CLOSE!

Simon Pagenaud leading Scott Dixon to Checkered Flag

The Margin of Victory of 0.3032 seconds by Verizon IndyCar Series race winner Simon Pagenaud/No.22 PPG Automotive Finishes Team Penske Chevrolet ahead of Scott Dixon/No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet was THE closest ever for an IndyCar race at Long Beach – in the 33 years history of the open-wheel series at the 42-year old granddaddy of all street races.

A picture is worth a thousand words, and these photographs show how close was the racing not just at the finish of the race, but the beginning and throughout.

Simon Pagenaud & Helio Castroneves

Simon Pagenaud & Helio Castroeves

By all estimations, the weekend attendance exceeded the 181,000 from last year, which was then the best-ever crowd in the previous 12 years. Jim Michaelian, president of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, said Sunday night that he didn’t yet have all the figures for the weekend, but he was very happy.

The series has a quick turnaround. It next races this upcoming weekend in Birmingham for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on Sunday 24 April, 2016. Pagenaud, who was leading the standings going into Long Beach, extended his lead to 134 points, ahead of Scott Dixon with 120 points. Juan Pablo Montoya is third with 108, followed by Castroneves with 92 and Tony Kanaan with 82.

All photos courtesy of LAT USA for Chevy Racing.

PAGENAUD WINS SHORT RACE

Photo by Michael L. Levitt/LAT for Chevy Racing

Photo by Michael L. Levitt/LAT for Chevy Racing

Simon Pagenaud/No.22 PPG Automotive Finishes Team Penske Chevrolet won the Verizon IndyCar Series race Sunday afternoon at the 42nd Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, by a Margin of 0.3032 seconds ahead of Scott Dixon/No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet – the closest IndyCar finish in Long Beach history. The race was caution free, and all 21 cars were running at the finish. The race ran 1.33.54.4835. Average speed 100.592 mph.

The weather was picture perfect, light ocean breezes, clear blue skies, 80 degrees F and track temperature at 121 F.

Pagenaud said “2006 was my first American race right here. So, a lot of memories, you know? But, this one, holding (Scott) Dixon, that’s a lot of work. As you saw, the pit sequence just won it; was just awesome. I don’t know what to say. The PPG car is actually good luck for me. Every time I’m driving this car I get good results.”

The race was noteworthy more for the many records and interesting statistics than from the racing. And then there was the post-race conference.

It wasn’t the most exciting IndyCar race, proving the drivers right when they said it’s difficult to pass on street courses, especially Long Beach. Basically, two passing zones exist – Turn One by the Fountain, and Turn 11 known as the Queen’s Hairpin, leading to the long straight on Shoreline Drive. All the lead changes occurred during Pit Stops. With no cautions, fuel strategy took precedence. And that gave the TV broadcast more air to fill.

There was more drama in the post-race media conference.

There were a total of 51 passes recorded by IndyCar data, which doesn’t breakdown how or where they happened. There were six lead changes among four drivers, all resulting from pit stops: polesitter Helio Castroneves/No.3 Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet-twice for 47 laps; Pagenaud-twice for 28 laps; Charlie Kimball/No.83 Tresiba Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet-twice for three laps; and Dixon-once for two laps.

It was Pagenaud’s fifth career victory, his first for Team Penske, and the 179th win for Team Penske-and all four Team Penske cars made the top ten. The Frenchman’s last win was in Houston in 2014.

The last all-green flag IndyCar race was Mid-Ohio in 2013. This is the fourth caution-free race in the history of Long Beach, and that last one was in April 1989. The last IndyCar full-field finish was at Texas in June 2011.

Finishing third and fourth in the 80-lap race were Team Penske Chevrolet teammates, Helio Castroneves/No.3 Auto Club of Southern California and Juan Pablo Montoya/No.2 Team Penske.

Finishing fifth and top Honda was Takuma Sato/No.14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt.

Josef Newgarden's Chevrolet

Josef Newgarden’s Chevrolet

Sixth through tenth were Tony Kanaan/No.10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, Sebastien Bourdais/No.11 California Baptist University-KVSH Chevrolet, and Josef Newgarden/No.21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet.

There were no penalties assessed during the race.

Pagenaud was issued an Official Warning by the IndyCar Stewards, for cutting over the yellow Pit Lane line when exiting onto the race track – characterized as some TV pundits as a block on the approaching car of Dixon. The move had been under review. Pagenaud’s actions were deemed “an infraction per Rule 7.10.1.1. “Lane Usage” of the INDYCAR Penalty Guidelines. Mike Hull, Managing Director of Chip Ganassi Racing Teams, spoke to the point in a TV interview at the time – “The drivers were told in the Drivers’ Meeting that an exit must be between the lines or a penalty issued.”

Carlos Munoz

Carlos Munoz

Carlos Munoz/No.26 Andretti Autosports Honda was also issued the same Official Warning.

An incident in Turn One between Sato, who had been chasing Montoya, went Under Review. No action taken.

After the race much time in the post-race media conference was spent discussing the Pit Lane Usage. All three podium drivers were asked, the INDYCAR moderator weighed in with the actual wording and INDYCAR issued a statement.

“Simon Pagenaud’s actions during the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach were deemed an infraction per Rule 7.10.1.1 “Lane Usage” of the INDYCAR Penalty Guidelines: “Failing to follow designated procedures entering or exiting the pit area, including the proper use of the acceleration and deceleration lanes. The penalty for this infraction ranges from a warning (minimum), putting the driver to the back of the field (mid) and drive-through or stop and go/hold (maximum). INDYCAR Stewards determined Pagenaud’s actions were not deemed severe enough to warrant a harsher penalty than the warning that was issued.”

