Phil Allaway · Monday April 16, 2012
In a Nutshell: On Friday morning, the big news in the IZOD IndyCar Series paddock was that James Hinchcliffe suffered an engine failure during a test at Sears Point. As a precaution, Chevrolet ordered all 11 of their teams to change engines prior to the race weekend in Long Beach. Since none of those motors had run the minimum amount of miles allowed before a legal change, all 11 teams incurred a ten-spot grid penalty.
This resulted in a jumbled starting grid in which the drivers that qualified fourth and seventh on Saturday comprised the front row on Sunday while the fastest qualifiers started 11th through 13th. But even after spotting the top-9 Honda teams nearly the entire top 10 on the starting grid (Alex Tagliani’s Lotus-powered No. 98 in tenth was the lone exception), Chevrolet still took eight of the top-10 finishing positions, with Will Power winning his second race of the year.
Key Moment: Will Power was called for his final pit stop at the end of Lap 54 from second. At the time, there were 31 laps to go in the race. This was considered a borderline number of laps that could be run on a full tank of fuel. Takuma Sato pitted a lap after Power and got out of the pits in front of him. A few laps after the pit stops, Power passed Sato on the track for what was third at the time. This move turned out to be the pass for the win.
- For rookie Josef Newgarden and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, they were the main benefactors of all the Chevrolet teams taking grid penalties; Newgarden earned the second starting spot as a result of all the relegations. On the start of the race, however, Newgarden was indecisive as to what he wanted to do. At first, he was content with simply getting in line behind Dario Franchitti. Then, he saw an opportunity to go to the outside of him entering Turn 1. Unfortunately, the two drivers collided going into the first turn, resulting in Newgarden hitting the end of the tire barrier, then the concrete wall, and putting him out on the spot. It was a great shame to be out that early.
- The scariest incident of the race was just after a restart on Lap 23 when Marco Andretti attempted a move on the inside of Graham Rahal entering Turn 8. Unfortunately, Andretti’s left front tire ran over Rahal’s right rear and rear wing. The result was that Andretti’s car was launched into the air and nearly rolled before coming back down and hitting the tire barriers hard. Both Andretti and Rahal were out on the spot.
Unfortunately, this crash was an example of something that the new cars were supposed to eliminate. Even with the new bodywork behind the rear wheels, Andretti still got all four wheels off the ground and nearly flew. Also, remember that this incident was on a street course at a relatively low speed. Yes, the oval track aero package is said to be quite a bit different than the road course package we’ve seen for the first three races of the season but an accident like this one ratchets up safety fears. Seems like the series has a ways to go in order to solve the launching issues.
- Had Marco Andretti not crashed out, he had an ace up his sleeve as far as tire strategy was concerned. He had saved an extra set of fresh red sidewall tires for the race. As a result, he pitted prior to Lap 10 in order to ditch the black sidewall, or “prime” tires and switch to the reds. The race may have had a different result had the big wreck not happened.
- The event ended with two crashes on the final lap. First, Takuma Sato spun and hit the tires in Turn 7 after contact from Ryan Hunter-Reay while battling for third. Hunter-Reay was given a 30-second time penalty for what was deemed “avoidable contact” and dropped back to sixth in the finishing order. Sato was credited with eighth.
- Meanwhile, in the hairpin, Helio Castroneves gave countryman Rubens Barrichello a bump, which spun out the No. 8. Castroneves and Justin Wilson tried to go to the outside around Barrichello and collided with each other, resulting in a track blockage. James Jakes and Oriol Servia were stuck as a result. Castroneves was dropped back to a 13th-place finish (last car one lap down) after being blamed for the crash.
Notable Driver: Will Power, Takuma Sato, Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe used what amounted to solid two-stop pit strategies in order to claim their finishes on Sunday. However, Simon Pagenaud chose to make his second pit stop at the end of Lap 48. With no way in heck to make it 37 laps on fuel, the Schmidt Hamilton Racing team chose to push as hard as possible in order to open up a big gap on Power and Sato.
