ROSSI WINS LONG BEACH

Alexander Rossi. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Alexander Rossi. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Verizon IndyCar Series driver/Pole Sitter Alexander Rossi/No.27 NAPA Auto Parts Andretti Autosport Honda won the 44th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. His Margin of Victory was 1.2413 seconds ahead of Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. Finishing third was Ed Jones/No.10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. It was in front of what appeared to be a massive crowd, perhaps exceeding last year’s crowd of 183,000. GPALB President Jim Michealian had predicted on Thursday that the event was on target for exceeding last year’s numbers. And the crowd was so big even the drivers were commenting on the turnout.

Will Power, Alexander Rossi & Ed Jones in Victory Circle

Will Power, Alexander Rossi & Ed Jones in Victory Circle. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Alexander Rossi celebrating in Victory Circle

Alexander Rossi

Alexander Rossi in Victory Circle

Photos by Nico and Pablo Matamoros.

Zach Veach

Zach Veach

Zach Veach/No.26 Honda

Josef Newgarden/No.1 Chevrolet. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Fourth was Top Rookie Zach Veach/No.26 Group One Thousand One Andretti Autosport Honda – who started sixteenth. He said “(Fourth) feels like a win, to be honest. The crew was pushing me pretty hard at the end to try to get on the podium but… after St. Pete, after Phoenix, we’ve just been chipping away on it and we took a big swing at it today.”

Finishing fifth was Graham Rahal/No.15 Total Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda.

Josef Newgarden/No.1 Chevrolet

Josef Newgarden/No.1 Chevrolet. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Reigning IndyCar Champion, Josef Newgarden/No.1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet finished seventh overall, and set a new race lap record of 104.881 mph/1:07.5511 on Lap 30 of the 85-lap race.

The weather became cloudy an hour before the start. It was 70 F with 8 mph breeze.

Rossi was the third different winner in three races, and it is his third victory. This win makes 58 indycar wins for Andretti Autosport. He is the first pole winner since 2007, and the fifth pole winner in the Long Beach history. Rossi continues to lead the standings with 126 points. Second is reigning series champion, Josef Newgarden/No.1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet with 104 points. He finished seventh.

Alexander Ross. Photo by Nico Matamorosi

Alexander Ross. Photo by Nico Matamorosi

Rossi said “It’s Hard to put into words what the victory means. Such a welcoming, special race. Turn Eleven is the most important corner in the track, so we put emphasis on that. I was happy with the gap (between himself and Power,) but I had enough PTP if needed. Having friends and family here doesn’t change my way of driving, but it’s nice. It doesn’t cross my mind when I’m in the race car. The new aero kit car you can really play with the limits on it. It’s a lotta fun. From a physicality level, it’s down, but you’re holding your breath a lot. We all had a smile on our face at Phoenix. Indycar came as close to perfection as they could with this car. I certainly hope I haven’t peaked too early. I hit a lot on the wish list with WGI, Indy and LB for victories. Global CEO was on the podium with Rossi. It was fantastic for all of us. For sure the competition level is high, the most competitive championship in which I’ve competed. And these Rookies are making an impression.

There were six lead changes among five race leaders. Rossi led three times for 71 laps in the 85-lap race, the most he’s ever led in a race. Other leaders were: Power-six laps; Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda-one lap; Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 Sealmaster Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan-four laps; and Newgarden-three laps.

Will Power. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Will Power. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Power said “it’s like qualifying every lap for both of us there at the end. Rossi was just too fast all day. The cloud cover helped track temperature go down, so that certainly helped. There wasn’t that much tire degradation. Looking at the crowd today was pretty impressive. Good momentum going into Indy. It’s a cool, historic race, and you would say it’s second to Indianapolis as far as wanting to win. If you look at the series and everything as a whole, it’s at a great level as far as teams and drivers go, and it’s on the upward slope. Yes, I would say right now is the most competitive, talented group of drivers that the series has seen. When you look at how Rossi has come on and the rookies that are here this year, guys like Wickens and so on, it just gets harder. It gets harder and harder, and the common body kit I think was a really, really good idea. Yeah, great, great, honestly. To win and be on pole these days, you’ve just got to get it so right. The new car definitely needs more driver input. It’s not so physically hard, but there’s a lot more sliding. I’m just enjoying the car. Reminds me of Champ Car. Alex had a perfect weekend. I had one going for a Barber weekend last year. It’s pretty great when you can dominate the weekend. He’s going to be tough to beat in the championship. He’s definitely a road course standout, and you saw him at Phoenix oval as well.”