Simon Pagenaud

Pagenaud said “You know, going into the race, I know the rule book, so I know that that line, I know you can take risks. I know you can get on the limit. It’s just racing at the end of the day, and quite frankly, like I said, another inch to the right wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the race.”

Helio Castroneves

Castroneves said “I will not go into that. I don’t know. I don’t remember to be honest what they said. But certainly in practice we have to look — what we’ve got to do. I don’t recall.I will not go into that. In practice we have to look. I don’t recall. Do you guys have a question for me or not, because I’m not going to be discussing about the rules.”

Scott Dixon

Dixon said “Rules are rules and I just hate it when they get changed. This one is always clear. You could not put more than two wheels over the line and I thought we were clear on that. Obviously that scenario was a lot closer than we anticipated, and then when we got to Turn 1, it appeared that Simon turned a little early and crossed the line that you’re not meant to cross. But it is what it is, so second place today.”

Other quotable quotes.

Castroneves said “I had Push To Pass at the end, but couldn’t use it to save fuel.”

Roger Penske said, referring to Sunday’s sixth victory at Long Beach – “Now we’re tied with Ganassi – six each. Now we’re even.”

Chip Ganassi said “It was obviously a questionable call. I like the NASCAR rule – there’s a camera there. They’ve got a new group of Stewards up in the booth, and they have a difficult job. I’ll have a discussion and probably learn something I didn’t know.”

Sato said “It was nearly side by side at the finish line. We had a difficult passing session. I saved Push To Pass for the end.” He ended up with a left hand blister from all the driving action.

There was a lot of talk about the race being too short, the need for more pit stops and/or cautions, etc.

Graham Rahal's Honda

Graham Rahal/No.15 PennGrade Oil Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda 17th and finished 15th. “I made some mistakes today. We coasted across the finish line with no fuel. We need to make some changes (in the race) – make it longer, more pit stops, more action for the fans, not just cruising around. We needed a yellow flag.”

Hinchcliffe agreed with Rahal about the races. He said “Let’s go racing – longer racing, three pit stops, more action.”

Kanaan said “The race was a bit boring with no cautions. They (the fans) deserve a little bit better. It was a bit of a fuel race near the end to save gas. Maybe extend the race a little bit.”

Jim Michealian

Jim Michealian

The crowds have been stout. The good weather no doubt enhanced the viewer excitement along with it having the last-ever Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race. Jim Michaelian, President of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, will never give out actual attendance figures, but he hasn’t stopped smiling all weekend. After the race, he said it was a good weekend … a great weekend. Michaelian was a hands-on overseer all weekend, as he whizzed around the track – when he wasn’t strolling here and there, checking and observing. The ubiquitous TV remotes spoke of crowds reaching 180,000 for the weekend, and upwards of 80,000 on race day.

VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES Race Results

POS DRIVER MANUFACTURER LAPS

1 Simon Pagenaud Chevrolet 80
2 Scott Dixon Chevrolet 80
3 Helio Castroneves Chevrolet 80
4 Juan Pablo Montoya Chevrolet 80
5 Takuma Sato Honda 80
6 Tony Kanaan Chevrolet 80
7 Will Power Chevrolet 80
8 James Hinchcliffe Honda 80
9 Sebastien Bourdais Chevrolet 80
10 Josef Newgarden Chevrolet 80
11 Charlie Kimball Chevrolet 80
12 Carlos Munoz Honda 80
13 Conor Daly (R) Honda 80
14 Max Chilton (R) Chevrolet 80
15 Graham Rahal Honda 80
16 Mikhail Aleshin Honda 80
17 Luca Filippi Honda 80
18 Ryan Hunter-Reay Honda 80
19 Marco Andretti Honda 79
20 Alexander Rossi (R) Honda 79
21 Jack Hawksworth Honda 77

UNOFFICIAL VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES STANDINGS

POS DRIVER PTS

1 PAGENAUD, Simon 134
2 DIXON, Scott 120
3 MONTOYA, Juan Pablo 108
4 CASTRONEVES, Helio 92
5 KANAAN, Tony 82
6 SATO, Takuma 73
7 HUNTER-REAY, Ryan 68
8 POWER, Will 62
9 RAHAL, Graham 59
10 KIMBALL, Charlie 58

UNOFFICIAL SUNOCO ROOKIE STANDINGS

POS DRIVER PTS
1 Max Chilton 55
2 Conor Daly 49
3 Alexander Rossi 44
4 Spencer Pigot 16

RAHAL’S HOT

Graham Rahal Guest Meeting

Graham Rahal and Guests

Graham Rahal/No.15 PennGrade Motor Oil Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was the fastest Verizon IndyCar Series driver Sunday morning during Warm-Up for the 42nd Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. This made him the first Honda driver to top the charts all weekend. His lap was 1:07.3319/105.222 mph. around the 1.968-mile street course. He was one of only five drivers who set their fastest time Sunday morning.

Firestone Temperature Monitor

The track was 80 degrees F on average, although depending on where the multiple sensors were installed, it was hotter or cooler depending on sun and shade. The ambient temperature was 74 degreees F at 8:45am local time, just prior to the half-hour session.

Afterwards Rahal cooled off in the shade of his transporter, meeting with hospitality guests while his crew fine-tuned the car for the afternoon race.

