How I Saw It Happen… The High Flying Heartbreak, Edition

There truly was drama in the LBC on Sunday and the trend of action packed races continues for the third event in a row. A weekend that started with incredible controversy surrounding the replacement of the 11 Chevy engines and ended with a familiar hubbub regarding the officiating, or the perceived lack thereof. It would seem that the INDYCAR paddock brings rain with them wherever they go as we had a more than soggy start in beautiful and sunny southern California. When the race finally got down to business what we saw was surprising, but not at all shocking; a contact heavy trip to California where Chevy takes another win away from Honda with Will Power putting in the drive of his career… for the second race in a row.

Chevy Power – Fitting that it was Will Power who snatched the win from Honda, doing so without discretion or empathy. Will drove an amazing 31 laps while passing cars and conserving fuel far more efficiently than his manufacturer stablemates; he had more than a few laps in hand over his other competitors. Starting from a seemingly impossible 12th position on the grid and steadily working his way through the field, Power put to rest any questions that may have still been lingering about his racecraft when mired back in the pack and he did it while using less fuel than the cars he was passing. Not only did Willy literally steal the win; seven Chevy drivers made it into the top ten. Surprising? Yes. Shocking? Not even a little bit.

Honda – This weekend is what nightmares at HPD are made of. Spotted basically ten free spots and still not sealing the deal is nothing short of pure embarrassment. Honda was worried enough that they attempted to use a different type of turbo for the Long Beach weekend to overcome the noticeable turbo lag experienced by drivers. INDYCAR said OK and “someone” (read Chevy) said NO. The updated turbos were ditched and Honda must have started to really worry. Simon Pagenaud did very well and with another lap or two would have caught and passed Power for the win. But the race was 85 laps, not 86 or 87 laps. Before this weekend I would have blamed Honda’s weaker team lineup, but now that we are in week three, setups should be getting much closer to ideal. Any gap in chassis knowledge, with regards to Chevy teams, would have surely been closed, but the disparity seems to still be there. Pure horsepower doesn’t appear to be the issue because there were plenty of Hondas passing Chevys during the last three races. Maybe the issue really is turbo lag and maybe it could be readily fixed with a different spec turbo. But is this a performance enhancing modification? We may be at the top of a slippery slope considering Honda doesn’t look the 2.5 percent slower that is needed for such upgrades.

Firestone – After scoring a bulls eye at Barber, Firestone really missed the mark at Long Beach. It shouldn’t have been a shock because we knew in advance that the tire manufacturer would be bring the same specification we last saw in St. Pete. Surprising no, but very unfortunate; there was a tangible difference between what we saw at Barber two weeks ago. Indycars-best-friend-also-known-as Firestone has already publicly stated that they need more of a performance gap between the red and black sidewall tires. After watching what Pirelli has done with Formula 1 and knowing what Firestone can do given previous performance, it is time to find that big gap. In an age of technical, aero-depandant racing that we see in all top levels, the tire may be the excitement maker and I’m very happy that we are taking that developmental route.

Ganassi Deux - Against my better judgment this week Charlie Kimball was one of my fantasy picks and he did his part to uphold the theme of the weekend; unsurprising performance. I don’t see how he can continually squander the Ganassi equipment that he has been bestowed with. He had a very strong run going for him this week before running out of fuel with five laps to go. Obviously the blame cannot be placed squarely on Kimball’s shoulders this week, but he really has to start showing us why Chip entrusted him with this ride. To say that Charlie has been unimpressive to me would be an understatement. Graham Rahal holds a hand in the troubles of G2 as well. Graham has pulled a P4 finish this year, but with his boneheaded move on-track with Marco Andretti shows that even with five years of experience he continually puts himself in poor position. I’m not sure how much longer Chip is going to put up with these kinds of shenanigans from either of his two drivers.

Marco vs. Graham – I guess if the two saviors of open wheel racing aren’t up front battling for the win, crashing into each other in the back is nearly as good? Although I’m sure Josef Newgarden, JR Hildebrand and James Hinchcliffe take offense every time those words are uttered, It may not be too far from the truth. Graham, the five year open wheel veteran and Marco, the six year veteran, sure aren’t acting like it. Andretti dive bombed Rahal who was peaking inside Dixon and was for sure over driving the corner entry. But what was Rahal doing making two moves and throwing a block party on a guy who “wasn’t going to make the corner anyway”? The excuse that these two guys are still young; Marco 24, and Graham 26, doesn’t hold much water with me. Young yes, but still very experienced. When comparing these two guys to  what JR, Hinch and even Newgarden have done the differences become obvious. Its high time these two got their acts together and drove like the pros that they really are.

The Bumper – The major fallout over the Andretti/Rahal incident was how easily Marco seemed to get airborne. I have had reservations about the fatty bumper in the back and Sunday’s performance did not instill much hope about the effectiveness of it’s design. Honestly, for a low speed street course, the bumper looked to slightly lessen the catastrophic launching seen in similar incidents. Compare Sundays wreck to Mark Webber’s airborne excursion and Schumacher ‘s recent flight. It may be five percent less but the damage does appear to be ever so slightly mitigated with the bumper. All fine and dandy on a street circuit, but even with this information in hand I have massive doubts about its effectiveness once we get to to ovals. Hopefully we will never have to test it but a slow right hander on a road course is eons away from a high speed oval.

In two weeks we head to the Sambadrome of Sao Paulo Brazil. This will mark the end of the first quarter of the season, and kick off the oval heavy heart of the 2012 campaign. We are starting to see the championship take shape and Will Power is is at the top with a healthy early season lead of 24 points over Helio Castroneves. Already Power is proving that race wins mean everything in this series; its going to take someone toppling him off the top step to assert any kind of control over the course of the season. Long Beach never seems to disappoint and this year was no exception.  It has more than earned its place in the pages of history and with the street fighter DW12 zooming down Shoreline Drive,  it hasn’t looked better.

Eric Hall

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