I hate to say I told you so…just kidding, I love saying it!
Starting mid-season in 2017 I started saying how Alexander Rossi was going to be a force to be reckoned with in 2018. St. Petersburg teased everyone. In Phoenix, he passed the field – twice and everyone started to realize he was amazing. Finally, in Long Beach everyone has come to the fact I did a long time ago: Rossi is a hell of a driver! The California native won in California!
He rolled off the track in an incredible car! He was third overall in the first practice session, then led session two and session three. He took the pole by three-tenths of a second. I’m not completely unconvinced he wasn’t playing mind games at the end of qualification. In his qualifying group and the group of twelve, he was nearly jumping the start getting onto pit road and passing all the cars in pit lane before him. Then for the Fast Six, he sat. He ran only two laps in Fast Six (nearly everyone else ran four except for Newgarden who hit the wall and Graham Rahal).
He also played mind games at the end of the race. However, before we get to the end of the race, he dominated restarts. He was in front and stayed in front, each restart his car was just a rocket. That last restart was a nail biter, I was absolutely on the edge of the seat because Rossi was restarting with Will Power behind him. Not only that, but Power had 116 seconds of Push2Pass and Rossi just had 69 seconds. Rossi then just handled it, and baited Will to drive down his P2P to when about two laps to go Power only had 15 seconds and Rossi had 26 seconds. Rossi’s car just handled the turns at Long Beach better the Power and could pull away in the turns and stay ahead in the strait away. Great car. Great driver. Great race! This may also be the first win where he didn’t have any sort of fuel issue! Of course I have him picked to come in first at Barber, like there was a question. Also, he’s currently first in the standings – HELL YEAH!
Unlucky in Long Beach
Sebastian Bourdais had a fantastic race but shitty luck. His pass on the outside of Dixon and then the inside of Leist at the same corner of the track will go down as the coolest thing I’ve seen in quite some time. Sure, Race Control gave him a penalty (he did cross the pit line), but Bad-Ass Bourdais took the position back within the next lap. He then went into Pit Lane just as a FCY was called closing the pit, so he had a drive thru penalty. Finally, and as everyone was watching the nosecam on his car, Jordan King clipped him trying to pass Hinch (who was a few cars back) and spun him out.
Ryan Hunter-Reay also couldn’t get luck to go his way. He actually started off pretty fast at practice, and there was talk of a double Andretti Autosport front row…until RHR failed to properly exit the pit lane during qualification. He says he didn’t know about the transponder, every single announcer said that drivers were told about the transponder multiple times so… RHR then got clipped in T1 Lap 1 and had to get his front wing fixed. Later he got a tire puncture when King thought he’d pass Hinch right at the Hairpin (not the smartest idea there Jordan). RHR hasn’t won since Pocono in 2015, that’s a serious drought.
A few other unlucky drivers are #TeamCanada (who both suffered some car/tire issues); Scott Dixon and the confusing pit call as well as the confusing and wrong reorder (Chip call me if you need a feisty lawyer who is also adorable!); and Simon Pagenaud who was rammed by Graham Rahal in Turn 1 on Lap 1 and was out for the rest of the race. Interesting enough Simon indicated they could have fixed the car but it wasn’t released.
When previewing the race I gave a few things I was watching. I’ve already mentioned Rossi and how amazing he was (again, I told you so).
I said Long Beach would bring new records smashed like St. Petersburg, and I know up front it had a hell of a lot of penalties handed out. Race Control was penalizing everyone – or conversely, everyone was earning penalties. 2018 was slower than last year. However, as far as excitement, not only did you have the Rossi/Power tussle at the end, we had Ed Jones and Zach Veach fighting for third (next time Veach!). There was also RHR’s continual climb back from bad luck, Sebastian drove the hell out of his car, and Scott did #IcemanThings
Wickens had a gearbox issue forcing a trip to the pits…and then another trip to the pits and if you’re on the longest pit lane in the calendar, you’re not going to get that back. So I completely missed that call.
Let’s not talk about the Rookies. Jordan King screwed me both in my fantasy picks, and me thinking he’d be a good rookie to watch this race. Then he decided to try and pass in the hairpin (never pass in the hairpin!) and if not for the amazing skill of the veterans in that crash (and Wickens actually) we would have probably finished under a yellow.
Penske is getting better. Will was second, Josef was seventh…and Simon was unfortunate.
What I am confident in calling for 2019: is that I’m going to be at that race.
(nope that’s not the southern California coastline, I’ve only spent time in Northern California which is a completely different coast)