Graham Rahal

Graham Rahal

James Hinchcliffe

James Hinchcliffe

Second and third were Team Penske Racing Chevrolet teammates – pole sitter Helio Castroneves/No.3 Auto Club of Southern California and Juan Pablo Montoya/No.2 Verizon. Another Honda driver, James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports was fourth, followed by 2015 IndyCar Champion, Scott Dixon/No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Chevrolet.

All twenty-one drivers were on course. Rahal and three other drivers turned the most laps – 23: Sebastien Bourdais/No.11 California Baptist University-KVSH Chevrolet; Simon Pagenaud/No.22 PPG AutomotiveFinishTeam Penske Chevrolet; and Rookie Max Chilton/No.8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. Turning the fewest laps were Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda and Jack Hawksworth/No.41 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda at 17 each.

Overall for the weekend, Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet is still fastest and the only driver to break into the 1:06’s-1:06.8892/105.918 mph set in Practice 3. Rahal is fifth overall in the combined results and still the top Honda for the weekend.

The top Rookie in Warm-Up was Alexander Rossi/No.98 Castrol Edge/Curb Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb Agajanian Honda, in sixteenth place. Chilton was eighteenth, and Conor Daly/No.18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Dale Coyne Racing Honda was nineteenth.

Conor Daly's Honda

The Warm-Up session isn’t known for setting hot laps, but rather warming up and scuffing in tires, practicing pit stops, tweaking cars, fine tuning and putting to right everything needs be. There are no points for winning Warm-Up.

The front straight timing and scoring issues from Saturday afternoon’s sessions have been resolved; and the timing line has been moved back to the front straight by the Starter Stand. It had been moved to the back straight during IndyCar Qualifying.

Next up is the 80-lap race at 1:30pm local time/4pm ET. Dixon is defending his 2015 Long Beach victory.

SP CAR DRIVER CAR TIRES
1 3 CASTRONEVES, Helio D/C/C/F Alternate
2 9 DIXON, Scott D/C/C/F Alternate
3 22 PAGENAUD, Simon D/C/C/F Alternate
4 10 KANAAN, Tony D/C/C/F Alternate
5 2 MONTOYA, Juan Pablo D/C/C/F Alternate
6 12 POWER, Will D/C/C/F Alternate
7 5 HINCHCLIFFE, James D/H/H/F Alternate
8 14 SATO, Takuma D/H/H/F Alternate
9 21 NEWGARDEN, JOSEF D/C/C/F Primary
10 26 MUNOZ, Carlos D/H/H/F Primary
11 28 HUNTER-REAY, Ryan D/H/H/F Alternate
12 19 FILIPPI, Luca D/H/H/F Primary
13 18 DALY, CONOR (R) D/H/H/F Primary
14 11 BOURDAIS, Sebastien D/C/C/F Primary
15 83 KIMBALL, Charlie D/C/C/F Primary
16 98 ROSSI, Alexander (R) D/H/H/F Primary
17 15 RAHAL, Graham D/H/H/F Alternate
18 7 ALESHIN, Mikhail D/H/H/F Primary
19 8 CHILTON, Max (R) D/C/C/F Primary
20 41 HAWKSWORTH, Jack D/H/H/F Primary
21 27 ANDRETTI, Marco D/H/H/F Alternate

(R) Rookie

HELIO ON POLE AND TROUBLED TIMES

Helio Castroneves

Helio Castroneves

There’s a saying “Timing is Everything” which proved to be the case Saturday during IndyCar qualifying, literally and figuratively. Several drivers had highs and lows and visa versa, all controlled by timing and scoring.

Helio Castroneves/No.3 Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet has the Verizon P1 Pole Position for Sunday’s Verizon IndyCar Race at the 42nd Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. He almost didn’t. His pole lap was 1:07.1246/105.547 mph. He took the Checkered Flag in Turn Nine in the Firestone Fast 6 Qualifying Round, after IndyCar had to move the official Timing Line to the transponder loop on the back straight due to problems at the Start-Finish line.

This was the second consecutive pole for Castroneves this season, and second consecutive/ third overall for him at Long Beach, making his total now 47. Castroneves is fourth overall in pole positions, behind third place Bobby Unser, who has 49.

In Victory Circle, Castroneves said “Definitely it was a bit hard because of the yellow/red flag. It was phenomenal. It’s so cool to see so many people here already.”

The Firestone Fast 6 finishers were Castroneves, Scott Dixon/No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, Simon Pagenaud/No.22 PPG Automotive Finishes Team Penske Chevrolet, Tony Kanaan/No.10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, Juan Pablo Montoya/No.2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, and Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.

Earlier, in Round Two of Qualifying, Castroneves’ name briefly fell below the magic six cutoff until a problem with IndyCar Timing & Scoring had been resolved. The monitor went from showing six drivers with Montoya on top, followed by Pagenaud, Power, Newgarden, Hunter-Reay, and Dixon, with Castroneves not making the Firestone Fast Six. The times weren’t all that great. Then the list briefly recalibrated – with a different top six list – all Chevy drivers, including Castroneves – with faster times. Then all six showed No Time. Castroneves went from zero to hero.

And then in the Firestone Fast 6 session, with less than two minutes to go in the ten-minute session, Will Power spun out in turn Nine, bringing out the Red Flag. Once that was cleared, IndyCar announced that Power lost his two fastest laps and wasn’t allowed to continued. The other drivers were allowed to go back out for one timed lap.

