ANALYSIS: Long Beach IndyCar rewind
Lead image by Paul Webb/LAT
In-article gallery by Marshall Pruett
LET’S START OFF WITH…
If you were disappointed in any way by the level of excitement generated by the Verizon IndyCar Series opener at St. Petersburg, I’ll go ahead and assume Round 2 at Long Beach more than made up for whatever was lacking in Round 1.
As I mentioned to RACER’s Robin Miller before we shot our post-race roundtable video, Long Beach felt like at least two races in one, and thanks to the needless crash that took out the likely podium finishers, separate Victory Lane ceremonies with official and a few alternate podiums could have easily been held.
If we hit the pause button on lap 55 at Turn 3, your 2014 Toyota Grand Prix at Long Beach winner is Josef Newgarden, with polesitter Ryan Hunter-Reay right behind and his Andretti Autosport teammate James Hinchcliffe third. Wind things back to lap 53 and you’d have RHR winning his second TGPLB, Hinch in second and Josef third.
We might even have a lap 77 podium featuring winner Scott Dixon, actual race winner Mike Conway in second and Will Power rounding out the celebrations in P3.
What a wild way to close Long Beach’s 40th anniversary.
You’ve probably read Robin’s excellent interview with IndyCar race director Beaux Barfield by now. In it, Barfield describes a new officiating approach the series has implemented this year: "But the bottom line is that we don't want races to be decided by Race Control. It's up to the drivers to sort things out."
As much as I love the sound of this concept, it’s about as real and tangible as the Tooth Fairy. Are drivers meant to sort things out on the track through retaliation? By meeting up for a cup of coffee after the race to commiserate over who was hit the hardest? Barfield’s desire is to have the drivers police themselves, but seeing how that policy doesn’t work in the real world, it’s a bit optimistic to think it will somehow work among adrenaline-filled drivers being paid to scrap over every inch of track.
The situation reminds me of being a kid and how Halloween went down in my neighborhood. To get the candy we sought, almost every house we went to involved ringing the doorbell and the owners coming out to let us grab a few pieces from a bowl. I believe that’s pretty much the standard routine everywhere. But there would almost always be one house – possibly two – where the owners, for reasons I’ve never understood, left a big bowl filled with candy outside the front door.
The expectation was for kids to come along and take a few pieces – to self-police the situation – but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t taken as an invitation for the first kid who found the pot of gold to dump the entire thing into his bag and dance around like he’d won the lottery. The owners didn’t want to be bothered answering the door 100 times, so they let us manage the situation in their absence.
Granted, at the time, we always marveled at whoever found those untended bowls first, but it must have teed off the homeowners who were given a glimpse of a mini societal breakdown.
I’d like to think the majority of the kids, when faced with the option of raiding the bowl or leaving some for others, would have just taken a few pieces, but without adult supervision, and while left to our own greedy ways, it didn’t happen. Honestly, and as a kid who never hit the sugar lottery, I was always jealous of the kids who made off with five pounds of candy in a single hit. It wasn’t long before all the bowls were moved inside and the chance of a walk-by candy jacking was eliminated.
Getting back to Long Beach, I’m not equating Will Power’s unintended punting of Simon Pagenaud (ABOVE, LAT photo) out of third place on lap 32 to thievery, but it was close enough to warrant parental intervention. Like most of the kids in my neighborhood, we behaved ourselves on Halloween, but if we knew we could get away with candy theft, the Beresford Avenue Mafia would have been knocking over every house on the block.
As I’ve said many times, I’m not a fan of heavy officiating – of seeing every little infraction turning into a penalty – but if a clear driving error that results in punting another driver and altering the outcome of that driver’s race is considered fair play, look for nose-to-wheel-guard passes to become a popular method to move forward on road and street courses.
And if all it takes is a NASCAR bump-and-run to steal a position without any fear of IndyCar’s Race Control stepping in to maintain order, I fear we’re headed in the wrong direction.
As for letting drivers “sort things out,” hammering cars out of the way is indeed one method of sorting, but maybe not the best course of action in an open-wheeled vehicle.
Power made a simple error, tried to back out of a late passing attempt, locked up, and hit Simon. It wasn’t, as Barfield said, a malicious act, but does it really matter whether Will had malice or love in mind when he hit Pagenaud?
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