The HOLLYWOOD sign as HINCHTOWN – a clever application of Photoshop if ever there was one – only served as a cagey epilogue to the news surrounding James Hinchcliffe's win at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Take a quick spin through the weekend's headlines. Simon Pagenaud called his last-to-fifth effort one of the best races of his career. Rookie Ed Jones continued to impress, this time with a sixth-place effort. Will Power and Charlie Kimball traded blame over their incident. Scott Dixon wasn’t happy about a strategy miscue.
There was more. Gabby Chaves will join newcomer Harding Racing in the Indy 500. Jack Harvey also will enter the race with Andretti Autosport, as well as Zach Veach with AJ Foyt Racing. And Sebastien Bourdais has a 19-point lead in the championship two races into the season.
The underlying theme of all this news from California? The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season is going to be atypical. In terms of competition, intrigue and suspense, this season, while still in its infancy, holds possibilities we didn't foresee.
It starts with Hinchcliffe, whose fifth career victory wasn’t as surprising as it was flawless. He's always been strong at Long Beach, but this was the one he and his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports crew knew they could deliver. They did so without stumbling.
It continues with Bourdais, whose deft runner-up finish had some people wondering if he already is thinking of a championship. (Hint: He has, and he should.)
It moves forward to Josef Newgarden and his first podium with Team Penske. From there, we see the brilliance of Pagenaud's climb through the field. All of it points to the depth and quality of the series' current players.
“It just highlights how competitive the Verizon IndyCar Series is,” Hinchcliffe said. “To have (Bourdais) come from last to first, the smallest team on the grid, winning in St. Pete. (A) smaller two-car team (Schmidt Peterson with Hinchcliffe) winning in Race 2, that same guy (Bourdais) is finishing second. It just shows how competitive it is.
“The big teams, sure, I think they do have an advantage. It's so tight that any advantage is small. On race day, one little thing not going your way is going to pretty much ruin your day. You have to execute perfect on Sunday. That's what I love about this series, is that anybody can win. It's not Formula One. There's not two guys that are going to win every race.
“It is truly a championship where you show up to any given round, any given driver in the field can leave with the win that day.”
If we learned anything from Hinchcliffe’s success at Long Beach – and from Bourdais’ runner-up finish – it’s that this season won’t give us reason to forecast the norm. Or much of anything else.
Certainly, the teams and drivers we expect to be winning eventually will win again. After all, it’s uncommon for one four-car team to lose all of its entries – all fast, by the way – to mechanical issues the way Andretti Autosport did at Long Beach. It’s also uncommon for the fastest car in the field (Pagenaud) to start at the back because of a penalty in qualifying.
But if there was a sign from Long Beach that stood out as much as HINCHTOWN on a hill, it was this: 2017 won't be what we thought it would be. It could be even better.