Later, in the Press Conference, Castroneves was more open about his confusion. “Qualifying was good until the last session. Will made a mistake, and the five minutes guaranteed were out, and the rules say when the five minutes guaranteed are over, the session is over, so I don’t understand how the rule — how did the rule work. So you’d better explain it to me because the rule book says when the five minutes guaranteed are over, the session is over. Like that, I should be P-3. It wasn’t a great lap, but the five minutes guaranteed were done.”

Scott Dixon

Scott Dixon

Simon Pagenaud

Simon Pagenaud

Tony Kanaan

Tony Kanaan

Juan Pablo Montoya

Juan Pablo Montoya

Dixon said “We could have had it if the qualifying had carried through. We had the speed for pole. But front row is a good place to start and hopefully we can replicate the race from last year.”

Pagenaud said “Yeah, it was an interesting Fast Six. We locked in one lap. Luckily that was good for P-3. But yeah, I was concerned. We didn’t have a lap in when the red came out. I’m happy with third right now because I really thought we were getting sixth.”

Montoya said “When you look at the practice, we were all — all the cars were the fastest cars normally in practice. Our car is good.”

Will Power

Will Power

A hapless Power starts sixth, with No Time. He spun in Turn Nine in the Firestone Fast 6. He said “I kind of went a bit deep and didn’t want to take a risk and hit the wall and tried to spin it back around. I thought it was all over then anyway because once you cause a yellow you lose your best two laps. But that’s okay. I always seem to start way back. It’s not way back this year. It’s a lot better than the previous two or three years. At least I’m in the top six.”

Takuma Sato's Honda

Takuma Sato’s Honda

The top Honda was James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, placing seventh. The other two Hondas in the top ten were Takuma Sato/No.14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing, ranking eighth, and Carlos Munoz/No.26 Andretti Autosport in tenth. Josef Newgarden/No.21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet slotted in ninth.

Munoz said “I have kind-of a two-way feeling. I’m disappointed. It was an okay qualifying, especially after Practice 3. We were really good in Qualifying Round 1, we were the second fastest car and everyone was really close with each other.”

The weather was hot and breezy, and the track was 121 degrees F.

Each of the two groups had ten minutes in the first go-round to throw down a killer lap fast enough to make the next round. No one in Group One made it into the 1:06’s. In Group Two, Power finally broke that barrier, although not as fast as his morning’s top time.

All three Rookies missed the first cut. Conor Daly/No.18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Dale Coyne Racing Honda starts thirteenth. Alexander Rossi/No.98 Castrol Edge/Curb Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda is gridded sixteenth. Max Chilton/No.8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet starts nineteenth.

Sebastien Bourdais

Sebastien Bourdais

Sebastien Bourdais/No.11 California Baptist University-KVSH Chevrolet suffered a blow. Several minutes after making the cut in Group Two in P5, he was told that his last/fastest lap didn’t count as he took the checkered flag two seconds before he started that lap. He said “I am disappointed for the guys. They worked really hard. On the replay you can see that the checkered flag falls behind me, but apparently the checkered flag is not in sync with timing and scoring. As far as I am concerned I didn’t go by the checkered flag twice. It is just different reference points. We thought we were clear, but apparently I wasn’t.”

Two of the eligible 12 cars for Round Two didn’t go out – Lucca Filippi/No.19 Boy Scouts of America Dale Coyne Racing Honda and Carlos Munoz/No.26 Andretti Autosport Honda.

Sunday morning IndyCar has a half-hour Warm Up at 9am local time.

Pirelli World Challenge has the Replay XD Grand Prix at Long Beach presented by Cadillac – a 50-minute sprint race. IndyCar has its pre-race activities leading up to the 1:37 Green Flag drop for the 80-lap race. Live TV coverage starts at 1pm local time/4pm ET on NBCSN. Rick Allen will be announcing in the booth, with Townsend Bell and Paul Drivers as analysts. In the pits will be Marty Snider, Kevin Lee, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller.

Verizon P1 Pole Award

UNOFFICIAL QUALIFYING RESULTS

Rank Car Driver Name C/A/E/T Time Speed Session
1 3 Castroneves, Helio D/C/C/F 01:07.1246 105.547 Round 3 / Firestone Fast Six
2 9 Dixon, Scott D/C/C/F 01:07.4455 105.045 Round 3 / Firestone Fast Six
3 22 Pagenaud, Simon D/C/C/F 01:07.7410 104.587 Round 3 / Firestone Fast Six
4 10 Kanaan, Tony D/C/C/F 01:07.7951 104.503 Round 3 / Firestone Fast Six
5 2 Montoya, Juan Pablo D/C/C/F 01:07.9054 104.333 Round 3 / Firestone Fast Six
6 12 Power, Will D/C/C/F No Time No Speed Round 3 / Firestone Fast Six
7 5 Hinchcliffe, James D/H/H/F 01:07.1415 105.520 Elimination Round 2 / Top 12
8 14 Sato, Takuma D/H/H/F 01:07.2299 105.382 Elimination Round 2 / Top 12
9 21 Newgarden, Josef D/C/C/F 01:07.2548 105.343 Elimination Round 2 / Top 12
10 26 Munoz, Carlos D/H/H/F 01:07.2663 105.325 Elimination Round 2 / Top 12
11 28 Hunter-Reay, Ryan D/H/H/F 01:07.3171 105.245 Elimination Round 2 / Top 12
12 19 Filippi, Luca D/H/H/F 01:07.9660 104.240 Elimination Round 2 / Top 12
13 18 Daly, Conor (R) D/H/H/F 01:07.7520 104.570 Elimination Round 1 / Group 1
14 11 Bourdais, Sebastien D/C/C/F 01:07.6432 104.738 Elimination Round 1 / Group 2
15 83 Kimball, Charlie D/C/C/F 01:07.8065 104.486 Elimination Round 1 / Group 1
16 98 Rossi, Alexander (R) D/H/H/F 01:07.6872 104.670 Elimination Round 1 / Group 2
17 15 Rahal, Graham D/H/H/F 01:07.8841 104.366 Elimination Round 1 / Group 1
18 7 Aleshin, Mikhail D/H/H/F 01:07.8513 104.417 Elimination Round 1 / Group 2
19 8 Chilton, Max (R) D/C/C/F 01:08.3843 103.603 Elimination Round 1 / Group 1
20 41 Hawksworth, Jack D/H/H/F 01:07.9929 104.199 Elimination Round 1 / Group 2
21 27 Andretti, Marco D/H/H/F 01:08.2045 103.876 Elimination Round 1 / Group 2
(R) Rookie
Pursuant to Rule 8.3.5, Car 12 best two lap times invalidated in his session.

