Overheard in Long Beach - Saturday (UPDATED) UPDATE #2 We rumored (below) last Saturday that Conor Daly would sign with the ART team in GP3 for this year. That announcement was made today - see Hot News.
04/20/13 We forgot to mention, rumor has it that Honda has been able to step up their performance in IndyCar by increasing the exhaust manifold temperature. Not sure how they did that, but the engine appears to have more power pulling off the corners than it did before. The top six drivers show three in Hondas and three with Chevy power, so it does not get more equal than that. However, we also hear that Honda made the wall of the exhaust manifold thinner, but that has led to some cracked manifolds.
04/20/13 The Toyota Pro/Celebrity race had the smallest crowd we have seen in years today, probably because some of the stars are not as famous as in previous years, and the 'Pro' drivers were Olympic stars and Military Medal of Honor Winners and not real road racing stars. The promoter is looking for a sponsor for the Pro/Celebrity race. After many years Toyota wants to take a step back - they will still provide the cars and at track equipment but they want to step back from the race promotion and bringing in the celebrities.
We asked Justin Wilson what caused his accident yesterday in the 2nd practice session. He told AR1.com, "There is a about six feet between the concrete wall and the curb. I kept trying to take more and more of the curb (cutting the corner) and I was gaining lap time. So I figured I would try putting all four wheels inside the curb. Well that didn't work. The entire front end got off the ground. Of course then I could not turn and went straight into the wall. That broke the left front corner off, but then Simona de Silvestro hit my right rear and that resulted in more damage to the car then the left front."
Speaking of Wilson, his brother Stefan, who is still trying to put a deal together for an IndyCar ride, is doing pit lane commentary for the IndyCar Radio network this weekend.
On the TV front there is a rumor going around that IndyCar may try to renegotiate their TV contract with ABC to give them right of first refusal rather than being the exclusive network TV partner. That would allow NBC Sports Network to move some races to network TV, assuming they could sell the TV ad time. That would help the overall average TV rating for the series. If ABC were smart they would recognize that a 'rising tide raises all ships' and approve the revised deal.
Rumor has it that Conor Day has done a deal with the ART GP3 team and an announcement will happen soon.
Michael Andretti was asked to comment on the 2013 season to date and why the improvement over last year's start. It’s really going great. We just focused on building on the momentum from last year with the championship. At the end of the year, we were really excited because when we sat down and looked at it, there was really a lot of room for improvement with the team. I think we made a lot of great changes over the winter that are affecting the results we are getting now. One of the goals was to get all four cars more competitive. Ryan (Hunter-Reay) was the guy that seemed to stand out most last year, so we wanted to get a little more consistency with the other guys. Hopefully we can continue to improve. We are involved with a lot of series and race promotions, but one thing you will not see us cutting is R&D. You have to win races, said Andretti"
(About Firestone Indy Lights drivers Carlos Munoz and Zach Veach): “I’m really excited about them. Carlos (Munoz), if you watched him throughout last year, just got better and better and you just knew at the end of the year that he was going to be a major contender for the title for this year. He’s not letting us down. He’s been quickest everywhere. Really should have won the first race, but had a problem with getting a penalty. He dominated the last race (at Barber Motorsports Park). We had his first test in an (IZOD IndyCar Series car) at Texas and he did an awesome job. I think he’s going to turn a lot of heads at Indianapolis this year. Zach, I’m really proud of. That kid just keeps getting better and better, as well. He doesn’t have a ton of experience, but he keeps working at it and gets better and better. Our goal is to get him in the top three this year and go for the championship next year and get him into (IZOD IndyCar Series) as well along the same program that we’re doing with Carlos."
