The 39th edition of the Grand Prix at Long Beach was filled with interesting statistics and numbers, starting with:
3941 FOR FOYT
AJ Foyt Racing team's win on Sunday brought an end to a winless streak that dated back to July 7, 2002, when Airton Dare won on the Kentucky oval in the famous No. 14 entry.
The length of that span, 3941 days, caught team director Larry Foyt by surprise, but the driver-turned-manager told RACER that making it to Victory Lane is all that matters.
“That's great,” he said. “It means everything. Winning is everything to dad and us. It feels really good. It's been a lot of hard work and a process to get to it. Finally, everything came together; we've been showing speed and we've had good pace in some races but we haven't been able to put it all together and we did that today.”
4161 FOR SATO
If the Foyt team's silly-long dry spell wasn't a big enough number on its own, Takuma Sato can point back to Nov. 29, 2001 for his last professional victory – a 4161-day duration that overshadowed his entire Formula 1 career and his first three years in IndyCar.
“This is the unfortunate side of motor racing,” Sato, who became the first Japanese driver to win an Indy car race, told RACER. “Drivers and everybody coming to the IndyCar Series [from] Formula 1, Le Mans, they can win. You just can never give up. Keep on pressing, believe [in] yourself, believe [in] the people you are working with. In my case, it took a while. After the year 2001 Macau Formula 3, this is my [first] major win for a major series. This is fantastic.”
357 DAYS AND COUNTING
With a disappointing 16th-place finish at Long Beach, it has now been 357 days since Team Penske's Will Power won his last race at Brazil – a surprising fact given his track record in the IZOD IndyCar Series.
The Aussie's speed and dominance at numerous rounds after Sao Paulo might have given a false impression of how many victories Power has actually earned since then, but as he told RACER, going 357 since standing atop the podium continues to be a point of frustration.
“Let me tell you, it does piss me off considering how many times we started from pole and been in that position to win,” he acknowledged. “It does, I can't help it, be pissed off about that and frustrated.”
Power pointed to a lost opportunity at Toronto, when the timing of a caution and closing the pits as just one of the instances where things did not fall in his favor.
“You know, I know what happens,” he continued. “A couple of [lost races] have been [because of] race control. They closed the pits at the wrong time.”
It would be easy to interpret Power's tone as petulant, but by the fire in his eyes, he seemed to be coming from a place of genuine anger about coming up on the 1-year anniversary since he won an IndyCar race.
Power's next chance to stop the streak comes in two weeks at the site of his last victory.
250 FOR DARIO
Polesitter Dario Franchitti surrendered the lead when his team made a mistake in the pits on lap 30, but up to that point, the Scot looked like he was going to win his 250th Indy car start.
He'd eventually finish fourth, and despite seeing a better result handed to his rivals, the three-time Indy 500 winner took a moment to tell RACER about some of the memorable starts throughout his career.
“I would say to you first pole position at Toronto [in 1997] in the Hogan [Racing] car,” he recalled, starting with his days in CART. “That was a special thing. Obviously, the first win at Road America [in 1998]. The win at Surfers Paradise in 1999 was something still… it's one I still look back on with a lot of fondness.
"They're all kinds of the ones in between. Winning my first race for Team Green at Road America [in 1998], it was something I'm proud of. Breaking the lap record at Mid-Ohio.”
Franchitti also reflected on his time in the IndyCar Series.
“I definitely remember those races we all worked together at Andretti-Green,” he continued. “Tony [Kanaan] and I had done a couple of races where we managed to work together and help each other out. Those races and then there was one in Chicago where Dan [Wheldon] and I worked together until that last lap and pushed each other on. Just things like that.
“Obviously, all the race wins, pole positions, all these types of things. The little things that people don't know or think of still stand out to me. The races where the guys did amazing pit stops to get me out first, or where we maximized our in and out laps and that won us the race. All of it.”
The 39-year-old also mentioned a few of his favorite trophies.