Ed Jones. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Ed Jones. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Jones said it was good today after the disappointment of Phoenix. Jones agreed with Power on tire wear.Degradation wasn’t really much of a factor for us. I think getting up to speed was a bit more difficult because of the cooler conditions, and for us anyway, the balance usually when it was hotter was quite different to the cooler conditions, and I think that helped us in our position quite a bit. The yellow at the beginning of the race helped. After that it was reasonable easy the way the yellows fell. The style of driving now in the new car is more like Lights. I think now the jump won’t be as difficult a transition. Being loose is the only way to be quick, similar to the Lights car.”

Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Chevrolet and Graham Rahal/No.15 Honda

Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Chevrolet

Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Chevrolet

Photo Sequence by Pablo Matamoros

The race got off to a rocky start with a Full Course Caution on the first lap for a car in the wall in Turn One. Graham Rahal/No.15 Total Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda hit Simon Pagenaud/No.22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet. The incident went under Steward’s Review, with the outcome being Rahal was assessed a Drive-Thru Penalty for “Avoidable Contact.” As Pagenaud’s car wasn’t towed from the corner, he was unable to make repairs. Pagenaud was not a happy camper. He said he felt like Rahal “never broke. It’s a real shame and the shame is that the car is totally repairable. We just need to change the front wing and some suspension parts and we can go back out.” Rahal said “I’m sorry about what happened to Simon (Pagenaud). That’s not how I like to do things. It’s just like St. Pete, the rears (tires) locked up and I barely made the corner.

Cars pitted during the caution, including Kyle Kaiser/No.32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet, who was assessed a Drive-Thru Penalty for “Improper Exit.”

Gaby Chaves/No.98 Chevrolet & Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 Honda

Jack Harvey/No.60 Honda, Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 Honda, Kyle Kaiser/No.32 Cevrolet & Charlie Kimball/No.23 Chevrolet

Gaby Chaces/No.98 Chevrolet, Spencer Pigot/No.21 Chevrolet, Charlie Kimball/No.23 Chevrolet & Josef Newgarden/No.1 Chevrolet

Photos by Pablo Matamoros

Early on, the speeds kept increasing. Rossi set a couple of fast laps, followed by Rahal and Newgarden. Other fast laps were set by Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda, Rossi again, and Newgarden then set a new race record.

There were four Full Course Cautions. The first involved Pageaud being retrieved from Turn One. The second was for Kyle Kaiser/No.32 Juncos Racing, who was rear-ended and drove into the Turn One runoff. The third was for Zachary Claman De Melo/No.19 The Paysafe Car Dale Coyne Racing Honda who hit the wall. The fourth caution was for fourth was for a pile-up in Turn Eleven, with Rookie Robert Wickens/No.6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda, Bourdais, Hunter-Reay, and Jordan King/No.20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet. the Steward’s reviewed and assessed King a Drive’Thru Penalty for “Avoidable Contact.” That capped off the day for Wickens, who had gearbox trouble early on, sticking him in fifth gear.

Bourdais had an up and down day. Early in the race, he made a couple of smooth but gutsy passes, weaving in and out of a tight pack. It moved him into P2. However, the Stewards ruled that he must give back his position to Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, as Bourdais had used the exit of Pit Lane to make that pass. Once he relinquished his position to Dixon, he didn’t waste time in taking it back. Later he was involved with Jordan King/No.20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, for which King was assessed a Drive-Thru Penalty for “Avoidable Contact.” Up to that point, King had been the highest running Rookie, but he faded after that. Later, Bourdais had a run-in with Rookie Matheus Leist/No.4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet. Bourdais and Leist finished P14 and P13, but the Stewards reversed that order after the race, ruling that Leist blocked Bourdais.

More Steward’s actions: Takuma Sato/No.30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet and RHR had contact. No action taken. Dixon was assessed a Drive-Thru Penalty for taking a service in a Closed Pit. He was running second at the time. Sato had too many crew over the wall, which will be dealt with after the race. Max Chilton/No.59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet had to restart at the back of the next restart for fueling in closed pit; and he he also had an improper restart position which he had to give back. Hunter-Reay received a 15-second hold for an entering the pits by back door.

There are now thirty-five confirmed entries for the 2018 entries in the Indianapolis 500. Of those, 19 are Honda, and they are solid. Art St. Cyr, president of Honda Performance Development, said Saturday that they have been approached to take on other groups, other teams. “Honda is already over it’s max capacity of 18 and one reason we can do it is because they’re all affiliated with our existing teams, so it helps us from an overall support standpoint.” Honda won’t be adding any new teams to its roster for the race.

