What an odd place we find ourselves in the championship entering round three on the streets of Long Beach. Dario Franchitti is in last place, Andretti Autosport has four cars in the top ten and Will Power is sitting in P8, just three spots ahead of Simona de Silvestro who is on the run of her career. The deep field, wonky championship table, very clean racing and an all-important year of experience with the equipment had started to turn 2013 into something of a renaissance. We literally have every component honed to make the current edition of indycar one to remember. Now the circus heads to the most storied street race in the western hemisphere to contest the 39th Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Five Things to Watch
Busy Day – Long Beach is a mentally and physically taxing track. The short blast down Seaside Way, also known as the back straight, is the only time drivers will be able to take a short breather. Because of the short distance of the straight, drivers will still be subjected to acceleration g-forces, making exactly zero spots around the 1.9 mile track where drivers bodies won’t be subjected to some type of physical g-loading. The front straight is anything but, and the rest of the track is textbook street course design with multiple fast flowing 90 degree corners. A split second lapse of concentration could mean meeting the wall and an early end to the day.
The Walls Are Close – The drivers have played pretty clean this year, and a weekend at Long Beach will test this newfound respectful driving. There is something about Long Beach and Toronto that makes competitors extra hot under the helmet. With its close concrete walls and without much racing space to be found anywhere on the track, we could see a bit more carbon fiber than the first two rounds. St. Pete still had some open sections that gave everyone a few seconds to breathe, a luxury that will not be found this weekend. Close walls make drivers crazy; I hope everyone can make it out of the weekend relatively unscathed.
Expanded Field – AJ Allmendinger makes the second start on his homecoming tour and 2011 race winner Mike Conway straps in for his only confirmed race of the season after vacating his seat before the 2012 season finale. 27 machines, the biggest field of the season so far, look to take the green this weekend. And in the tight concrete canyon of Long Beach, that only adds to the possibilities of unseen unfortunate crashy type events. Make no mistake, our drivers are world class and AJ and Mike are no slouches in their own right. Theoretically we should have another cleanish race, but for some reason, I just don’t see that happening.
Attrition – Two races in and the 2.2 liter engines could have as many as 1000 miles on them. We already know Honda is suffering from possible faulty exhaust system issues and on the second street circuit of the year, we could start to see increased mechanical failures. Although reliability has been incredible this year in comparison to 2012, the engines are still only in their second year of development. These 2013 gen one engines still have quite a long way to go, including 80 race laps down the notoriously rough Shoreline Drive; a portion of track known to eat racecars alive.
KV Racing – Tony Kanaan, Simona de Silvestro and the entire KVRT organization are on the cusp of moving to the next level of competition. The paring of Kanaan and de Silvestro has created something special within the team; a team that has been in dire need of such a thing for many years. The pairing is quick and seems to work really well with each other. Tony Kanaan looks like a new man and Simona is already having the season of her career. A win may be too much to ask of the still jelling team, but anything less than a top ten would be difficult to swallow for a team capable of so much.
Pole – Tony Kanaan – TK turned the fastest race lap last year, and as already described, the team are close to something. Long Beach could be their breakout weekend.
Winner – Will Power – The Aussie finally gets his season on track. Unlike other early season poor performances, Power will undoubtedly be able to bounce back.
Epic Performance – AJ Allmendinger – Would a top ten count at an epic performance? In AJ’s case, I think so, especially on a street circuit in this hyper competitive era. Allmendinger is focused, driven and has the best equipment under him. A top ten will happen, and a top five would be analogous to a win for the tin-top transplant.
Biggest Loser – Dario Franchitti – The four-time champion has never started a season this poorly. Granted, an exhaust issue on his Honda engine sidelined him in Barber, but Dario has struggled since the debut of the DW12. Franchitti looks to have a few more bad days ahead before the good one start rolling in again.
Tight confines, big numbers, quick drivers? I think I’ll take that. It is something of a miracle, but the DW12 has actually made me start looking forward to the street races instead of just merely standing them. The season is front loaded with killer street courses, a fact made all the more clear as we head to the Streets of Sao Paulo in two weeks; the best street course in the championship. Long beach really is the street crown jewel in our crown, it’s no wonder F1 is stirring the pot again. Let’s light this candle and see what Long Beach has to offer in 2013.