Friday, April 15, 2011

Long Beach Grand Prix Preview

The IZOD IndyCar series rolls into Long Beach this week, with Will Power and Dario Franchitti still at the top of the points as the championship battle progresses. There are many cars and teams that truly need a good result this week; we're about to see who rises to the occasion, and who sees their misery continue.

It's been a quick turnaround week for team and series personnel, going from the Deep South to the West Coast. Ryan Hunter-Reay won here last year, and doing so again would go far in erasing the disappointments of his first two races. But I suspect many other drivers will have something to say about that.

Here are some other storylines you'll want to follow for this weekend's race:

Return of the Chrome Horn: Paul Tracy will be starting his stint in IndyCar this year, debuting with the resurrected Dragon Racing in the #8 car. PT knows this course well (being a 4-time Long Beach winner and all), and it’ll be exciting to see how he and the team fare.

Bia’s Back(up)?: Although it’s still a “TBA” on the official entry list, early expectations were Ana Beatriz would return for Long Beach. However, Simon Pagenaud is traveling with the team for “support”. Long Beach will be a rougher track than Barber was for Bia, and the Sao Paulo race is very important for her sponsors. If she’s a no-go or re-injures that wrist, Dreyer and Reinbold have to feel good about their backup option.

Qualification Update: Qualification groups will now be assigned differently, with the even-numbered places from Friday practice in one group and the odd-numbered places in the other. While this does seem like it will produce more of an even distribution of fast and slow cars, we’ll have to see how it works in application.

Viso, Round 3: I hate to mention EJ Viso each week, but after 5 separate incidents over two race weekends, the spotlight is definitely on the #59 car. If he has another weekend like Barber or St. Pete and causes another incident, expect calls for him to be parked (how unrealistic) to jump dramatically. Actually, let’s just hope for a clean KV weekend across the board—Kanaan to keep it up, Sato to continue his drastic improvement, and for Viso to find his way.

Can RHR Repeat?
Fast Start, Slow Start: Drivers like Tony Kanaan, Simona de Silvestro, and Oriol Servia are having great starts to their season. Drivers such as Andretti’s Ryan Hunter-Reay and Mike Conway have seen little but disappointment so far this year. Can these drivers sustain their success, or halt their difficulties? Once is an occurrence, twice is a rhythm, and three times is a pattern.

Briscoe On The Brink: Ryan Briscoe sits 25th in points, behind all other drivers who have run both races so far. Despite being only the third race, another DNF here could doom what faint series championship hopes he still has.

Ratings Rollercoaster: After a 1.2 TV rating at St. Pete, IndyCar struggled against the Master, with the Versus broadcast garnering only a .3. While no one is happy with that, it will be interesting to see how IndyCar fares in a weekend featuring track action at Talladega. One .3 isn’t a signal for doom and gloom, but there needs to be improvement overall on Versus as well as ABC this year.

Indy Lights Update: Star Mazda has a break until May, so it’s a Lights-only sort of weekend. Conor Daly is traveling halfway around the world from his F3 obligations to race at Long Beach this weekend. After a promising debut and 2nd-place finish at St. Pete, an incident with James Winslow doomed his hopes for Barber. Daly, Newgarden, and last week’s winner Victor Garcia should all be fun to watch, while drivers such as Stefan Wilson, Anders Krohn, Mikael Grenier, and Peter Dempsey try to make their mark as well. In other news, we’ll see if that Brooks Associates entry makes it this week or not.

Don’t Touch That Dial: With the Indy 500 entry list released, and several intriguing driver “TBA”, expect some rides to be filled in the gap between Long Beach and Sao Paulo. Buddy Lazier, Buddy Rice, Martin Plowman, Pippa Mann, Alex Lloyd, Wade Cunningham, and several others have all been mentioned as possibilities.

Incredibly Interesting Fact: Last year's Long Beach race had a single caution (between Mario Romancini and Graham Rahal). If we manage that again this year, I will eat an entire koala bear in honor of Will Power.

Pole Position: Will Power. I am nothing if not boring/reliable in my predictions on the subject. He won 9 of the last 10 Poles; I think a little confidence is warranted.

Winner: Tony Kanaan. Because it’s going to happen at some point this year, and I’ll be brave this week in an attempt to look wise and quietly “in the know”. Also, along with Will Power, TK’s also the only driver to finish in the Top 5 here for the past two years. But honestly, this is one of those races I don't have a strong guy feeling on one way or the other.

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