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Long Beach Diary:
Day One
Rumor Has It

Long Beach, Calif., April 13 — I might as well get the bad news out of the way first: it's been a very slow news day here at the Beach. We started out from home too late to arrive for the impossibly early photographers' meeting at 6:15 A.M. (praise the Lord), but then we hear that there were some race officials who did not make it to the meeting, either. We cannot name those officials because, while we at Deep Throttle may on occasion bite the hand that feeds us, both literally and figuratively, we are not so stupid as to bite the hand that could deny us a credential for races. In this land of free (i.e., the unpaid journalists), a race credential is a valuable commodity even if you have to work your butt off to keep or maintain it. But, I digress.

As I was saying, it's a slow news day, not a lot happening, raining buckets for most of the day, much of the press huddled in the media center (figuratively, of course) and gossip of every kind is rife. While having breakfast at the Hyatt (our favorite place to have an overpriced meal) with our friend and fellow IT and race geek Lucille, we are seated next to Tony Kaanan and an attractive woman I later find out is Lauren Bohlander. Rumor has it that this pair is a couple and that she had something to do with his marriage breaking up. Turns out, that is untrue. TK is one hard working driver, and I have covered him for over 10 years now and a nicer and kinder man you cannot find in the paddock. What is true is that Tony’s marriage did not long survive the birth of his son, Leo, who is now 3 years old. With Leo in Brazil, it is no wonder if his dad found some companionship here in the States, although whether it's with the young lady I saw him with, I don't know. Nor is it mine or anyone else's business, but that is gossip for you.

The practice runs I saw today (or the trials, as my local newscaster Phillip Palmer calls them) were pretty much a yawn due to the rain and the wet and the cold. I remember a wet race one year while we were in Portland where I could barely see the cars. That was great fun, but Portland is a place well suited for racing in the rain. Not so Long Beach, a track best suited for sunshine and scantily clad women, the latter, according to my Editor, Russell.

The Indy Cars barely touched the track due to the timing of their sessions, the Pro-Celebrities (again, with no recognizable race car drivers as "pros" and only a handful of celebrities I recognize, one because she's a friend of my friend, Linda Kaari Predovskya) got some slow practice which ends up being their starting grid due to afternoon rain. The ALMS, with their liberal sprinkling of American drivers, seems to fare best of all the series, both because their initial practice coincides with the first rain of the day and how well adapted sports cars are for running in the wet.

Speaking of Americans, those who follow American drivers will have a busy weekend. During the Champ Car days, there were constant complaints about how few drivers in the series hailed from the good old US of A, which not so long ago had drivers who were mostly Brazilians and Canadians. Now that our favorite open wheel series has bit the dust (RIP, CCWS, 2009, sniff), rumor has it that the more the ICS is around, the more it is becoming like Champ Car, which we see as a good thing.

For those who love the Canadians, because our dear PT did not get a ride, we are down to two -- the veteran Alex Tagliani and second year driver, James Hinchcliffe, who replaces media star Danica Patrick as the driver, who is waggishly being called "Manica" and running around with a mop on his head, although not while driving. The ISC is obviously hoping that having veteran F1 star Rubens Barachello will save some media types from Patrick withdrawal. Joining this lauded Brazilian are veteran frenemies Helio Castroneves and the aforementioned Tony Kaanan. But I digress (notice a pattern here?).

Two of my personal favorite Americans now driving are ALMS GT stars Joey Hand, who drives for BMW, and the very red headed Mr. Patrick Long, piloting a Porsche as every young man I know wants to do. We sat at the table next to Pat Long at the Media Luncheon on Thursday and could see he is as dynamic off the track as on. Joey Hand, who unfortunately had to leave before they introduced the drivers, is a perfect foil for Long as their many on track duels attest. Fans should enjoy watching these two race down Shoreline Drive Saturday evening. Many of our racing friends are currently in the series, including Bruno Junqueira, Ryan Dalziel, Memo Gidley, and Townsend Bell. And most curiously, the ALMS was far better represented driver wise at the Media Luncheon than was Indy Car which is supposed to be the feature race. Last year, ICS drivers were sprinkled throughout the luncheon like parsley on a baked potato, a few at each table. In 2012, scarcely a third of their drivers were there, and none from Penske, whose drivers usually attend those things religiously.

Indy Lights, which threatened to be a nearly American series in 2011, has seen its participation costs balloon to $1 million per seat in 2012, which explains in part why the field has only 15 cars, and I guess our sucky economy explains why there are only two ILS drivers who are claiming to be American, Darryl Wills and Nick Andries. But, the bulk of the attention this year will likely go to Columbia's Sebastien Saavedra, who raced in the ICS for at least part of 2011, and Star Mazda champion, the Frenchman Tristan Vautier, who won the season opener at St. Petersburg. But stay tuned, sometimes there are more surprises in the junior formulas, even though there are less Americans than last year.

Americans now make up over one quarter of the Indy Car field, something that would have been unthinkable even five years ago. Since putting more American drivers in front of the American racing fan was always a stated goal of the IRL, and a desire of many respected motorsports journalists, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. At Long Beach, we can always expect a competitive run by Ryan Hunter-Reay, who began running in the premiere race with the short lived American Spirit Racing team. And the thin field of three rookies actually includes one American, Josef Newgarden, who runs for the ever popular Sarah Fisher’s team. Good luck to Josef, although we in the Davidson house would never bet against either our friend, Simon Pagenaud, the likely ROY winner, or for that matter, Katherine Legge, who we are glad to see returning to open wheel racing in the US.

Joining Ryan in the American ISC contingent are two members of US racing's elite families. Graham Rahal, whose inspired fund raising for the family of the late Dan Wheldon, returns for his second year with the Ganassi satellite team, still is looking for his first win with Chip. Marco Andretti could learn a thing from Grandpa Mario or two about being gracious to his fans returns again with daddy Michael's race team. Nice gig, that. Or he could learn from Ed Carpenter, who also comes from a racing family, with TRG for a step father, who we consider to be one of our up and coming American racers, and now is a team owner. Joining him are Camarillo's Charlie Kimball, who is the only ISC driver I regularly see in a TV commercial, and his Nor Cal opposite, JR Hildebrand, who we have covered for many years.

Rumor has it that there will be no rain tomorrow. Maybe Chris Pook, rumored to be behind the New Jersey F1 race, has amended that rumored contract with the devil so it doesn't rain here on race day. Until then, I'm off to the races!

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