STILL POWERFUL

Shoreline Drive

Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was again the fastest Verizon IndyCar driver Saturday morning, with a time of 1:06.8892. The times were definitely faster than Friday, with ten drivers faster than Power’s fastest time Friday afternoon. He was the only driver to drop down into the 1:06’s.

Mikhail Aleshin

Mikhail Aleshin

At the Checkered Flag, it was Team Penske Chevrolets on top: Power, Simon Pagenaud/No.22 PPG Automotive Finish Team Penske, Helio Castroneves/No.3 Auto Club of Southern California, Juan Pablo Montoya/No.2 Verizon Team Penske and the lone Honda in the top five – Mikhail Aleshin/No.7SMP Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. On the last lap Aleshin barely kissed the concrete wall onto the straight and continued to the pits.

Ryan Hunter-Reay

Ryan Hunter-Reay

The session was interrupted by two Red Flags lasting 9.59 minutes, and the drivers were given an additional three minutes of track time. Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda clipped the tire wall. He continued into the pits for repairs and got back on course. He ended the session in fourteenth.

Graham Rahal

Graham Rahal

Graham Rahal/No.15 PennGrade Motor Oil Rahal Letterman Lanigan led briefly at the half-hour mark, with a 1:07.4066, perhaps the first fastest Honda all weekend. However, ten minutes later Rahal crashed the concrete wall exiting Turn Nine, and had to be towed. His time held for sixth place. “I got a big snap and lost it into the marbles and the wall. Those marbles feel like ice and you go dead straight. Those Drift Cars lead a lot of marbles. I’m good.” The Motegi Racing Super Drift Challenge Competition cars perform nightly between 7-9pm on Turns Nine, Ten and Eleven to a wildly enthusiastic crowd.

All 21 drivers made good use of the forty-five minute session. Rahal turned the most laps of any driver – 65. Jack Hawksworth/No.41 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda turned the fewest – 40.

Max Chilton's Car

Max Chilton/No.8Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet was the top Rookie, in eighteenth. the other two, Americans Connor Daly/No18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Dale Coyne Racing, and Alexander Rossi/No.98 Castrol Edge/Curb Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian ended up twentieth and twenty-first.

It was warm and sunny with a lilting breeze from the start Saturday. Optimum fan-friendly weather. The crowds are out. One astute observer commented that never had so many TV shows been seen and heard doing live remotes from the race track. There certainly is a carnival atmosphere on and around the race track. One would have to be a hermit not to know the Grand Prix is in town.

Next up for IndyCar is Qualifying at 2pm local (Pacific) time. There will be two groups, ten in Group One and eleven in Group Two. Then the Firestone Fast 6.

POWER TO THE TOP

Will Power

Will Power

WILL POWER/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was fastest in the second practice session for the Verizon IndyCar Series Friday afternoon at the 42nd annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. His lap of 104.806 mph/107.5992 seconds was faster than the morning’s fastest time. All 21 drivers were faster in the warm sunny Long Beach sunshine as the track heated up.

Power said “Got a good setup. This morning, learned some stuff off one, we’re progressing well. So this is a track where I’ve struggled the last couple years in qualifying, kind of starting way back there. I really want to start up the front and give myself a better chance at winning the race.”

James Hinchcliffe

James Hinchcliffe

James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda was second, and was so/stayed so once Power took over the running order from early leader, Juan Pablo Montoya/No.2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. Hinch was quite proud of the fact that he beat Power to the post-practice press conference. Fist bump!

The Mayor of Hinchtown had nothing but praise for the Long Beach event. “It’s great. This event in general is so awesome. You don’t successfully pull something off for 42 years unless you’re doing something right. They do a lot right here. The circuit itself as far as street courses go is one of the most unique. You have some of the coolest corners in street course racing with the hairpin and the fountain.

“Even corners like turn six, an increasing radius, a bunch of elevation, things you don’t see in street courses. I think it’s what makes the track pretty special and unique and a good challenge for the drivers.”

Third through fifth Graham Rahal/No.15 PennGrade Motor Oil Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, Simon Pagenaud/No.22 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet, and early leader Juan Pablo Montoya/No.2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet – who was fastest overall in the morning session.

Montoya said at the Media Lunch that he was “excited to be here and thought he had a good chance of winning here. He won in 1999. It was a long time ago but now it’s good memories. The track has improved a lot.”

Alexander Rossi & Connor Daly

Alexander Rossi & Connor Daly

Conor Daly was the fastest Rookie, driving No.18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Dale Coyne Racing Honda, in fifteenth place. He ran as high as fourteenth. Daly, an American, is good friends with the other American Rookie, Alexander Rossi/No.98 Castrol Edge/Curb Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda. The two are bringing more awareness on young American drivers.