“The gold boot from winning at Houston!” he said with a laugh. “I've got one gold and I think two silver boots and I'm really proud of both of them. But they're all special – the Baby Borgs from winning Indy. They're all special.”
With the IndyCar Series returning to Houston in October for a double header, Franchitti could find himself with a unique set of footwear.
“If I win, I'll have a matching set of gold cowboy boots…I bet you I could wear them…”
CHEVY HUMBLED ON HONDA'S HOME TRACK
Chevy won the first two IndyCar races of the year – both sponsored by Honda – but the locally-based Honda Performance Development group turned up the wick at Long Beach, locking out the podium en route to a 1-2-3-4 finish.
Just as HPD's Roger Griffiths answered the call from RACER after losses at St. Petersburg and Barber, Chevy program manager Chris Berube was gracious enough to speak on the Bowtie's first loss of 2013 and what, if anything, can be done to overtake Honda in Brazil.
“In this situation, where so many things went wrong, you have to go back and analyze each car's race – some were lost in accidents, and that certainly reduced our numbers. And the final corner has that tricky hairpin where putting the power down can cause issues, so you just have to look at what went wrong and solve each problem individually.
“It is exciting for the fans to see such a volatile result [between manufacturers]. I've always said we have to earn every win; Takuma Sato deserved the win today and that just cranks us up to sharpen the pencils before Brazil.”
PITCH AND CATCH
What's the one thing fans love to see but drivers can't stand? A car with serious traction problems on a road or street course.
Rookie phenom Tristan Vautier spent most of his Long Beach weekend dealing with a Honda-powered Schmidt Peterson Motorsports car that wanted to snap sideways under heavy cornering and, to make things worse, would light up the tires on corner exit.
It made for spectacular viewing; the Frenchman wasn't afraid to hold the Lucas Oil-liveried No. 55 at some rather extreme angles as he dealt with the oversteer, and for those who were attuned to what was taking place, the 2012 Indy Lights champion put on a marvelous display of elite car control.
The 23-year-old displayed some incredibly fast hands and serious commitment as he rode his recalcitrant car throughout qualifying, and made quite an impression on me in the Turn 10-11 section of the track.
Turn 11, the famous hairpin that leads onto the front straight, is preceded by the somewhat inconsequential Turn 10 dog-leg. Drivers power through the apex at Turn 10, but there's a section where, frankly, most drivers don't push very hard as they exit the corner and look to straighten their cars to hang a right at the sharp hairpin.
As a rookie, and without having anyone telling him that short stretch from Turn 10 to Turn 11 isn't a place where drivers traditionally look to find time, Vautier approached the complex with no preconceptions and got into the routine of pushing like a madman.
The sight of the No. 55 snapping sideways as Vautier kept gassing his car instead of backing off was very telling. Maybe the extra effort was only worth a fraction of a second on the stopwatch, but it didn't deter Vautier from pressing lap after lap, knowing he'd be playing pitch-and-catch with the rear of his car.
That degree of car control is usually reserved for the likes of Team Penske's Will Power and Target Chip Ganassi's Scott Dixon, but based on what I witnessed at Long Beach, Vautier deserves to be added to the list.
Honda would find an issue with his engine after qualifying and chose to replace it for the race, which earned Vautier a 10-spot engine penalty, dropping him to 27th and last on the grid.
He'd charge all the way to third in the race after serving a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact on lap 2, and would live on the limit during that comeback drive. Another drive-through penalty for contact with will Power in the pits – his crew chief sent him before noticing Power was pulling in across Vautier's bow – would undo all that work, but it didn't diminish the amount of talent that was on display.
Drivers don't want to drive on the ragged edge and force their cars to perform when the setup is off, but it's necessary at a few rounds each year. Vautier was only able to haul his car up to 17th in qualifying, but he'd have been much farther down the order without the extra effort. And without a race-long burst of that effort, there's no way he could have come from 27th to third before it became unraveled in the pits.