Yoda would be shaking his head in disappointment if he saw the carnage at Barber, and I don’t mean to only point at the Firestone Indy Lights drivers. There was plenty of carbon fiber shrapnel in the IZOD IndyCar Series race as well. During the Firestone Indy Lights race, a number of cars capable of victory or at least a podium were taken out by silly, over-aggressive moves. Even the qualifying for the Indy Lights drivers was a bit chaotic. Josef Newgarden, who had been so strong in testing and at St. Petersburg, put up a time that would have placed him on the pole, but then spun off track later in the session triggering a full-course caution. By rule, that FCY negated his fastest time and he would start back in P7. That opened up the door for Team Moore’s Victor Garcia to take the pole position.
The mayhem began as soon as the starter waved the green flag. Many drivers, including Conor Daly in the #77 Sam Schmidt Motorsports machine, ran wide trying to gain spots in the fast downhill left of Turn 1. Tricky spot, that, and it shouldn’t be any surprise that grip with cold tires and a track that’s falling away from you was a scarce commodity. More chaos would insue as the field dove down into the infamous Turn 5 at Barber. Its widely agreed that Turn 5 offers the absolute best passing opportunity anywhere on the circuit. That also means its the location where drivers will be the most desperate to attempt an overtaking maneuver. Newgarden sought to climb his way back up to the front, but ended up turning teammate Esteban Guerrieri’s #7 machine which then went on to collect a third Sam Schmidt Motorsports car as Victor Carbone in the #3 car couldn’t avoid Guerrieri. Rule #1 of motorsports: Don’t take out your teammate. Rule #2 of motorsports: DON’T TAKE OUT YOUR TEAMMATE!
Unfortunately, we would seen numerous incidents the opening lap FAIL in T5 throughout the race and at various places around the circuit. As with the Star Mazda race previously, a cool head and controlled driving would pay dividends at the end of the race. Those who understood that were rewarded well with podium finishes.
“This was a great finish after being so sick all week prior to today. I knew it was going to be a difficult race for me, but I had to keep my nose clean and bring the car home without getting into trouble. You never know where you can end up but it feels great to be on the podium.” — Peter Dempsey, #36 O2 Racing Technology
Those who understood that control was paramount last weekend did well. Race winner Victor Garcia and Andretti Autosport’s Stephan Wilson both fought very hard for their P1 and P2 finishes, respectively, but also made sure to make no mistakes. Better to finish P2 keeping your nose clean than finishing P15 and racking up thousands of dollars in crash damage because you took a chance on a low-percentage maneuver. Long Beach is a really tight, technical street circuit where even small errors result in costly damages to race cars and results. If these drivers don’t reign in their aggression, we’ll see another demolition derby with more youngsters seeing their budgets go toward repairs instead of racing operations. Time to find your inner Jedi, guys! Time to heed Yoda’s words: Control!