Rossi was out in Practice Two in his repaired car, after the morning’s crash. He ran 19 laps, as high as sixteenth before placing twentieth. He said at the Media Lunch that he’s enjoying himself in IndyCar and learning a lot. “Every day I’m learning. They are amazing guys (his Andretti teammates.)”

IndyCar has a third practice session Saturday morning, followed by mid-afternoon qualifying for Sunday afternoon’s 80-lap race.

Jimmy Vasser

Jimmy Vasser

KVSH IndyCar team co-owner, Jimmy Vasser, was again the fastest driver Toyota ProCelebrity driver, in the half-hour qualifying session Friday afternoon. It was announced that his fastest lap was a 1:41.301. No official results were released, and the three drivers brought to the Media Conference were surprised to learn that the grid for Saturday afternoon’s race will be inverted. According to the conference moderator, the last three drivers in the 20-car field will be Vasser, Al Unser Jr, and Max Papis. Unser said “Jimmy found my shortcut here at Long Beach.”

Bob Carter

Bob Carter

The ‘pole’ position goes to Bob Carter, Senior Vice President of Automotive Operations for Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. At first he was quite thrilled, and then held his head in mock horror to think that he had all those other fast drivers behind him. He said he just might as well paint a Sitting Duck on his car. Especially after listening to the long litany of adjectives used by Unser to describe the sheer carnage of the ten exciting-lap race. “The fun of racing in a Toyota Scion which will never again be a race car.”

Al Unser, Jr.

Al Unser, Jr.

Before all the levity, Vasser said it was great to (again) be part of the Pro/Celebrity Race and see all the greatness done by the charity aspect of “this great event.” When asked, Vasser said he wouldn’t have qualified any differently had he known the grid was going to be inverted.

Vasser, native of Northern California, said “My first time here was not driving. I was just trying to get a ride. I watched Al here (Unser) race. It was great as a California kid coming here all these years. I hope a sponsor comes forward and Toyota offers up some car for destroying.”

Jimmy Vasser & Bob Carter

Jimmy Vasser & Bob Carter

JPM HEATS UP THE TRACK

Juan Pablo Montoya's car

Juan Pablo Montoya

Juan Pablo Montoya/No.2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was the fastest Verizon IndyCar Series driver Friday morning in practice at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach with a lap of 103.991 mph/1:08.1290 seconds. The 11-turn temporary street course measures 1.968 miles in its current configuration. JPM won the race in 1999.

Second fastest was teammate Will Power/No.12. Third and top Honda was Jack Hawksworth/No.41 ABC Supply/AJ Foyt Racing. Hawksworth Foyt teammate, Takuma Sato/No.14 was fifth at the finish, behind Josef Newgarden/No.21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet. Sato was one several drivers who went fastest during the session. After the session Hawksworth crew went straight to work on the car before second practice.

Jack Hawksworth's crew working on racecar

Josef Newgarden's Car

Tony Kanaan's Car

Also fastest, at first, was Tony Kanaan/No.10NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Teams Chevrolet.

Last year’s race winner, Scott Dixon/No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet finished tenth.

Conor Daly/No.18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Dale Coyne Racing Honda was the top Rookie in seventeenth place.

Alexander Rossi observing car repair

During the session, Rookie Alexander Rossi/No.98 Castrol/Edge Andretti Auto Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda clipped the exit tire wall in Turn Eight on Pine Avenue and buried his nose. Rossi was alright – was seen by IndyCar medical officials on the spot and cleared to drive. There was lengthy cleanup during the red flag, and the affected tire pallet was removed and replaced. The session was extended five minutes. The race car was repaired, with Rossi all suited up and watching.

Ten minutes after the Green Flag, Charlie Kimball/No.83 Tresiba Chip Ganassi Racing Teams Chevrolet pulled off at Turn 9. He was smoking and where’s there’s smoke, there’s fire. Brake Fire. All was handled and the session was Red Flagged and Checkered.

After the IndyCar practice, the Toyota Pro/Celebrities had their practice. And they lived to tell the tale. All but one of them are former winners – in one of three classes – Pro, Celebrity or a category I didn’t know existed – Charity Winner. These are the drivers who bought their way into the race by winning auctions for the right to drive. Literally paying drivers. The lone non winner in this race is Ron Carter, Senior Vice President of Automotive Operations for Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. Rank Has Privilege! Thanks to Carter and Toyota, this race has run for 40 years. Toyota has donated more than $2.3 million to the “Racing for Kids” organization on behalf of this race and its participants.

IndyCar Team Owner, Jimmy Vasser, was the fastest driver in that session, followed by Mike Skinner and Max Papis. It was a relatively incident-free session. Guess all those drivers listened up in the Drivers’ Meeting when Vasser explained that concrete walls were boundaries.

Bit of backstory on those drivers: Vasser won the Pro/Overall category in 2010. He has chops – 1996 IndyCar World Series Champion, after successful career in open wheel series including SCCA, Toyota Atlantic and CART. Mike Skinner was the Pro/Overall winner in 2007 and 2008. He came from NASCAR where he was the 1995 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Champion, and 1997 Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the year. Skinner raced in more than 550 NASCAR top tier races. Max Papis was the Pro/Overall Champion in 2004. His career includes Le Mans 24 Hours, Daytona 24 Hours, Formula One, NASCAR, and Champ Car with three victories.

