Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Postscript
Today, in our 2017 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Postscript, AutoRacing1 will cover those stories and more.
Last May, when James Hinchcliffe qualified on pole for the 100th Indianapolis 500, I noted that the Canadian’s effort was a true testament to a race car driver’s unique capacity for compartmentalization. Less than a year about being literally shish-kebabed in a practice accident and nearly bleeding to death, Hinchcliffe went right back to the scene of the crime, focused on the job at hand, and put his No. 5 Arrow Honda on pole.
The Canadian followed up his Indy pole effort with a dominant performance at Texas, but was edged out in the closing laps by Graham Rahal for the victory. Ultimately, The Mayor of Hinchtown would conclude his first season back from injury with a somewhat pedestrian 13th place in the standings highlighted by the pole at Indy.
Now, I don’t want to make too much of one victory. Hinchcliffe’s place in the series and role as the face of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports are both well-established. What I do wonder (presuming more good results follow) is whether Hinchcliffe soon finds himself in place he was pre-accident: on the radar for some of the top drives in the series we know will be open in the coming years. Now 30, if Hinchcliffe is going to say be a candidate to replace Tony Kanaan at Chip Ganassi Racing, a big season probably needs to happen soon. And he may have taken a major step towards accomplishing that Sunday.
Similar to last month’s race at St. Petersburg, pit strategy was a hot topic at Long Beach. At St. Pete, the ‘short pitting ‘ tactic of taking service early in the fuel window turned out to be the optimal one. Sebastien Bourdais, the eventual winner, pit on lap 23 prior to a lap 26 caution. This allowed the Frenchman to jump leader Scott Dixon and others at the front that came to pit road under the caution on lap 27. On the ensuing restart, Bourdais would pass leader Simon Pagenaud and from there, dominate the proceedings.
Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull noted his frustration on television saying, “We got banged pretty hard at St. Pete because we used that other strategy,” before indirectly questioning the wisdom of INDYCAR’s rules closing the pits. You might also remember last year’s race went caution free, a scenario which would have made Dixon’s three-stop strategy the optimal one.
Of course, part of the frustration could be rooted not only in what happened at St. Pete, but the fact Dixon has been out in front in each of the last 4 Long Beach races, and only won once (2015). Last season, he was jumped by Simon Pagenaud in the pits (remember the controversial crossing of the line?). In 2014, the Kiwi was forced to pit from the lead with 2 laps to go for fuel. In none of these races was Dixon passed on track. In short, these near misses, in addition to St. Pete, Toronto last year, none of which saw Dixon beat on track clearly have Hull and Dixon frustrated.
But let the record show: Honda is for real in 2017 and the remarriage of Dixon/Hull/CGR/Honda has been on point in both races thus far. The four-time series champ sits fourth in the standings and we know he does his best work late in the season. In short, while 2017 has been about the smaller teams thus far, it is actually shaping quite nicely for a fifth Dixon/Ganassi title charge.
Nonetheless, on March 29th, INDYCAR took a significant step in presenting a more visually pleasing racer in publicizing the drawings presented drawings of its 2018 car.
But again, repeating the theme that aesthetics matter, there is another step: sound. The current engine just doesn’t produce that visceral sound so vital creating that WOW Factor (yes, I just quoted Brian France).
So far, INDYCAR has the visuals right. Can they complete the job?
However, once you remove the shock of the announcement of this strange Alonso-McLaren-Brown-Andretti-Honda-IMS multi-lateral partnership my overarching thought is simple: I seriously doubt this happens with one Bernard Charles Ecclestone still in the picture. And if you think I’m talking crazy, note Mark Miles’ comments yesterday that he would welcome Formula One back to IMS at the right price. Now, you could say that Miles was feeling his oats on a day of celebration for IMS or that such a statement is simply an uttering of the obvious. But, again, can you imagine Miles making such a suggestion with Ecclestone in charge?
Simply put, Ecclestone has been the most prominent, most powerful figure in motor sport for four decades. Imagining the motorsports landscape without him is difficult even now, without him. But I think Wednesday’s both heartwarming and shocking announcement, gave us a little glimpse into a post-Bernie motorsports world.
And while I marveled at the glorious television sight that was the 42nd annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, I’m sad to report: not many others did. IndyCar’s 2nd most important event pulled a lame 0.21 on NBC Sports Network. That is certainly far from the exposure the City of Long Beach wants and deserves for putting on a world class event, and far short of the mileage INDYCAR should get from its second most prominent event.
Now, the simple solution would seem to be using one of the series precious network TV slots for Long Beach. After all, the visuals of Long Beach beat the Indy GP and Detroit. But to be fair, placing the race on network TV is not the simple solution it might seem.
Remember, the race date will shift in a given year depending on Easter, as it did this year. Furthermore, even if Easter was not this coming Sunday, the NBA traditionally airs a West Coast playoff game on ABC with a 3:30 p.m. ET tip (right at race time). And we know the NBA Playoffs are not getting bumped for IndyCar.
Last, the notion of moving the race date would be crazy for the series, city, and promotion group with 42 years of date equity in early-mid April.
In short, the race is going to be on NBC Sports next year, and probably pull another lousy rating. However, with Mark Miles maneuvering to get the series exclusively on NBC network, one hope is that IndyCar’s second biggest race can get the platform it deserves before long.
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