Race Weekend Central

The Legendary Long Beach Grand Prix and How It Became a Signature Event

The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is a strange creature, indeed. It’s been a marquee event on three different racing series; was twice essentially saved by Mario Andretti, who was merely doing what Mario Andretti did best; features a winner’s list that looks like a Who’s Who of Motorsports for the past 40 years; has a title sponsor that is an auto manufacturer who isn’t even involved in the racing; and was the swan song of the series that called it home for the longest time in one of the strangest twists of all.

This Sunday will be the 39th running of the event that was the brainchild of a local travel agent and race fan, Chris Pook. That makes it the longest running major street race held in North America. Pook initially tried the concept in 1975, as a Formula 5000 race and when that went well, attracting some 46,000 fans, he followed up six months later with a Formula One race that also was a moderate success.

Open Wheel Wednesday: Pocono Test Important For IndyCar’s Future

There is a rather important event happening today in the world of IndyCar. No, its not a race, and it’s not a promotional event. It’s a test, one that will have massive implications on the future of IndyCar’s relationship with major American oval tracks. That test will be held at the gorgeous and historically rich Pocono Raceway, and there is no shortage of reasons why this day needs to go off without a hitch.

Now, to all the NASCAR fans that comprise the majority of motorsports fans in America today, the words “Pocono Raceway” evoke images of strung out parades and five-second margins of victory. The oft-maligned motorsports facility located in eastern Pennsylvania is routinely listed as one of the tracks that the average fan would most like to see left off the schedule. Pocono is a track with which, by and large, motorsports fans these days have little admiration or respect for.

IndyCar Recap: Barber Motorsports Park

*In A Nutshell:* Ryan Hunter-Reay put together a demonstrative qualifying effort and used his pole position to keep his car out front and take the victory. After a lap 1 crash, nary a yellow flag emerged, with the race holding green the rest of the way and drivers adopting varying strategies on stops, tires, and fuel conservation. Scott Dixon must have conflicting feelings leaving Barber after taking the second spot for a fourth consecutive time – must be great to have confidence knowing he races well there, but coupled with frustration. Helio Castroneves rounded out the podium with a solid effort, which marks a strong open to the season for the Brazilian.

IndyCar In Depth: Honda Grand Prix Of Alabama

*What’s News?*

The IZOD IndyCar Series heads to Birmingham’s Barber Motorsports Park this weekend for the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama. Coming off a stunning maiden victory two weeks ago in St. Petersburg, points leader James Hinchcliffe enters the event with high hopes and increased expectations. He’ll look to repeat this weekend. In terms of off-track news, it was a relatively quiet Easter break for the stars and cars of IndyCar. Dale Coyne Racing did announce that driver Ana Beatriz will be piloting the #18 machine in an expanded capacity this season, as she will pilot the car all the way through Indianapolis.

IndyCar Race Recap: 2013 Season Opener In St. Petersburg

*In A Nutshell:* James Hinchcliffe outdueled Helio Castroneves late in the race to deliver his first career win in the IZOD IndyCar Series. The race was marked by attrition and unusual accidents, most notably one late in the race in which JR Hildebrand flew over the top of Will Power’s car under caution. Castroneves stalked Hinchcliffe for the last 26 laps of the race but he couldn’t get close enough to make an overtake. Hinchcliffe coasted home to a 1.1 second victory while Castroneves, Marco Andretti, Tony Kanaan, and Scott Dixon rounded out the top 5.

IndyCar In-Depth: Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

*What’s News*

The 2013 season is finally getting underway! What more news do you need? Actually, as is usually the case after the offseason, there are plenty of changes to get used to. First, there are some new rules designed to make strategy more of a player on the road/street courses and to take mileage racing off the table. Race distances for some events, including this weekend at St. Petersburg, have been changed to discourage fuel mileage racing. This week’s event will be ten laps longer.

Open Wheel Wednesday: Shouldn’t IndyCar Be Hyping The Season A Bit More?

