The 2014 Long Beach weekend was just what the doctor ordered

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LONG BEACH, Calif. – The sun has set on another Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend.

And it’s at this point I suggest to Grand Prix Association of Long Beach President/CEO Jim Michaelian, that you and your staff take a victory lap around the 1.968-mile street course.

The numbers are still to come in terms of ticket sales, TV ratings and all the rest, but the 40th running of this historic event was one of its best yet.

To wit…

  • IndyCar’s weekend was unpredictable and loaded with drama. A Penske/Ganassi-free Firestone Fast Six? A near upset by a 23-year-old American on a single-car team, before contact with the last American series champion triggering a chain reaction incident? Two of the series’ biggest names making contact with other cars, yet avoiding penalties (one finished second)? And then a guy whose resting heart rate barely tops 50 beats per minute going out and capitalizing to score a surprise, yet deserved victory? Sunday’s race provided several examples of what can make the Verizon IndyCar Series great: a seriously tight field, surprise stars, no holds barred action, some emotion boiling over and seriously populated fans in grandstands ooing and awing at every moment. St. Petersburg was an appetizer to the 2014 season, but Long Beach truly provided the first main course.
  • Two sports car races that avoided major meltdowns and major accidents. Let’s be honest, here. Neither the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship nor Pirelli World Challenge got off to the smoothest of starts for their 2014 campaigns. Dramas over officiating, accidents and driver rankings were unfortunate story lines in the first two TUDOR Championship races; high demand overloaded the World Challenge live stream for its opener at St. Pete. But many issues were rectified in Long Beach. The TUDOR Championship ran a caution-free 100 minutes Saturday, with PWC tossing up a solid serving of sports car sprint racing Sunday afternoon. I had some fears there could be something of a political bloodbath this weekend – and yes, I did see some eyes gazing from drivers and officials in the respective paddocks to see how each side was operating – but nothing that indicated a war was about to break out. For once, it seemed as though the collective focus in both series was mainly on the racing, and that was a good thing.
  • Holy crowd, Batman. Or Spider-Man could work for that lead-in, since Tomy Drissi ran a livery promoting The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in the PWC race on his Drissi Motorsports/TRG Aston Martin GT3. But yeah, this Spidey-liveried car was among the stars of the weekend to the throngs of youngsters in attendance.

    Besides the kids, there seemed to be a substantially bigger crowd here this year than last. Judging by Friday, a day that ordinarily I could skate between the media center and IndyCar/sports car paddocks without the need for much contorting of my body to fit through gaps that exist in the walkway, I had to resort to my Saturday/Sunday snaking skills to make it through without losing time in the crowd. That was all I needed to see first-hand – this was my ninth Long Beach weekend – to provide the impression that the crowd was up for the 40th, big time. And given the event’s future, with some making overtones for wanting an F1 return, I’m left thinking this was a crowd that really appreciates the IndyCar atmosphere.

  • Roll out your Who puns. The Who frontman Roger Daltrey was probably the biggest celebrity appearance of the weekend, although he wasn’t here to announce any reunions or musical ventures. No, Daltrey was here promoting Teen Cancer America – a U.S. arm of the organization he launched in the U.K. to help teens who have cancer. It’s a good cause – the TCA signage appeared on Justin Wilson’s No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda – and more will come later this week to MotorSportsTalk after I had a few minutes to speak with him on Sunday. Daltrey started the IndyCar race in one of the Honda two-seaters, driven by Mario Andretti.
  • So “Who Are You?” If you’re Colombian, you’re top 10. Among the weekend’s most interesting stats, all four Colombian IndyCar drivers finished in the top-10 in the IndyCar race. Carlos Munoz was third, with Juan Pablo Montoya fourth, Sebastian Saavedra ninth and Carlos Huertas 10th. Memorize that quartet now for the inevitable trivia question down the road…
  • “Gabby O’Reilly?” Perhaps it doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Baba O’Reilly,” but hey, Gabby Chaves won the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires race on Sunday and his name has two b’s in it, just like Baba does. Like podium finishers Zach Veach and Matthew Brabham, though, none are 21 yet so even though they’re nearly teenagers, they can’t get wasted.
  • I’ll stop with the Who puns now and wrap it up. Additional elements that add to the weekend were the other events – the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race, SPEED Energy Stadium SUPER Trucks, exotic car display over in what was the TUDOR Championship paddock the first two days of the weekend, and of course, the Long Beach area itself. People occasionally call Long Beach the “Monaco of the U.S.,” but other than the long history of the race I’m not sure that’s the best way to call it. Just call it what it is – Long Beach is Long Beach – and leave it at that. Because in 2014, Long Beach once again did not disappoint.

Toro Rosso at crossroads after Kvyat’s point, Hartley’s strong debut

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In a weekend with something to prove at Circuit of The Americas, Daniil Kvyat rose to the occasion with what he called “his best race of the season for sure” at the United States Grand Prix.

But it may not be enough for the Russian to have saved his seat at Scuderia Toro Rosso for the three final races this year.

Meanwhile, New Zealander Brendon Hartley capped off his roller-coaster debut weekend in Formula 1 with a solid 13th place finish after starting from the rear of the grid, learning as the race went on and bringing home his Toro Rosso chassis to the flag.

Toro Rosso faces a dilemma of three drivers available but only two seats to fill for the final three Grands Prix, with the Mexican Grand Prix coming up just next week.

Frenchman Pierre Gasly will be back after missing Austin due to his Super Formula commitments at Suzuka in Japan, but ultimately that went for naught as the races were canceled due to a typhoon.

Kvyat qualified 12th, was promoted to 11th by way of grid penalties and ended 10th, scoring a point for only the third race this year and first time since coming ninth in the Spanish Grand Prix back in May.

It was a weekend where he would have been expected to outdo Hartley, and did so, but not by a massive margin. And he was already coming in with a track time disadvantage, losing out in FP1 as Indonesian Formula 2 driver Sean Gelael ran in his chassis.

As it was, he rated his weekend performance highly and didn’t do his chances of staying in the car any harm.

Speaking to NBCSN after the race, Kvyat said, “Yeah, it was a perfect race. I did everything well. Brought the points home. It was close with (Felipe) Massa.

“We had some energy release issues on the engine. But it was a massive weekend. It was great. I really enjoyed myself. It was a good job by the team to keep it together with very limited running.

Hartley built up confidence throughout the weekend as he learned the car, the Pirelli tires and how an F1 race races versus an endurance race that he’d been used to doing for several years.

Having coming into the weekend with no expectations and just taking the race session-by-session, he felt good at the end of it.

“There’s so many little things to reflect on,” he told NBCSN. “I’ll put the eyes at rest and process it all. I did the standing start and it wasn’t the best… it’s been a long time.

“But yeah, (you’re learning) in terms of following in traffic, what 20 laps on these tires means, how much you can push it. I’m pretty satisfied. The pace was pretty strong. I made the mistake of getting passed by (Lance) Stroll. I couldn’t pass him back. Lots of challenges. I hope I can get another shot at it.

“Up until this moment… I didn’t want to know. I just wanted to do the job. I’m really relaxed. Now there might be some conversations.”

Toro Rosso figures to reveal its Mexican Grand Prix driver lineup early this week.