This is an eyewitness report from the NowPublic member scottie_vox who was on the scene in Grandstand #31, across from the Target Chip Ganassi car #10 pits.
Indy Car’s wild weekend at Long Beach
scottie_vox | April 20, 2009 at 06:04 pmby
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The Indy Car series made it’s first visit to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach this weekend, and put on a great show in what turned out to be a wild weekend both on and off the track.
Dario Franchitti of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing posted a fantastic run on Sunday afternoon to outrun Will Power and Tony Kanaan and drive to his first victory at Long Beach.
In the post-race press conference, Franchitti said, “Yeah, the Target cars do have a great history here. Jimmy (Vasser) won in ‘96, and ‘97, and (Juan Pablo) Montoya in ‘99. I finished second to (Alex) Zanardi in ‘98, and Montoya in ‘99.
So I remember distinctly following that Target on the rear wing. So nice to be another other end of that today and get the job done. It really feels good to win here back in IndyCar Series, in the unified series, in front of a great crowd who were they were loving the race, and loving the whole weekend.”
Dario’s comments regarding the crowd’s enjoyment of the weekend and a unified Indy Car Series reflected a renewed energy and excitement in the Long Beach this weekend. Fans stood in a line the stretched to the far end of the paddock on Friday afternoon for the Indy Car autograph session, many of them to get an up close glimpse of Danica Patrick and company. While the Indy Car series has a long way to go to make household names out of the entire line-up, the series clearly has a connection with the fans of Long Beach, a connection that has been missing in recent years.
But the buzz was just beginning. The excitement of the weekend took on an entirely new level during the Friday morning practice when the world found out that Helio Castroneves was acquitted of tax evasion charges after a six month court ordeal, and Long Beach found out he would be jetting to Long Beach to practice and qualify in Saturday.
Penske revealed Helio’s return to the cockpit in a mid-day press conference and went on to announce that Will Power would also drive for Penske in a third car sponsored by Verizon Wireless for the rest of the weekend.
The Penske crew began thrashing, building, and preparing a third entry in an impressive display of team organization. The Captain, Roger Penske, somehow had the insight to have his crew prepare a third hauler, full of branded Verizon gear and a Verizon Dallara for Will Power as a contingency plan for a Castroneves acquittal.
Power went back out in the afternoon practice on Friday in the #3 car, since his new car was being assembled in the pits, and posted the fastest time in the session. But with the move out of the #3 car and into the #12 Verizon car on Saturday, Power faced some obstacles going into qualifying,.
On Saturday morning, Helio Castroneves appeared in the Indy Car paddock much to the joy of the fans and crew assembled at the Penske transporters. After hugging everyone in sight, Helio suited up for a seat fitting on the #3 car and prepared to practice.
Pit lane was packed with press and fans gawking and trying to get a snapshot of Helio. It was quite a scene.
After six months out of the car, Helio looked good in the first practice, posting some of the best times of the sessions. Meanwhile, at the end of pit late, Will Power and his newly appointed crew (a Grand Am Series crew according to reports) were shaking down, tuning up, and melting the asphalt with their new Verizon car. Later in the day, Will Power put that newly assembled car on pole for the race
Race day was hot. By 10:00 a.m., fans were already ducking for shade as temperatures pushed into the mid 90’s. The race attendance was strong on Friday and Saturday, and a huge crowd assembled along Shoreline to catch the start of the race.
Will Power led the field to the green flag, and led into turn one. Rafael Matos started from the third spot, but managed to get past Franchitti for second as the entire field made it through the start cleanly.
On lap 15, Mike Conway found the tires in turn 1, which brought out a local yellow. At the same time, Franchitti and Patrick pitted for their first stop ein what turned out to be a very fortunate move, especially for Danica. As the two were leaving the pits, EJ Viso caused a full course caution when he got tangled up with Scott Dixon in turn eight. Franchitti and Patrick, having just pitted right before the full course caution, cycled to the front of the field. From that point of the race, Patrick drove brilliantly and held on to finish fourth after starting 22nd on the grid.
The finishes for the entire Andretti-Green racing were better than expected, considering the terrible qualifying results. Tony Kanaan finshed third, and Marco Andretti drove well and used some excellent pit strategy to finish sixth after starting 19th AGR driver, Hideki Mutoh didn’t fare as well as his teammates. After getting caught up in a five car tangle in the hairpin on lap 24, Mutoh ran at the back the rest of the afternoon.
Justin Wilson, who finished third at St. Pete two weeks ago, was on track for another podium finish and was strong all weekend. However, he also was a victom of the lap 24 hairpin pileup, and his day was cut short.
The man of the hour, Helio Castroneves, never really threatened for the win, but ran in the top 10 all afternoon. Helio finished seventh. His teammate, Ryan Brisco, was having a fairly good race until he miscued and ran into the back of Scott Dixon under a full course yellow. Ryan served a penalty in the pits, and Scott Dixon was relegated to salvaging some sort of finish from the back of the field. Briscoe finished 13th, and Dixon finished 15th.
The Newman/Haas/Lanigan team of Graham Rahal and Bobby D. posted mixed results. Rahal ran as high as fifth, but later fell back do to a refueling problem on pit road. Doornbos finished ninth, and Rahal finished 13th.
But at the end of the day Dario Franchitti’s win was the punctuation mark on a fantastic weekend that was full of drama both on and off the track. The track at Long Beach doesn’t provide many passing opportunities on the track, but this crown jewel of American street racing has a special energy and excitement that makes it an incredible place for Indy Car to race.
For those who would like to see the race again, the VERSUS network will present an encore of Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on Monday April 20th, at 5 p.m. ET. In addition to Indy Car coverage on Monday, VERSUS will also air the Firestone Indy Lights race an hour ealier at 4 p.m ET.
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