By Larry Mason, Copyright 2018
April 15, 2018 —
For the 44th time, the streets of Long Beach were shut down for rush hour of the open-wheel race car kind. The Verizon IndyCar Series was in town for its annual “World’s Fastest Beach Party” and Chamber of Commerce weather greeted the huge contingent of fans.
The morning warm-up for the Indy cars seemed pretty cut and dried in that the guys that were fast yesterday were fast this morning too. However, as a number of drivers mentioned, there was so much traffic, various uses of push-to-pass and fuel loads that there could be some guys with good race pace that weren’t able to show it. Charlie Kimball was one of those, as he had a similar setup to his teammate Max Chilton in the new Carlin team, yet Kimball was down in 20th position while Max was in 10th. Two rookies, Zach Veach and Gabby Chaves were mired down in 22nd and 24th positions and each spent a long time with their engineers on the pit stand after the session. Both drivers were optimistic for the race as they each mentioned how multiple drivers were on different strategies during warm-up with push-to-pass being allowed for 40 seconds.
The Pirelli World Challenge saw Toni Vilander lead most of the race in his Ferrari from pole position but with about five laps to go, fellow Ferrari driver Daniel Mancinelli made his move to the lead with a strong move into Turn 1 and held it to the checkered. For most of the race, Daniel Morad was running strongly in second place in his Mercedes, but had a mechanical issue and dropped out with six laps to go. That was good news for former champ Alvaro Parente. who after starting ninth in the big Bentley, moved into the final podium spot.
With a full afterburner flyover of an F35 fighter jet across Shoreline Drive at the conclusion of the National Anthem, that was just the first show of a dominant force today. Alexander Rossi had a great start and led handily into Turn 1. Not so much for Simon Pagenaud who was punted from behind by Graham Rahal heading into Turn 1 on the first lap. That contact ended the day for Pagenaud and earned Rahal a penalty from IndyCar for avoidable contact. Ryan Hunter-Reay also had some sort of contact that loosened his front wing on the right side and during the ensuing full-course yellow he dived to the pits to swap out his wing. At the re-start, Rossi put on a clinic, pulling away with ease until pit stops and full-course cautions would come out. One of those cautions was caused by Zachary Claman De Melo when he made contact with one of the unforgiving walls of Long Beach. Unfortunately his teammate Sebastian Bourdais, who was running really strong in second place after making stellar passes on Scott Dixon, entered the pits just after the “pits-are-closed” lights came on which earned him a penalty. Contact with some back markers after that ended his hopes of a podium finish. Dixon, who had been running third, ,also ran afoul of the pit lane rules and lost track position and time after he served his penalty. With just a few laps to go, it was Will Power filling the mirrors of Rossi. However, each time Power cut the gap to under a second, Rossi would extend it back over again. This was a masterful drive as the car and driver were in the zone and hooked up. Filling out the podium was Ed Jones, who had a steady race for Chip Ganassi. Perhaps the drive of the day went to Zach Veach who just missed the podium by finishing fourth after starting 22nd. Graham Rahal recovered to finish fifth and Marco Andretti rounded out the top six.
When Rossi got out of his car he seemed quite pleased with what he had just accomplished. Perhaps being understated is his personality outside the car, but inside he’s like a surgeon precisely placing his car at the right speed right where he needs it. After winning three iconic races including Indy, Watkins Glen and Long Beach he joked afterwards, “I certainly hope I haven’t peaked with those three!” This was a race that the team had circled on the calendar since it was just a year ago when he was leading with just a few laps left when he failed to finish due to a mechanical. When asked about how the yellows affected his race he was simply stating a fact when he replied, “it affected how much we could’ve won by.” Yes this was an old fashioned beat-down on the rest of the field. Power said that not only is the entire Indy car field extremely competitive right now, but admitted that “to win the championship you’re going to have to go through Rossi.” That was a major compliment coming from a champion and super-fast racer. Not much time to relax as they hit the track at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama next weekend.
In the SST Truck race #2, Matt Brabham won from 12th on the grid as the fields are always inverted. Robby Gordon who built this series talked about how the trucks have “reverse aero,” meaning that they create lift instead of down-force. What that means from a competition standpoint is that the farther behind you are, the easier it is to pass since you lose lift (essentially gaining down-force) following another truck. He also built them stout enough to bang doors and keep going. The stands were packed as the trucks flew through the air and after the checkered flag, Brabham hot=dogged it by driving on two wheels.