RESULTS DON'T MATCH RUN FOR COYNE – Ordinarily, a run that ended 10th and 11th – especially after the team's first two races of 2012 – would be cause for celebration for perennial hopefuls Dale Coyne Racing. Unfortunately, the end result showed that in order to maximize results, the combination of pace, persistence and strategy must be perfect.
Both cars ran in the top five throughout the race, and Justin Wilson was on course for a podium if not a win if all the cards fell right. He shot to the lead in the early stages after the first restart, with a slingshot move past Simon Pagenaud and around Dario Franchitti into Turn 1. Wilson had steadily extended his lead to more than 7sec before the second yellow on lap 20 began the inexorable run to a demoralizing ending.
“Unfortunately, the strategy was all wrong,” he surmised. “When we pitted on lap 20, we put ourselves in a tough spot, but it was still possible to recover from that – we saw that Simon did.”
The bigger issue for Wilson's No. 18 Sonny's BBQ car was its second stop on lap 52. At 33 laps to the flag, Wilson would have needed some yellow-flag running to make it without another stop, or pulled the same move as Pagenaud in running flat out to a third stop and building as much of a gap to offset the time penalty for pitting.
“Initially, the software that we use was showing a fuel target which was close enough to what we'd been running earlier in the race, so we should have been fine to two-stop,” Wilson explained. “Then the target jumped higher and when we double-checked that it was clear we had a problem. But by then it was too late to do what Simon had done and build up enough of a gap to pit again and come out near the front.”
A final stop on lap 81 dropped Wilson back to 11th, and it was only thanks to the penalty handed to Helio Castroneves for the hairpin incident on the last lap that Justin was promoted to his second 10th place result of the year.
Jakes, meanwhile, had quietly moved up the order and consistently ran in the top five. It was only when Power passed Jakes that everyone realized the second-year Englishman was there on merit, and running competitive lap times.
His race went awry in the late stages when he had both an off at Turn 1, and then followed his teammate's lead in a late pit stop for a final splash of fuel. That dropped him down the order into a result unrepresentative of the run he had produced, although it still marked a career-high finish.
The upside of a frustrating ending was that the team continued to improve its setup, and knowing Wilson's natural pace, a result to match should be in line soon.
“We've now got a better understanding of the philosophy of this car,” he said. “Some of that came from Indy, where the car drove fantastically in the test. The driveability was great and it was reasonably quick. We're relieved to be back on the pace, because for a while, we struggled to find it.”
NEWGARDEN'S OFFICIAL ARRIVAL – In 16 years watching races at Long Beach, I know Turn 1 accidents are common. Most of them tend to be as a result of stupidity. Few have been as a result of bravery where it basically worked save for about a foot.
I'd count Josef Newgarden's in the latter, marking his official arrival to IndyCar.
Newgarden is only 21, but mature beyond his years. In three races this season, Newgarden has taken blame for not advancing in qualifying, always credited his crew, and remained calm and poised despite not getting an engine until the 11th hour.
On Sunday, he took advantage of his front row starting position to go for the lead on Dario Franchitti's outside at Turn 1. Depending on who you talked to, there was or was not contact, but regardless, the end result was Newgarden smacking the end of the tire barrier and contacting the wall.
His race was over, but the statement was made.
As could be expected, rather than attempt to pin blame on Franchitti for punting him, Newgarden said he almost expected a first-corner incident, and added that since he's not an official, it wasn't his place to comment on whether Franchitti should have been penalized.
More than that, this was a 21-year-old kid attempting a move, and nearly making it, around the three-time defending and four-time series champion, as if to say, “I'm here, Dario. And if I make this move stick, I'd like to think I'm worthy of a spot on your team.”
By the way, his Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing team does not have a full-time sponsor yet...