Matthew Brabham

Cole Potts

Gavin Harlien

Left to Right: Matthew Brabham, Cole Potts and Gavin Harlien.

Matthew Brabham/No.83 put on a show on the way to taking the Checkered Flag for his win in Sunday’s Stadium Truck Series win. He came around much of the course on the two right wheels. Second was Cole Potts/No.60 and Gavin Harlien/No.55 was third. Fourth and fifth were Robby Gordon/No.7 and Paul Morris/1. It was an exciting race with lots of action, some wall-bashing and ending with stunt driving. Brabham said he’s been practicing and taking tips from Gordon on how to do it. Going into the Sunday race Brabham and Gordon were tied for the lead with 29 points, and Harlien a close second with 28.

Aerialist landing

Airplane

Pace Lap Flag

Max Chilton's Shoe

Scott Dixon/No.9 Honda

Shoreline Drive

Gallery Photos by Pablo Mataoros

NOT QUITE FASTER FRIDAY

Scott Dixon No.9 Honda

Scott Dixon No.9 Honda. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

The weather warmed up nicely Friday afternoon, to nearly 80 F for the afternoon practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series, with wind ramping up to 6mph. Nothing like the gales and gusts experienced yesterday.

Alexander Rossi

Alexander Rossi/No.26 NAPA Auto Parts Andretti Autosport Honda was fastest overall at 103.342 mph/1:08.5567. This wasn’t faster than the morning’s top time of 1:08.41122. In the combined overall times for the day, Rossi and one other driver were the only ones who were faster in the afternoon. Rossi said “It was good to be P1 in Practice 2, it’s where you want to end the day on Friday. To have two team cars 1-2 is pretty awesome. We have a lot of motivation after last year to come back and really be strong here this year. We have a lot of work ahead of us still, and hopefully we can continue that over the next two days. Our main focus right now is trying to win Long Beach and get redemption on last year.”

Second through fifth were Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda, Joseph Newgarde/No.1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Takuma Sato/No.30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda and Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

Zach Veach. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Zach Veach. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

The top Rookie was again Zach Veach/No.26 One Thousand And One Andretti Autosport Honda, in thirteenth position. “Overall, I think it was a good first day here. Phoenix went better than St. Pete and so far, this weekend has been going better than Phoenix. So just one step at a time. I think we definitely have the speed to transfer tomorrow to the fast 12, and maybe even a chance to get to our first Firestone Fast 6. I have a little bit of learning to do tonight, but I’m excited to show what we can do tomorrow.”

Other leaders in the afternoon session were Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet-twice, Kyle Kaiser/No.32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet, Gaby Chaves/No.88 Harding Group Chevrolet, Simon Pagenaud/No.22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet, James Hinchcliffe/No.4 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda, Power, Newgarden, and Graham Rahal/No.15 Total Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. RHR held the time much of the session, before Rossi topped him.

Power said “With the sessions being so short at 45 minutes, it’s important to use the time well. Long Beach is a real driver’s track. Accuracy is needed. The walls are right there. It is a cool track.”

Dixon and RHR were the fastest two drivers for the day. Overall, the top five were Dixon, RHR, Rossi, Pagenaud and Hinchcliffe.

Dixon said “The cars are so fun to drive though. The track is really awesome without the added downforce too. The braking zones are a bit bigger and the power down is impressive especially out of the hairpin corner. I think come around Lap 20, drivers are going to be screaming for new tires around here. It’s great to be back here overall, though. Great cars, great atmosphere and being out there pounding around the Long Beach city streets.”

Regarding qualifying on a track rubbered up after the two-hour IMSA race on different tires, Dixon said “It’s always tough, but it will be the same for everyone. So it’s always tough to figure out. I think the ambient conditions probably play a little bit more havoc, but you’re right, it could be totally different, especially after a two-hour race. That’s a lot of Continental and Michelin rubber that’s going on. I know even driving the Ford GT, the Continental tire, the rubber messes a lot with the Michelin.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Ryan Hunter-Reay. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Hunter-Reay said, regarding being bolder with less downforce, “Bold, probably not. You’re not able to get away with quite as much. The car is more on top of the racetrack, moving around. You’re constantly catching it. You can feel it’s lighter in the brake zones, especially when you’re coming off modulating out of the brake pedal coming into the corner, you can feel you just have a little bit less of an elbow to lean on through the corner. It’s just a bit more lively. It’s fun, we love it. It just takes a bit of an offset kind of in your approach, and like Scott mentioned, it’s the same for everybody, so it’s a good thing.”

