DiZinno: Long Beach weekend analysis, musings and observations

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One of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ marquee races is in the books for 2015. While not a classic, the 41st Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend had its usual highlights, and here’s a quick look back at the few days on the West Coast:

  • Dixon’s humility shines through again. The pieces from veteran IndyCar scribes Robin Miller and John Oreovicz do a good job of highlighting the humble hero that is Scott Dixon, and he is just that. I’ll add this – Dixon isn’t even 35 yet, as he’ll turn 35 in July, and he still has at least a solid five or six years ahead of him to add to his 36 career wins. It’s rare you find a driver with the combination of speed, maturity, poise, focus, candor, humor (Dixon’s hilarious but you rarely see it), humility and commitment to family, but Dixon is the model for that. His lovely wife Emma was there to share the spoils on site, and daughters Poppy and Tilly were no doubt watching at home.
  • A nice Ganassi bounce back. With Dixon winning, it was easy to overlook the good runs turned in by Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Tony Kanaan (finished fifth) and Sebastian Saavedra (finished 10th). That made for Ganassi’s first race this year with three cars in the top-10, compared to Team Penske, which has done that in all three races. Poor Charlie Kimball has been something of a battering ram this season, having incurred contact from Simon Pagenaud, Graham Rahal and Sage Karam already and this weekend, a piece of errant debris.
  • A needed clean, green weekend. With spare parts angst, littered debris fields and cautions dominating the opening two weekends of the season at St. Petersburg and NOLA Motorsports Park, the full field did a good job of bringing the cars home in one piece all weekend. Long Beach – usually a land mine for debris and cautions – produced only one yellow for four laps on Sunday. And throughout the remainder of the weekend, the red flag interruptions were minimal too. It was an impressive job all around.
  • A packed house. This year marked my 10th trip to Long Beach – it’s a race I grew up attending as a kid and have been fortunate enough to cover for the last six years. And quite honestly, I can’t recall a Friday as packed as it was, with an easy 50,000 to 60,000 people in the grandstands and on the grounds. Overall, attendance was on point: the Long Beach Press-Telgram reported more than 180,000 patrons for the weekend. Alas, you may not have known that from some of the comments in the media center, as some maligned the current state of the series.
  • Events on top of events. Whether it was the Road Racing Drivers’ Club dinner, the Hollywood screening of the new Paul Newman documentary, or the RACER party Saturday night, Long Beach always seems to hit it out of the park in terms of making the race weekend feel so much bigger. The buzz and atmosphere of the events, and the quality of people in the industry at said events, always adds to the overall weekend – where actual human interaction seems to trump time in the media center.
  • PWC’s rough Sunday. I have a soft spot for the Pirelli World Challenge series, given its quality of people, level of competition and volume of awesome FIA GT3-spec machinery. To put it politely, Sunday was not its finest day. The level of driving was simply not up to scratch. Instead of long cautions as there were in St. Petersburg a few weeks earlier, there were frequent, consistent short ones to where it was easy to lose count of how many there were. The race was called the “Roar by the Shore presented by Replay XD” but post-race, you’d need to change the first word to “uproar” to describe the level of angst from drivers, participants, media and fans alike. This is a series with massive potential, but has been unable to feature it fully during successive trying weekends in St. Petersburg and Long Beach.

The Verizon IndyCar Series, the full complement of Mazda Road to Indy series and the Pirelli World Challenge GT/GTA/GT Cup presented by MOMO and GTS classes will be in action next week at Barber Motorsports Park.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans

LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.