10. Graham Rahal was on the two-stop strategy but didn't have the pace of the front runners but was able to spend most of the day in the top ten until a late pit stop dropped him out of the top ten. Fortunately for Rahal, Mikhail Aleshin and J.R. Hildebrand got together on the final lap and allowed him to finish tenth.

11. Mikhail Aleshin finished 11th on the track but nothing good stands out from today and he will be penalized a position. He cut down Tony Kanaan's tire and appeared to have blocked J.R. Hildebrand. He is lucky he has Hinchcliffe's victory to cover for him. As for Hildebrand, this was a mediocre day and a top ten would have been a big boost for him. I guess getting 11th from Aleshin is a small consolation prize.

12. Will Power finished a lap down in 13th, as he never overcame the contact with Charlie Kimball. It was an accident where neither driver wanted to give an inch.

13. Max Chilton was not a factor in 14th and Tony Kanaan may have had a top ten if it wasn't for the cut tire. Conor Daly spun coming to the green flag and never overcame it as he finished 16th, one lap down.

14. It appeared Andretti Autosport was going to overcome the gut punch of last year's Long Beach race only to have all four cars suffer engine failures and two of them occurred with drivers running second and Ryan Hunter-Reay's happened with five to go while catching Hinchcliffe. I wonder if Honda turning up the wick to run with Chevrolet could be a factor. Either way, Hunter-Reay was the second-best driver in this one and Alexander Rossi was in the top five all race. Things looked great after St. Petersburg and now the team has a long wait until Barber.

15. Charlie Kimball must hate Long Beach. Another race, another finish outside the top ten and he only completed one lap today.

16. Long Beach is a must-see event. IndyCar, IMSA and Pirelli World Challenge. You get three top series in one weekend. I was kind of disappointed that the IMSA race and IndyCar qualifying switched times on Saturday. I enjoyed watching that race end with the sunset but I am glad the IMSA race was on network television. This weekend wouldn't be nearly as good if Formula One returned to Long Beach. Remember that.

17. Now we rest for Easter and then Barber, perhaps the most picturesque circuit on the IndyCar calendar?