The team then short-pitted Pagenaud with 15 laps to go and gave him reds for the last stretch of the race. Pagenaud came out of the pits in fifth, roughly 11 seconds behind Power. From there, the chase was on. Pagenaud was turning some of the fastest laps of the entire race while trying to run Power down. Ultimately, he came up just short, finishing less than a second back in second. However, through three races, Pagenaud has the small Schmidt Hamilton No. 77 third in points, best of the Honda teams, including the four Chip Ganassi-owned cars. I don’t think anyone would have expected that going into Sao Paulo.
Quotes and Tweets:
“Oh my god, the Lotus cars are slow down the straight!” – Paul Tracy (@paultracy3), upon hearing that the Lotus-powered cars are seven mph slower than the Hondas and Chevrolets on Shoreline Drive
“That was going to be a fun stint. Sore but the points are the bummer. Not happy about that little chop. Could have been bad.” – Marco Andretti (@MarcoAndretti), on his big wreck with Graham Rahal
“For those who thought I was not making the corner, you can go sit in one. :) On to Brazil.” – Andretti, on naysayers who thought his move on Graham Rahal was inappropriate
“The new GoDaddy girl just got a podium at Long Beach! She is lacking a little in the ‘looks’ department, but at least she is fast.” – Andy Lally, on Sunday’s third-place finish from “Manica” (James Hinchcliffe)
TV Notes: – Robin Miller can’t seem to catch a break with his Grid Runs. One week, they set him loose while everyone’s waiting for the Invocation, the next time they put him out there with all the drivers still waving to fans on the back of pick ‘em up trucks. Miller ended up being kinda bummed out during the run, but still talked to a couple of team principals.
- The telecast aired audio from Race Director Beaux Barfield prior to the race imploring the drivers to bunch up more for the start. In all honesty, Long Beach doesn’t really work the best for double-file restarts due to the short stretch between the hairpin and start/finish line.
- NBC Sports cameras didn’t catch the contact with E.J. Viso that apparently broke Alex Tagliani’s rear suspension on the Lap 23 restart. They came out and admitted this oversight, part of the reason why it took so long for the series to give Viso a pass-through for “avoidable contact.”
- A fair amount of time was spent talking about how strong the Chevrolet engines are. They are somewhat more powerful than the Hondas and more fuel efficient. Things are not so good for Honda, although Pagenaud’s charge should at least allow fans of that manufacturer to leave with smiles on their faces.
- There was lots of action shown on-air from throughout the field, which is always great to see. Also, the pit strategies were fairly well explained to the viewers. However, I still think that the teams may still be withholding information even from the NBC Sports Network’s pit reporters. As a result, we might not know the full story.
- (Bonus Fact from last week) Izod IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard stated on a radio show in Milwaukee that he had the much-maligned former Race Director Brian Barnhart sit in with the TV Production crew at Barber Park, gave him a bunch of monitors and a timing and scoring screen. He was given the instructions to direct the crew to battles for position. I believe that the tactic used here was also put in effect once again in Long Beach. It definitely makes for a better telecast. Also, it proves that Barnhart isn’t useless.
Points After 3 of 16 Races:
1) 12 – Will Power 127
2) 3 – Helio Castroneves 103
3) 77 – Simon Pagenaud 100
4) 9 – Scott Dixon 96
5) 27 – James Hinchcliffe 95
6) 28 – Ryan Hunter-Reay 81
7) 2 – Ryan Briscoe 72
8) 38 – Graham Rahal 62
9) 8 – Rubens Barrichello 59
10) 4 – J.R. Hildebrand 57
What’s Next: The Izod IndyCar Series takes a week off before heading south of the Equator to Sao Paulo, Brazil for the third running of the Sao Paulo Indy 300. The first two events there have been hampered substantially by rain, while last year’s was red-flagged after 11 laps and postponed to Monday morning. When the race restarted at 10:00 local time, Will Power was the class of the field. Can he three-peat on the terribly bumpy Sao Paulo streets? Coverage will air on the NBC Sports Network. The telecast will start with IndyCar Central at 12:00pm EDT with race coverage beginning at 12:30pm. The race can also be heard on SiriusXM Radio Channel 94 (exclusive to XM subscribers).
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