Can you hear that? It’s the faint din of the roar of the engines emanating from IndyCar. That’s right, the season is here. The teams just finished testing at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama, and the green flag will be dropped on Sunday. And what are we to make of it?

NASCAR, for all of its bloated silliness, does one thing right with the beginning of their season: they get people interested. With the pseudo-All Star race (the Sprint Unlimited), Daytona qualifying, the Duels, the Truck and Nationwide races, NASCAR makes so much noise that it’s hard to avoid them as a fan of racing. Some might even be exhausted by the time the actual Daytona 500 comes around.

The Winds Of Change

The season is finally upon us, ladies and gentlemen. In just two short weeks, the IZOD IndyCar Series will be back in full swing for the first race of the season on the St. Petersburg Street Circuit. There will undoubtedly be a great deal of pomp and circumstance from IndyCar officials surrounding the event, and you can bet your bottom dollar that the folks in charge will cheerily gloat about how all is well in the world of IndyCar and this season will be the “best season in years†despite organizational in-fighting that could derail that very goal. Will this season deliver on the inevitable promises made by series higher-ups? Before we can answer that, we have some catching up to do in terms of you may have missed over the off season. On the driver and team front, there have been some off-season moves which have shuffled the deck in terms of who is where. The most high-profile driver to make a change was Graham Rahal, as he departed from Chip Ganassi Racing in order to join forces with his father at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Rahal’s new teammate will be James Jakes, who will also be running for Rahal after a stint with Dale Coyne Racing. Takuma Sato departed from the above listed Rahal team in order to join the ranks of A.J. Foyt Enterprises. A.J. Allmendinger is making a return to the series with Penske Racing, as he will be racing a part-time schedule that includes the Indianapolis 500. Rookie Sebastien Saavedra will be piloting a car for Dragon Racing, and Simona De Silvestro will be taking her talents to KV Racing Technology. Finally, the biggest winner in silly season was E.J. Viso, who landed a plum full-time gig with Andretti Autosport. Following on the numerous driver and team changes made in the offseason, INDYCAR officials also ushered in a variety of rule and regulation along with other general changes to the series as a whole. Most notably, another round of downforce reductions on the cars was made in a continued effort to put the racing back into the hands of drivers. For better or for worse, doubleheader races will be making a comeback, with the races at Toronto, Belle Isle, and the new Houston street circuit all being two-day/two-race affairs. Speaking of the race Houston, it will be joined by Pocono Raceway as tracks that are new to the schedule in 2013, with the Pocono race being designated as a Triple Crown event. Oh yeah, did I mention that Triple Crown? It’s back, and in addition to the Pocono event, the Indianapolis 500 and the season finale at Auto Club Speedway will all comprise this new promotion, and IndyCar will award a $1,000,000 bonus to any driver who can win all three events. As for the on-track racing, this may just very well be the best season in years. The DW12 platform that debuted last year proved to be a rousing success. Not only was the on-track product improved by the new car, but it more importantly proved to be an improvement in terms of safety. After the tragic death of Dan Wheldon at the end of 2011, the sport absolutely needed to take a proactive and forward-thinking approach to safety, and it did just that. Many kudos must be given to INDYCAR for putting safety first, and to see that the new car raced well to boot was just an added bonus. Expect to see much of the same in 2013 as teams have had a full year under their belts in terms of getting these cars up to speed. The oval races will be absolutely scintillating, especially the newest oval to join the schedule, Pocono, as the drafty but driver-input-sensitive DW12 proved to be arguably the best car the series has ever raced with on such tracks. The above mentioned downforce reductions ought to make the racing even hairier on such tracks as drivers search and struggle for grip. There are undoubtedly still far too many road and street circuits, but the DW12 raced well enough on such tracks last year that the racing on the twisty circuits ought to be passable. But alas, despite the general optimism provided by a new car and some great racing, fans of the IndyCar world were left in a state of peril at the season’s end. In case you missed it INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard was abruptly fired after the season late last year, leaving many to wonder about the future of the sport. Rumors swirled that the series was in major financial trouble, and some insiders even warned that the series was close to going under. Where is this fine sport heading? Is American Championship Open-Wheel Racing on a path for failure? Those will be the questions asked continually throughout the season, as INDYCAR once again finds itself in a state of flux. The organization has had a nasty habit over the years of finding creative ways to shoot itself in the foot, and it has done so, once again. There is no getting around that. Bernard’s replacement (who is only an interim, tell me that’s not an indicator of how disorganized INDYCAR leadership is) is Jeff Belskus, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Hulman & Company, the group which owns Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Nothing against Mr. Belskus, but how are fans supposed to have any sort of faith in the direction of the sport if an actual, long-term CEO could not be found despite the sanctioning body having four months to do so? How can this organization be trusted to make the right moves? Off-track matters, both of organizational and financial in nature, will most definitely be underlying stories each and every week. Expect to hear some nasty rumors, organizational shuffling, and eventually a new CEO. INDYCAR’s greatest challenge this season will thus lie in the marketing department as they try to put the on-track racing at the forefront of the media’s attention while simultaneously burying all of the inevitable off-track closed doors shenanigans. With another new season comes a whole new set of challenges. INDYCAR will try it’s best to weather the current storm it is ensconced in at the moment. If INDYCAR is able to work it’s way out of the mess it is currently in financially, the sport could begin a golden age, as the on-track product is the best it has been in years. The racing is hot and heavy, and the current crop of drivers is as diverse and talented as ever. However, if the organizational and financial pitfalls of the sport’s offseason continue, INDYCAR could very well vanish completely. The fate of the sport thus currently rests in the hands of a select few shadowy individuals led by Jeff Belskus. If they can steer the ship in the right direction they will be hailed as saviors. But if that ship could sink if they are not careful, and it could sink fast. This is INDYCAR in 2013 ladies and gentlemen, and just about anything could happen. Buckle up, because it is going to be a bumpy ride. *Connect with Matt!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/MStall41\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Matt Stallknecht\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/38642/