(About Marco Andretti’s improvement): “He really needs to just keep doing what he’s doing. He’s really focused. He’s really working hard. He’s in the truck studying the data between all the cars and all the drivers to see where he’s weak and where he can try to improve. That’s how all these guys do it. It’s no secret. It’s a lot of hard work. You’re talking about hundredths of a second, not tenths, anymore. He’s doing a good job. You can see the progression. He’s not there yet, but he’s improved a lot. He’s halfway there, but as the year goes on, if he continues to keep working on it, he’s going to be winning some races."
When asked about the University/school tie-in with IndyCar as a way to reach a younger crowd, Andretti said, "We all agree that we have to reach a younger fan base, and although the university idea sounds good on paper, I am not sure if it will work. IndyCar would have to layout a well defined program before teams can approach schools."
When asked about the status of the Fort Lauderdale race, he said, "We are looking at a lot of different things. We did do some searching down there. It's still a long way off if it were to happen. We are not giving up on it, but there is still a lot of work to be done there. We are also looking at some other deals that I can't talk about, but hopefully if they were to come about it would be really pretty exciting things. We are always out there looking for new venues."
We asked him what his thoughts were on starting the IndyCar season early and ending by Labor Day weekend on the Indy road course. "It's a tough one. I think they have done some research and they think it could be fairly successful. They know better than me. If they feel that you know I'm there to support whatever we think we can do to make the series better. I'm okay with it. I think if you talk about tradition I think there has been a lot of tradition broken there anyway. I think we cannot forget that our core fans are in that area. If we can draw say 100,000 for that race that would be huge. That could end up being our second biggest race of the year. If those sort of things are possible then why not do it.
"As for starting the season earlier I think that is smart because there are so many nice areas that you can start. I think you can start the season in February. I think in terms of competition on TV I think it is a lot better. You are not up against football. I think also though, we always talk about football. I think that is a bit of a cop out in some ways because I can't say that some of our ratings are any better this time of year than they are later in the year. I don't know if I agree with that 100 percent. I do think having a six month off season is not good, but I mean say if they were able to do a mini-series in that six months, say an international series I would be all for that. I think that would be awesome, which I know they have been talking about things like that. That to me would be something that I think all the teams would get behind."
He did say they are adding another race to the Milwaukee Indyfest weekend - a Pro Mazda event, and they will continue the carnival setup in the infield. "It's going really well. We are going to be adding another race. We are going to have the Mazda's there, the Pro Mazda Series, which I think is going to be great. They always do a nice job on the ovals. We are going to really focus again like we did last year on the festival atmosphere so the infield is going to hopefully be jumping like it was last year. We are going to be adding hopefully some more new things and exciting things for people to do. We are working on the band situation which I think we will be announcing in a couple of weeks and some other exciting things. We are excited about it. It's nice to have a little time to prepare and hopefully we will be a little bit better prepared than we were last year."
And what is Michael Andretti's favorite Long Beach memory? "That is a tough one because I have had great memories here. It probably has to be my first win. The first win is always special. The way we won it was great. Al (Unser) Jr. made us work for that really hard there. We just went at it good old fashion racing. I would say probably the first one."
Andretti said he would love to see the series return to Road America, but it has to work financially. "I don't know. I'm not the one to ask. I love Road America. I'm all for it if it can make sense financially for everybody including Road America. I think it would be great. It's just one of the nicest race tracks not only in the United States, but in the world. I know there is not a driver out there that wouldn't love to be racing there. There is not a team owner that wouldn't want to be up there. We are all for it if it could make sense financially."
Former Champ Car driver from Mexico, Michel Jourdain Jr., is here and rumor has it that he is close to announcing a deal for the Indy 500.
Rumor has it that a new sport drink will soon be announced called SOS+ and Scott Dixon will be a spokesperson for it.
Standing there listening to the Indycars power down shoreline drive in qualifying one cannot help but notice how quiet they are. No excitement at all. with the old Champ Cars the ground used to shake. The most successful forms of motorsports are all extremely loud - F1, NASCAR and NHRA. Noise is king in racing. Mark C. reporting from Long Beach