PRUETT: Rossi's 85-lap knockout and more Long Beach reflections

Image by Scott LePage/LAT

PRUETT: Rossi's 85-lap knockout and more Long Beach reflections

Insights & Analysis

PRUETT: Rossi's 85-lap knockout and more Long Beach reflections


The end of the world

I wanted nothing more than to watch Mike Tyson, the bruising superstar of boxing, live via pay per view. It was 1987 or so; the concept of PPV through cable was a newish experience to consider; and, as a big Tyson fan, I was dying to see the knockout artist in real time. As a junior in high school, the only issue I faced was a lack of money: I needed a friend to cover the other half of the PPV.

After laying out my impassioned proposal, that friend left me with a response I’ve never forgotten: “Why would I pay to watch a 30-second fight?”

That exchange came to mind after the first few laps of Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix at Long Beach, once it became clear Alexander Rossi had commenced an “ass-whipping party,” as Sebastien Bourdais deemed it in RACER’s post-race video report.

If you were looking for sustained action, it came and went with the Turn 1 pileup at the water fountain. Minus a few caution periods to give teams an opportunity to try alternate pit-stop strategies, the race ended more or less as it began.

It was all Rossi, from beginning to end, and from a flurry of input via social media, including one bombastic commenter who wrote “terrible day for the series, though — dreadfully boring race, barely any overtakes, no real incidences and yet everyone raved about Long Beach producing great racing,” it clearly failed to entertain. That part was obvious.

And that’s probably why the Tyson PPV exchanged popped into my head. Yes, there was a very real possibility the fight would be over moments after the bell rang to start Round 1, but there was also no guarantee it would play out that way. Wanting to see Tyson, and his opponent, and if drama or an upset would happen, justified the costs — for me, at least.

Sunday, Rossi delivered an 85-lap knockout. Drama and upsets were missing altogether. But to suggest it was a “terrible day for the series” is lacking all manner of context. One snoozer from the first four races — with 13 more to come — should not be a cause for panic.

If it happens repeatedly over the remaining rounds, we’ll have something to talk about. Until then, it’s one forgettable race (for all but Rossi and his team).

Swede speed

Felix Rosenqvist and Marcus Ericsson might be the two most recognizable Swedish imports to grace the NTT IndyCar Series this season, but they aren’t the only products from Sweden making an impact early in the 2019 championship.

Having seen a fleeting glimpse of them at St. Petersburg (but not enough to fully process what I’d observed), and gotten another look on pit lane at Long Beach, it appears Team Penske has taken the unexpected path of using something other than its coveted homemade Penske dampers during the first two IndyCar street course events.

Dampers on the Penskes carried a different “Made in …” stamp. Image by Ohlins

I can’t speak to COTA or Barber, but at least for the bumpy city roads in Florida and California, Penske’s big uptick in street course performances certainly had something to do with bolting dampers made by Sweden’s Ohlins onto its trio of Chevy-powered Dallara DW12s.

Citing a need to make gains with its street course package coming into the new season, the shocking (bad pun intended) move to something other than its exclusive Penske dampers has paid off with a pole by Will Power and win by Josef Newgarden at St. Pete, plus having all three drivers qualify inside the Firestone Fast Six at Long Beach where Newgarden delivered a fine second-place performance.

There are tons of customization options to be made inside those Ohlins, so it’s hard to say whether the Penske-owned units are heavily modified or mostly stock. But either way, whatever they’re doing appears to be an improvement.

We’ve seen Penske turn away from its home-built products in the past, most recently with its 1999 CART chassis after the PC27 model proved incapable of keeping up with the Reynard 99i, which says a lot about the humility found within the team.

With the goal of winning as its only mission, hitting the pause button on Penske’s coveted dampers — on street courses, at least — is another sign that, for The Captain, success comes before pride.

Is the Silly Season already here?

The most frequent rumor being whispered within the Long Beach IndyCar paddock involved talks between Alexander Rossi and Roger Penske regarding 2020. Like many rumors — at least the ones that aren’t completely far-fetched — there’s often a kernel of truth to be found among the noise.

After his first or second race in 2016 as a rookie for Andretti Autosport, I wrote that Rossi would be a Penske driver before long, and it didn’t require much brainpower to imagine that scenario.

His speed and potential were clear for all to see, and with his demure, buttoned-down approach to the sport, Rossi looked like he was made in a Penske laboratory. Well-spoken and crisply presented, anyone could see the Californian would soon draw the interest of IndyCar’s most successful team.

There were rumors it would happen after his first contract with Andretti was winding down, but in that instance he opted to stay with the Honda-powered team as part of a new, two-year deal announced toward the end of the 2017 championship.

Just as there’s no guarantee he’ll leave Andretti for Penske in 2020, there’s also no guarantee he won’t. What’s different between his last window of availability and today’s is his role as a member of the Acura Team Penske IMSA DPi program. Joining forces with Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor, Rossi wheels the No. 7 Acura ARX-05 at IMSA’s longest races. He’s mightily impressed the team in his first two outing at the Rolex 24 At Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

Rossi has been a letter-perfect addition to Penske’s IMSA Acura program. Image by Michael Levitt/LAT

For those who follow IndyCar and IMSA, you might recall Penske invited Taylor, the young sports car champion, to test Simon Pagenaud’s Chevy Indy car in 2017 to “help” the team with fresh input on changes to its braking package. That “help” also gave Penske a chance to evaluate Taylor, who was signed later in the year to drive one of the incoming Acura DPis.

It might not be a stretch to suggest that with Rossi signed to drive one of Penske’s sports cars, the team has evaluated and confirmed the value of having the 27-year-old expand his services in 2020 to include one of its Indy cars.