The Celebrities qualify Friday afternoon. Watch out Walls!

42 AND COUNTING

TGPLB Logo

Jim Michaelian

It’s April 15th and while many Yankees are slaving away on their income tax forms due Monday, the North American racing world is converging on sunny Southern California for its annual rite of spring – the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. This year the granddaddy of all American street races turns 42; and it still has the same sponsor – the longest corporate sponsorship in motorsports history, we’re told. And the good news from Jim Michaelian, grand poobah of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, the contract, currently through 2017, has been resigned in a multi-year deal. His words: “It will be around for a long time to come.”

This year the schedule calls for the Verizon IndyCar Series-the headliner race, WeatherTech IMSA Series Bubba Burger Sportscar Grand Prix of Long Beach, Pirelli World Challenge, Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race, SPEED Energy Stadium Trucks Presented by Traxxas, and the Motegi Racing Super Drifting Challenge. This year there is no IndyLights race – it was too expensive for them. The schedule starts each morning on or before 8am and goes into the evening with the Drifting. Sunday Stadium Trucks end the show after the IndyCar race.

Max Papis's car

This is the 40th and last year for the Pro/Celebrity race-the longest running corporate-sponsored charity race. Toyota is moving its headquarters from nearby Torrance CA to Plano TX. So the finale will be a blowout – bringing back many former drivers including Al Unser Jr, Jimmy Vasser, Adam Carolla, Eddie Lawson, Max Papis, Mike Skinner, Rod Millen, and MS Dara Torres who won the Celebrity races in 2002.

Celebs Parked on Street

Thursday afternoon all the drivers took to the track for a Walk-Around, which also included various forms of two and four wheel vehicles.

CORE Racing Team

Wayne Taylor Racing Cart

Will Fitchner

The paddock was busy Thursday getting set up, with cars going through Tech, getting tires, fueling the cars, various systems checks, circuit inspections being completed, and people getting back into the swing of things.

Will Power 's car in Tech

Radios

James Hinchcliffe's car being fueled

Friday calls for practice for all groups and qualifying for Pro/Celebs, IMSA and Drift. The day started at 7:40am with IMSA practice and will end with Drifting, finishing at 9pm. How would you like to be a corner worker with that schedule? Let’s hear it for those hardy volunteers in White!

The weather forecast is for warm and sunny, increasingly so each day, with ocean breezes. History says it’s never rained on race day.

WHISTLIN’ DIXIE

PIR IndyCar Podium

Scott Dixon/No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet was smooth, fast, and seemingly unable to put a wheel wrong Saturday night, to win the Verizon IndyCar Series Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix International Raceway. It was his thirty-ninth IndyCar win and his first at PIR. Dixon was honored to learn that he’s now tied with Al Unser Sr. for the fourth most indycar victories.

The race ended under a caution brought out two laps from the finish when Rookie Alexander Rossi/No.98 Castrol Edge/Curb Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda grazed the wall. IndyCar doesn’t do Green-White-Checkered Flag finishes.

Dixon made history by becoming the first Indycar driver to have a victory in twelve consecutive seasons, more than any other Indycar driver. The previous record was 11 consecutive seasons, with three drivers in that catgory, including Saturday night’s polesitter, Helio Castroneves/No.3 REV Group Team Penske Chevrolet.

Dixon’s victory was the 101st Indycar win for Chip Ganassi. All but one of Dixon’s victories have been with Ganassi.

Bryan Sperber, Scott Dixon, AJ Foyt & Chip Ganassi

Scott Dixon is the first winner of the new, special perpetual A.J. Foyt Trophy, made of Grand Canyon onyx, presented by Bryan Sperber, president of PIR. Also present was namesake Foyt.

Artist Bill Patterson continued the PIR tradition of painting the winner’s car in Victory Circle. The track now has a celebrated collection of Patterson’s unique motorsports art.

Dixon didn’t think it was that easy. He said “It was definitely a tough race. It’s good to have the lightning bolt back on the car. We had the best car out there. We had good pit stops leading the most laps, and winning the race.”

Simon Pagenaud

Artist Bill Patterson painting Dixon's winning car

Will Power

Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Chip Ganassi Racing Teams Chevrolet finished second and now leads the points. “Good news. First time I’ve led the Championship.” He has 83, ahead of Dixon with 79.

Will Power

Will Power finished third said “I’m very happy with the race after missing the first round, dealing with a few health issues. It’s good to be back in the car. I was worried about how physical it would be. I had a lot of fun out there. Very happy to finish the race. Passing was hard.”

Tony Kanaan

Tony Kanaan got the race’s fastest lap of 186.403 mph/19.7379 seconds on Lap 215, and finished fourth. “At the end it was fun, even though we screwed up.” After reviewing the incident with Ed Carpenter/No.20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet, Kanaan said “I need to apologize to him.”

Graham Rahal

Graham Rahal was the top Honda, finishing fifth. He said “It was a tough race. Unfortunately the competition has five miles an hour over us. Thank goodness Chilton (Rookie Max Chilton/No.8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Teams Chevrolet) couldn’t get past me. He’s a rocket. He had the fastest car tonight.”

Chilton, who finished seventh, was the top Rookie. The other Rookies, Rossi and Conor Daly/No.18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Dale Coyne Racing Honda finished fourteenth and sixteenth, respectively, with Rossi on the lead lap, and Daly one lap down. Rossi possibly could have finished higher, but was penalized for pitting to early in one of the cautions and put to the back of the pack.

Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda ran well for much of the race, getting as high as fourth at one point. However, he pitted under green just prior to a caution and ended up a disappointing tenth.