Declining to give away his tire strategy going forward, Dixon said his Preferred Tires were all blacks.” RHR agreed.

RHR said “I think everybody was a bit surprised the red wasn’t faster today, so there’s some questions, I think, hanging over everyone’s heads now about what the potential there is and where the long-term life is with that tire.”

Watching the on-board video from Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 Team SealMaster Dale Coyne Racing Honda, one gains a whole new appreciation for how bumpy is the ride.

There were several stalls and stumble, for the most part no harm-no foul, including but not limited to: Pagenaud, Dixon, Rookie Zachery Clamon de Melo/No.19 The Paysafe Car Dale Coyne Racing Honda, Kaiser, and a couple of cars so fast to recover they weren’t identified.

Someone in a blue car grazed the concrete wall but kept on going. Charlie Kimble/No.23 Tresibe Carlin Chevrolet kissed the front straight concrete wall and continued. It was more like a hen peck.

Takuma Sato - before crash. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Takuma Sato – before crash. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Takuma Sato/No.30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda was the first to really hit the wall. He brought out the Red and Checkered Flag with 12 seconds to go when he hit in Turn One. He came in too hot and slid rear first into the wall, bounced around and hit the front on the same wall. He said “We made good progress today. It was a productive day until the end of the session.”

Newgarden was eating lunch and was late to the mandatory weigh-in after the first IndyCar practice. His punishment was to be parked for the last ten minutes of the second practice.

IndyCar Weigh-in

All 24 drivers were weighed after the first practice session – that session chosen as it’s the least busy for the IndyCar tech team. The weights are averaged, and when the average weight is determined, each driver either is allowed to find ways to delete weight from the car to compensate, or add weight to the car to compensate up to the average weight. Last year Graham Rahal was the ‘heaviest’ of the full-time drivers. This year at this weekend, the specific details are not yet known. But, no matter what is the magic number, Rookie Zach Veach will have to add weight to his car.

Thirty-two HMSA Historic Trans-Am cars are entered for their Challenge race. One of the drivers is John Hildebrand, father of IndyCar driver, JR Hildebrand, and JR is here crewing for his Dad. The Hildebrand 1964 Pontiac GTO is Number 66 – same as JR’s 2018 Indy 500 car. Historic Trans Am cars are required to have a documented history, be prepared to the period specifications, liveried in the manner they raced, and have actually raced in the Trans-Am Series 1966-1972. That is the cutoff date, according to Series Director, Chris van de Griff, as SCCA changed the rules after that and the current Trans Am Series is nothing like the original.

In the Friday afternoon Trans Am session, Chad Raynal/No.64 1969 Chevrolet Camaro was fastest. Second fastest was Karman Cusak/No.22 1968 Ford Mustang. Jimmy Hague/No.16 1970 Ford Boss 302 Mustang was third fastest. Twenty-seven cars were on course.

Robbie Gordon/No.7 was fastest in the midday practice session for his Super Stadium Truck Series. His fastest time was 1:45.6727 including the ramps and jumps. He was followed by Series points leader, Matthew Brabham/No.83, Jeff Hoffman/No.47, Gavin Harlien/No.55 and Blade Hildebrand/No.68. There are 14 Trucks in all.

James Davison

Another IndyCar driver was announced Friday for this year’s Indianapolis 500 race – James Davison of Australia. He will drive No.33 Chevrolet for Foyt Racing-Byrd’s Racing, Hollinger Motorsport and Belardi Auto Racing. Try saying that fast, even once. Last year Davison filled in for the injured Sebastien Bourdais – on short notice. This year Davison is tickled that he will be having his first full two-week program. It was seeing Davison fill in for Bourdais that first brought Davison to the attention of the Byrd Brothers. Hollinger Motorsport supported Davison in last year’s Indy 500. Davison was running fifth when involved in a multi-car pileup.

Conor Daly

For the first time in awhile, there will be more than 33 entries for the 2018 Indy 500. Also running the race is Conor Daly, who will run the No.17 Air Force Honda for Dale Coyne Racing and Thom Burns, who partnered with Buddy Lazier last year. Daly acknowledged that it is a low-budget program so there will be no SIM testing. He is re-viewing his previous race videos and has kept up with his race workout training.

A refresher Indy 500 session will be held on 30 April 2018 at the Brickyard.

Saturday’s IndyCar schedule calls for a morning practice and mid-afternoon qualifying.

Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Photo by Pablo Matamoros