Long Beach, a temporary street circuit on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. It’s one of the most celebrated races on the current schedule. Besides being beautifully located on the water, the track offers two really strong areas of passing (T1 and T9) areas of tight turns (the Fountain Turn and T11) and a super long pit lane, which was the site of controversy in 2016. With this season only two races in, and a very inconsistent top 5 between both races, Long Beach may either start the real discussion on who will be the championship (unless you’re like me and called your shot last season) or start the discussion on how the new aero kit has shaken everything up. I’m looking forward to more speed and great passing under the California sun.
I don’t believe there were any yellows in the 2016 race. It was a good strategy race, one of those races were people like me will stare at the results sheet, do math, and make notes about who pitted when, what tires did they switch to and when. The big excitement of the 2016 race came at the Pagenaud blend from pit lane right in front of Scott Dixon and the kerfluffle (you’re welcome Brian!) over if Pagenaud was over the line or not. It was a discussion for a least ten laps about if his tires were over the line (I mean they were) and if Race Control was going to do anything (they gave him a warning – which is tantamount to doing nothing). What I find the most shocking thing about rewatching the race was that somehow Scott Dixon could watch the replay on the jumbotron while RACING.
There are days I can barely focus on switching radio stations because the 65/70 split is a shit-hole, and I’m only going about 20 miles an hour. Watching a replay enough to radio back to his crew that Pagenaud was over the line while going approximately 120+ miles an hour…dude. As I stated though, Race Control basically did nothing so Pagenaud got his first win for the Penske organization (and ultimately went on to win the championship).
You can’t mention the 2017 Long Beach Grand Prix without talking about the amazing story of James Hinchcliffe’s first win after the horrific accident at the Indianapolis 500 quals in 2016 (and no I will not link back to the accident because unlike the IMS or IndyCar I’m not going to replay horrific accidents and tie them to promotions…there I said it*insert hair flip emoji*). Big deal for one of the most-liked driver in the paddock.
2017 was a quick race! We had track records smashed throughout practice and qualifying. More importantly, and much to my chagrin, pit stop strategy played a big part. You had race leaders on 2-stop strategy who then flipped to a 3-stop strategy because the first Andretti Autosport car retired and everyone thought a yellow flag was going to come out (it didn’t).
What stands out the most to me in rewatching the race is Bourdais not being up Hinch’s butt on that restart. He let a gap build up and just could not get it back. If you let too much time get between you and the race leader: they’re going to cruise on P2P (on road courses) and just keep on going. That’s exactly what Hinch did and coasted right to that victory.
Also, it was RIP to the Honda Road Course setup. It just never got better last season. So fingers crossed we don’t see that again this year. I can’t handle that disappointment.
If 2017 was smashing records, 2018 race will do the same thing. We’ve seen it now at each race: fast times and more passes. What else do you want for a race? Long Beach was modeled after Monaco, and while Indy carries the tradition and pageantry for our series, I think Long Beach is the Monaco of our series. The glittering coastline, the lure of bright California sun, and fast cars in a state known for car culture. I think we’re going to get a show, and I’m excited. I’m also hoping to osmosis the California sun because Indiana is in perma-winter right now.
I’m watching to see Wickens finish this race in first place. I don’t think anyone is ever due a race win, but the first two races he was there and but for something (either the wiggle by Rossi at the end of St. Petersburg or Josef Newgarden legitimately coming out of nowhere at the end of the race and passing him). My empathy is picking up that this is his race*. His team has road courses set up, he’s had the prior road course experience. He’s now wanting to make that completion and win that race. That’s a different level of drive and think if he keeps his head straight he’s going to win.
I’m also hoping to see Penske figure it out, last year they dominated road courses. Long Beach they didn’t show up. Highest placing Penske driver was Josef Newgarden in seventh place. Roger will not stand for that, and I don’t anticipate having just one Penske driver in the Top 5 being a longstanding thing further in the season.
I think it’ll be the race of two rookies. Matheus Leist will continue to show us that he is a true Rookie and be a safety hazard to any and all IndyCar officials on the track. Maybe he’ll become a safety hazard to IndyCar officials off the track this race. Compare that with Jordan King who will be stepping back into the #20 and showing that you can be a rookie in IndyCar and do a good job. Remember that Jordan set a new track record at St. Petersburg, he does okay on road courses. Comparing and contrasting the two rookies will be interesting at the end of the race.
Finally, I want to see Rossi win. I picked Wickens to win in our personal pool. I really think though Long Beach is the start of a streak of wins for Rossi. I’m not calling Indy though, I’ve not stood on the IMS grounds yet to feel what the Track wants.
*I was told by my psychic I’m an empath, I think that means I can figure out what’s going to happen – yes I have psychic and no I haven’t seen her in a while