Big weekend for blu eCigs, Dorff, RLL in Long Beach

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Although the result didn’t come for Mike Conway and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, it was still a big weekend for the team and new sponsor blu eCigs.

Blu is a new electronic cigarette that produces none of the tobacco smoke, ash or smell, but also allows for vapor production and consistency to replicate an actual cigarette. It had dabbled in NASCAR with a small associate sponsorship, but Long Beach marked blu’s first race as a primary sponsor in IndyCar. A blu display was hard to miss in the Long Beach Expo Center.

Actor Stephen Dorff, whose credits include “Backbeat,” “Somewhere,” “Blade,” “Cecil B. DeMented” and “Space Truckers,” among others, was on hand to help promote the product.

The event was Dorff’s first IndyCar race and his ride in a two-seater practically blew his mind.

“It was sweet! It was so fast,” Dorff said when describing the ride. “We talked about doing an appearance for blu, and waited for this event. The partnership with Bobby and Letterman’s team provides the whole kit and caboodle. Mike looks sick out there, and the car looks fast just sitting still.”

As blu tests the waters for future races – and Conway certainly helped with a Firestone Fast Six appearance and practice pace – it could mark an opportunity for cigarette sponsorship to re-enter racing more regularly.

For a generation of racing, between Formula 1 and IndyCar, tobacco sponsorship was ubiquitous. But within the last decade, almost all signage has been phased out owing to new regulations, and Marlboro’s naming support finally ended for flagship teams Ferrari and Team Penske.

Dorff, a smoker for 20 or so years, said blu began in more of a grassroots way, and he thought of them when eCigs began popping up.

“It’s a new alternative, and it’s generated more positive reactions,” said Dorff. “If they want, the guys on Mike’s team can smoke the blus at the track, but the people around don’t need to worry. It’s old mixed with the new, and brings in a modern feel. It’s not combustion but still has the flavor.”

F1 2017 driver review: Sergio Perez

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Sergio Perez

Team: Sahara Force India
Car No.: 11
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P4 (Spain)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 1
Points: 100
Championship Position: 7th

While failing to hit the podium as he did in both 2015 and 2016, Sergio Perez once again finished the year as Formula 1’s leading midfield team driver, but faced a greater fight from within Force India in the shape of Esteban Ocon.

Perez has long been knocking on the door of F1’s top teams should an opportunity come up, and 2017 saw him continue his solid if unspectacular form. The dominance of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari meant any finish higher than seventh was impressive, something he managed to do on five occasions.

But there were some missed opportunities along the way, most significantly in Baku. Force India had been quick all weekend, with Perez charging to sixth on the grid, and when drama struck at the front, he and teammate Ocon were eyeing a podium finish as a minimum.

Contact between the two forced Perez to retire and prompted Ocon to pit for repairs, leaving the team without the top-three finish it targeted heading into the season. With Lance Stroll taking P3 for Williams and Daniel Ricciardo winning the race, a maiden victory for Force India was not out of the realm of imagination.

Perez and Ocon came to blows on a number of occasions, with the final straw coming in Spa when they twice touched on-track, prompting Force India to introduce team orders. Perez finished the year 13 points clear of Ocon in the final standings, meeting his own pre-season target of 100 points, yet the Frenchman had arguably made the bigger impression at Force India through his first full season in F1.

Force India remains the top underdog in F1 with Perez spearheading its charge, but it is difficult to see either taking the final step to becoming true contenders at the front of the field anytime soon, as solid as their displays have been.

Season High: P4 in Spain after retirements for the ‘big three’.

Season Low: Losing a sure-fire podium, if not a win, in Baku after contact with Ocon.