The Offseason Might Never Be The Same

The offseason. That time when we at first breathe a collective sigh of relief and take a break from devoting our Saturdays or Sundays to races. We all plan things around races on occasion, don’t we? Especially on a certain Sunday in May. No, the winter months are for getting away from that and spending time with our families and friends, especially those poor souls who don’t get the attraction of fast cars and non-stop action. At least the early part of the offseason is like that; toward the end we all get a little bit antsy–just a little anxious. For pity’s sake, can’t we start racing yet? NASCAR types don’t have to endure quite the wait the IndyCar crowd does. They race until mid-November and they are back on track in earnest by February. Well, we last saw cars turn laps in anger in September and we won’t see it again for another three weeks. That’s the end of March, for crying out loud! I’m going to forget what the drivers look like by then! <div style=\"float:right; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/14308.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"183\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Who wouldn't want to see this guy (Will Power) chair racing to help waste away the INDYCAR offseason? Photo courtesy INDYCAR LAT USA.</p></div> Ah, but INDYCAR had your back on that front this year. No, there isn’t any racing, but thanks to _The Offseason_, there was a chance to enjoy some of our favorite drivers this year. For those who have not been following, INDYCAR has been running a series of short videos called _The Offseason_ featuring Will Power, James Hinchcliffe, Charlie Kimball and Josef Newgarden that depicts the quartet of bored drivers running amok around INDYCAR headquarters. Sure, it’s fluff, but it’s just the right amount of fluff to give us a “fix” when we don’t have racing to enjoy. It’s also a great move on the part of INDYCAR. The clips range from a few seconds to a couple of minutes long. They probably filmed these in a day or two, but they’ve gotten several months of fresh content to keep their drivers in front of fans. They dole them out one by one each week, right in that period of winter doldrums when fans start itching for the season to start. I’d call that a great return on a minimum investment. They are \"posted on YouTube\":http://www.youtube.com/user/indycars so fans can find any clips they missed simply by searching \"The Offseason IndyCar\" and can enjoy their favorites as many times as they want. And I don’t know about anyone else – maybe I’m just some sort of geek – but I’ve lately found myself eagerly looking forward to the arrival of the newest clip every week. A minimum of effort was needed to keep fans engaged and showcase driver personalities, but it gave them something to follow all winter. Why doesn’t NASCAR do something like this concept? Maybe they just haven’t thought of it. Maybe they don’t think the offseason is long enough to need something fluffy to engage fans, especially since they are back on TV by mid-January with preseason testing. I can think of one other reason but I don’t think putting it out there is going to make me very popular in stock car circles. NASCAR fans would hate it. They don’t want fluff. They don’t want drivers doing silly skits or engaging in staged antics. They make that clear every time one of the networks airs something of this variety. It’s undignified. NASCAR drivers are not clowns, they are here for business and we don’t want silly stuff going on instead. To put it bluntly, they can be sticks in the mud and sometimes take this whole racing thing too seriously. Whatever. Do I really think Will Power \"chair races in the halls\":http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_KIVEdU2HU of INDYCAR headquarters? OK, scratch that one. That might be a bad example because he might do that if given a chance. Do I really think Will Power \"listens to Justin Bieber on his computer\":http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X8olE3ERiHg in his cubicle at headquarters? Good Lord, I hope not. My point is, I realize these guys are just goofing around and I don’t think they really spend the winter months running around the office doing silly things while wearing their driver suits. I realize someone put these skits together solely for publicity purposes. I also think it was a great idea because when I can’t watch real racing and be serious, it’s just fun to cut up and watch them act silly when there’s nothing better to do. And it gets fans to engage and look for content when they might not normally even be thinking about INDYCAR. Additionally, serious news is also beginning to flow again. The league has announced a few rule changes for this year aimed at allowing team strategies to become a bigger part of the game. Teams will be able to start the race with any amount of fuel in the tank they choose instead of being required to have it full. Distances in a handful of races have also been changed, and it's all in an effort to allow for more varied fuel strategy and take mileage races out of the equation. Teams will also have more tire strategy at their disposal. Previously, only one set of new tires was allowed during each of the three segments of road/street course qualifying, but now teams will be limited only by their allotment of tires. That means they can decide if they want to use fresh rubber to get a better starting spot, or choose to save it for the race. They will still be required to use both the primary and the alternate tires for at least two laps during each road/street course. For the double-headers, one set of each must be used during each of the two races. Teams have been testing, although \"Hildebrand’s pink Caddy\":http://www.frontstretch.com/tbowles/42488/ provided some light moments there. Driver and car combos have been coming together, some of them harmoniously, some of them dubiously, and some of them contentious on at least some fronts. Katherine Legge isn’t done having her say about Dragon Racing releasing her in favor of Sebastian Saavedra and keeping her sponsor True Car. Either way, the long offseason is almost over with one perk, perhaps; the offseason next year won't be quite as long because we'll be racing until October this year. In the meantime, thanks INDYCAR for coming up with an idea to keep some of our favorite drivers in front of us until the real action begins. I think fluff is fun. Racing is supposed to be a sport. It's supposed to be fun and I think sometimes fans and participants forget that. _The Offseason_ was a good reminder. And if we're honest, who doesn't want to have chair races in the hallway? *Connect with Toni!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/ToniLMontgomery\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Toni Montgomery\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/14351/

Throwback Thursday: The Comeback Of The American Driver, Ryan Hunter-Reay

_Attention, NASCAR fans… welcome to Throwback Thursday! Every week, from now until the start of the 2013 season we’ll be giving you, our readers the favorite stories we treasure from our writers over the past few seasons. Today we focus on Toni Montgomery, a our open-wheel editor and Nationwide Series expert who shares pieces that have proven meaningful to both her and our fans through the years._

_This article originally ran July 18th, 2012._

Ryan Hunter-Reay is in many ways the poster child for the plight of the American driver in open wheel racing. He currently sits atop the driver standings in the IZOD IndyCar Series and if he can hang on to win the championship, it will not only be the realization at last of the wealth of potential Hunter-Reay has always shown, but perhaps it will also signal the comeback of the American driver.

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