Besides Dixon – last year’s IndyCar Champion, the only other leaders were pole sitter Helio Castroneves/No.3 REV Group Team Penske Chevrolet and teammate Juan Pablo Montoya/No.2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. Each suffered right front flat tires while leading, which put them a lap down. Castroneves finished eleventh and Montoya finished ninth.

Team Penske

Castroneves on his eleventh-placed finish after leading the first 39 laps from the pole, “It’s very frustrating. Once you got in the back, there wasn’t much movement, not much passing.” Castroneves suffered a right front flat necessitating a slow ride back to the pits for a tire change. Magic pit stops put me in the front and that’s spot on.”

Montoya said “Mine wasn’t a cut tire. Mine, I picked-up a vibration and every time I followed somebody, the vibration kept getting worse and worse. I passed (James) Hinchcliffe and the vibration was unbearable and I put wheel on it and it just blew up completely. It wasn’t like a cut tire that just goes down. I was like completely done. So, it’s kind of disappointing.”

The standings after two races: Pagenaud, 83; Dixon, 79; Montoya, 74; Hunter-Reay, 56 and Kanaan, 54.

The crowd was better at the track than it seemed on TV. The parking lots and other areas were packed, according to some insiders. It appeared to some as though the attendance was higher than the 20,000 Sperber is quoted as saying. Either way, this was good news all around, especially after an eleven-year indycar hiatus and a weekend filled with competing, adrenalin-inducing activities including an air show. And the new title sponsor, a new local Indian casino, is intrigued and very pleased with being involved in motorsports, and is interested in exploring it more.

There were six cautions for 56 laps, taking 44.07 minutes. And IndyCar kept to its policy of bringing out the sweepers with each caution, to clean the high and dirty lines. Five of the six cautions were for contact, but no drivers were injured. Charlie Kimball/No.83 Tresiba Chip Ganassi Racing Teams Chevrolet was assessed a drive-thru penalty for avoidable contact after his contact with Josef Newgarden/No.20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet. Kimball finished twelfth. Newgarden finished sixth, amazing when one considers the disastrous pit stop Newgarden had with his fueler having mega difficulty with nozzle placement during one of his pit stops.

Newgarden’s team owner and co-driver, Ed Carpenter/No.20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet backed off after racing Power, and got caught out, and hit the Turn four wall. He only races the (five) oval events, so was understandably disappointed.

Twenty of the twenty-two starters finished the race, fourteen on the lead lap.

According to IndyCar statisticians, there were 229 passes, and the average speed was 139.822 mph.

Sunset was at 6:51 pm but the Musco lights had already been turned on full blast since late afternoon. Still, it seemed to my untrained eye that the first 20 or so minutes must have been brutal on the racers driving head on into the blazing sun.

The temperature was in the low eighties with almost no breeze at the start, although the wind picked up a modicum, so one could actually see the flags.

Finished Bill Patterson painting of Scott Dixon's car

PHOTOS BY PABLO MATAMOROS

IT’S RACE DAY!

PIR Trylon

It’s sunny Saturday at Phoenix International Raceway for the Double Header – the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix and the Indy Lights Grand Prix of Phoenix. It’s warm with a nice breeze tempering the eighties temperature. The IndyCar race is scheduled to start at 5:30pm local time and run for 250 laps on the tri-oval measuring 1.022 miles. It’s being televised live on NBCSN.

Kyle Kaiser

Kyle Kaiser/No.18 Juncos Racing won the Indy Lights race, leading flag to flag. He also picked up all the Bonus points – fastest lap and most laps led. Going into the race, Kaiser was tied for the lead with Felix Serrales/No.4 Carlin. Now Kaiser is alone at the top of the standings, with 78 points.

Second in the race was Ed Jones/No.11 Carlin; followed by RC Enerson/No.7 and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports w/Curb-Agajanian teammate, Rookie Santiago Urrutia/No.55; and Dean Stoneman/No.27 Andretti Autosport. The battle for third was the drama in the race, with the Schmidt Peterson teammates battling, acing out Serralles who finished seventh after starting fifth.

Serralles is second in the standings with 64 points, Rookie Felix Rosenqvist/No.14 Belardi Auto Racing (who finished fifteenth is third with 53 points, and Jones is fourth with 50 points.

Takuma Sato's car

In the IndyCar garage the ABC Supply A.J. Foyt team beavered away on the No.14 Honda of Takuma Sato, repairing the damage suffered when Sato crashed in Turn Two during the first Friday practice. He was unhurt, but the car hit rear/sidewise and required major work.

James Hinchcliffe's car

The No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda crashed by James Hinchcliffe in the first Friday practice was repaired in time for Hinch to get in a few laps during night practice, and it’s ready to go.

Carlos Munoz crashed in qualifying so will join Hinchcliffe and Sato at the back end of the grid. Munoz made it out for the full night practice with 44 laps on the repaired car.

All the IndyCars had an in-out Systems Check Lap mid-afternoon. Sato got an additional five minutes to test his car.

When I went for my Saturday morning Chevrolet Event Car ride with Larry Foyt as driver, I could see the skid marks on the track from all the accidents; but the SAFER Barriers had been painted overnight and were pristine. And glad we all are that PIR has installed them circuit-wide.

Helio Castroneves won the Verizon P1 Pole Position Award for Saturday night’s race. He won the PIR race from the pole in 2002 and is going for a repeat.

Helio Castroneves

Helio Castroneves. Photo by Pablo Matamoros