Sunday, April 21, 2013

Long Beach Post-Game


Since Takuma Sato made the move to IndyCar three years ago, lots has been expected of him. He's fast, fearless and has a Formula 1 background. Unfortunately, those three traits can rear their ugly heads at times, and many times they did as Taku spent the first couple of years of his time in IndyCar breaking a lot of stuff.

Last year Sato seemed to have made some strides working under the patient eye of Bobby Rahal, and his move to AJ Foyt Enterprises over the winter made some people think he was ready to win.

To those people I say...good call! Taku won in a big way Sunday when he dominated the final half of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and became the sixth driver in history to post his first win on a street course which as always produced some great theater.

After two fairly uneventful (and by that I mean clean) races at St. Pete and Barber, we seemed to be heading for some carnage, and we certainly got it. In a place where nose jobs are aplenty (I didn't make that up, stole it from a Twitter post), more than a half-dozen cars needed a little rhinoplasty after contact with the cars ahead of them, including points leader Helio Castroneves and defending champ Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Several other drivers went into the tires, and subsequent caution flags made some teams throw some caution to the wind and come up with some great strategies.

Let's talk about it a little:

Winner -- Takuma Sato. What a start Taku has gotten off to this season, as this win goes along with his front-row start at St. Pete puts him second in points. He was pretty close to perfect Sunday, which as we should have figured out by now you need to be to win an IndyCar race. It's a great win for Taku, a great win for Japan (he's the first Japanese driver to win an IndyCar race) and a great win for Foyt Enterprises. Larry Foyt is putting together a very good organization there, I met him at a function a few years ago and came away impressed with how bright he is, and his move from driver to the business side of the house was a big move for AJFE.

Runner-up -- Graham Rahal. Looking lost and going P13 and P21 in his first two races driving for his father Bobby wasn't what Graham had been looking for this year...maybe this will help. Starting a season-best 11th, Rahal looked good from the start and drove a clean, patient race.

Third place -- Justin Wilson. Really? Really? The same guy who didn't even make a qualifying attempt on Saturday improves 22 spots from his starting position and gets on the podium? The guy can flat-out drive, can't he? The weekend was an utter disaster until the green flag dropped on Sunday, but he got it done when it counted for his first podium since winning Texas last June.

Fourth place -- Dario Franchitti. After finishing DFL at St. Pete, Dario made some big strides at Barber before a mechanical gremlin ended his day, and now a pole and fourth-place finish at Long Beach shows we who started to write him off shouldn't have spoken so soon. Last year this race was a springboard to a run of three races where he was P5 at Sao Paulo, won Indy and was second at Belle Isle. Oh yeah, then he won the pole at both Milwaukee and Iowa. Still, Dario has a lot of climbing to get back into the points chase. Despite a great effort this weekend, he still stands 20th.

Other thoughts -- The third round of any PGA Tournament is called "moving day" as players try to make hay before a big Sunday push. While Sao Paulo sits between here and Indy, the events of today made me think of that term, because there was a lot of moving going on as people try to build mojo heading into May.

Honda was probably the biggest mover. Just three weeks ago Chip Ganassi called them out and thought they didn't have commitment necessary to compete with Chevy. They took the first four spots today.

Sato made a big move to second in points (Castroneves still leads) and Wilson moved all the way up to fifth. Here is the team breakdown of the top five drivers in points: Penske, Foyt, Ganassi, Andretti, Coyne. Seven different teams are in the Top 10. Wow.

Today marked the first time since the series unified in 2008 that no driver from Penske Racing, Target Chip Ganassi Racing or Andretti Autosport had stood on the podium. More and more the competitive level of this series is stepping up and parity is beginning to rule.

One thing you have to do to win a championship is to somehow dig in and make the most of a crappy weekend. Scott Dixon tore up a lot of equipment this weekend in separate incidents, qualified P26, got spun out on the first lap by the only car further back in the field than he was (Tristan Vautier) -- and somehow still finished 11th. We should put a star next to this race if he is in the championship hunt at Fontana.

Marco Andretti continues to impress me. His average finish of 6.0 through three races is by far the best he has had since his IndyCar career began in 2006. If he can show the patience he has learned so far this season five weeks from now, we may be asking Marco if he's got milk. He's now fourth in points.

Some drivers/teams moved up, and others moved down. James Hinchcliffe has scored just 11 points over the last two weeks as he has in effect crashed out of the last two races. Today he was so pissed he jumped on his scooter while wearing his helmet and drove off. I'm not sure he has even stopped yet, he's probably out on I-10 between LA and Vegas and still hasn't cooled off yet. For good reason as a season with a lot of promise has become a bit perilous by now.

Next up -- Brazil. We give the IndyCar series to our Brazilian friends for a weekend so they can celebrate as only they know how. Sao Paulo has been a place where we can expect the unexpected, so as crazy as the season has been so far, who knows what will happen next!

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