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Views from race day at 40th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

As always, it was a beautiful day, with mild temperatures and mostly sunny skies. In fact, it’s never rained on the LBC come race day, although we’ve had rain on Friday and Saturday.

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The Who’s Roger Daltry was the lucky recipient of a two-seater ride with the legend, Mario Andretti. Here they are before the ride.

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Simona de Silvestro returned to Long Beach to visit friends – and she’s got plenty around here.

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The field gets underway, less Sebastian Saavedra who was helped to the start by the Holmatro Safety Team. Plenty of smoke from the tires – and look how far back eventual winner Mike Conway is!

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If you’ve ever wondered how close photographers get to the cars in Long Beach’s hairpin, now you know!

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I went back to the fountain turn (about a mile) to get some more pics of the cars coming through and managed to capture Ryan Hunter-Reay before his optimistic passing attempt right after this turn. What was he thinking?

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Note the use of the GoPro camera by the tire carrier, to help Carlos Huertas’ crew work on their pit stops for Dale Coyne Racing.

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Juan Pablo Montoya’s return to the Long Beach streets yielded a fourth place result. It helps to race somewhere he’s been before…

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Mike Conway exults after winning his second Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

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Carlos Munoz, Mike Conway and point leader Will Power on the podium with the ladies and their trophies

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Boys and their toys

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After drenching his crew on the other side of the podium, Conway takes off looking for the Chevrolet brass and his father and brother, who’d come to take in the race.

 

This was really a grand Long Beach race meeting. Sure there were problems – it’s racing, after all – and I’m still trying to figure out why RHR thought there was enough space in Turn 4 to pass Josef Newgarden. There’s barely enough space in that turn to, um, turn the car! And a few of the calls made by Race Control, including the lack of a wrist-slap for Hunter-Reay and Will Power, who nearly ended the day of former teammate Simon Pagenaud (he recovered to finish fifth) still have me scratching my head.

 

By Anne Proffit

 

Qualifying at the fountain turn – 40th TGPLB

A friend loaned me his 80-400 lens to try out during qualifying so I took the bait. Here’s a few shots from that part of the weekend. With commentary, of course!

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Okay, so I’m impressed with Carlos Huertas, signed by Dale Coyne during the St Pete weekend. He’s adapting very well to the Indy cars.

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2013 champion Scott Dixon didn’t take out any of the flowers but sure came close, didn’t he?

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It takes time to learn the Verizon IndyCar Series. Josef Newgarden is in his third year and he’s really looking good, making it to Firestone Fast Six qualifying this race.

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A winner at Long Beach three consecutive times, Sebastien Bourdais was the sold Chevrolet driver in the Firestone Fast Six

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Rookie Jack Hawksworth looked like a veteran most of the weekend. Unfortunately he was caught up in The Big One

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Eventual pole man Ryan Hunter-Reay approaches the fountain turn

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The Mayor of Hinchtown showing his talents around the flowerbeds

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This race marked Oriol Servia’s return to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing; he outqualified Graham Rahal by nine spots.

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After qualifying, Townsend Bell announced his Indianapolis 500 program with KV Racing.

 

Views from the pits at Long Beach – Friday morning

This year’s 40th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach marked my personal 40th race working the Roar by the Shore, which has become my home. I live just three short blocks from the circuit. I spent a lot of time walking the track this weekend and taking photographs. Thanks to the great staff at INDYCAR, I was able to wander the pits on Friday morning during practice and this is what I found:

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The Legend, AJ Foyt atop the timing stand for Takuma Sato… unfortunately, he wasn’t able to be there in 2013 when Taku won.

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INDYCAR set up a box at the end of the Verizon IndyCar Series pits for drivers to practice their standing starts. Here, 2013 champion Scott Dixon takes a stab when the red lights are extinguished.

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Graham Rahal didn’t have the weekend he was hoping for at Long Beach after finishing second last year.

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Rookie Jack Hawksworth made the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying, which made team co-owner Bryan Herta rather happy (see below)

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One happy team owner, Bryan Herta.

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You might not have guessed Mike Conway would win his second Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach after practice and qualifying, but he took advantage of others’ misfortunes and came home with the ultimate prize for Ed Carpenter Racing. Bravo!

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Since Conway has elected to run road and street courses only, JR Hildebrand takes over the second ECR entry at the 98th Indianapolis 500

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Mikhail Aleshin is taking to the Indy cars quite nicely. He finished 6th on Sunday.Image

Tony Kanaan during practice for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, about to discuss setups with the team led by Chris Simmons, a former Indy Lights standout!

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Helio Castroneves ponders his next move…Image

Don “The Snake” Prudhomme is very active in Indy car racing, learning the craft with Chip Ganassi Racing

IMSA and the control tower

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The Chip Ganassi Racing No. 01 Ford/Riley won the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring – Anne Proffit photo

I’ve had to think about this a few days and take it in. The 62nd Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring seemed less a sporting endeavor than a war of wills (without a winner) and I’m not exactly certain how to react to it yet.

Is it time for me to cut Scot Elkins some slack after lambasting him and IMSA following the Rolex 24 at Daytona? After all, it’s a tough job to make rules for a new series and to enforce them properly, even with more than 18 months lead time.

Unfortunately for IMSA, officiating at the TUDOR United Sports Car Championship race at Sebring turned out to be more of the same slop as Daytona.

Balance of Performance dictates didn’t get posted to teams until the Friday night before race week, well after engine manufacturers had completed their preparations for the race and shipped product to teams. In different categories, cars gained or lost sonic restrictor sizes, gained or lost weight, had fuel cells made larger or smaller, depending on the results after the Rolex 24 at Daytona and an open test in Sebring. These BoP made for extra work for the engineers, mechanics and fabricators, even as they prepped for a pre-race test session – the day after rules were posted.

Qualifying went to perfection for Daytona’s winners, Action Express Racing’s Corvette DP, thanks to an in-the-zone lap by the remarkable Sebastien Bourdais. This despite the problems of making it through the track’s turn 5, which must have had some debris on it – either that or every Prototype driver was really trying that hard! Photographing in the area, I saw most everyone go off-circuit during the final, of four qualifying sessions that set the grid for the 10:15AM Saturday start to the race.
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Pole winner Action Express Racing’s Corvette DP took an off-track excursion as popular turn 5 – Anne Proffit photo
As it was, the first half of this traditional spring break party cum race was a festival of caution periods. There were 11 full-course yellows in 12 hours and a single red flag, removing at least five hours of actual racing time from the docket.

With driving talents all over the map and 63 cars on the challenging, bumpy 3.74-mile Sebring circuit, a clean race was not expected. But when the first PC car beached itself at the fifth turn shortly after the start and an unnecessary full-course caution ensued, the die was cast.

In its latest guise, IMSA decided to do away with American Le Mans Series’ (ALMS) dedicated safety team in favor of locals, much like NASCAR does. It didn’t work well at Daytona and it certainly didn’t work well here. A broken driveshaft that hit the fuel line on the No. 33 GTD Viper, rending it an inferno during the first hour took forever to be handled, with billowing black smoke coating the air. The clean-up looked like amateur hour. This is no way to produce a racing series, in my opinion.

Matteo Malucelli’s return to circuit after a first-turn off destroyed another one of Giuseppe Risi’s Ferrari F458 Italia GTLM race cars; his actions are ripe for probation at the very least – but IMSA hasn’t seen fit to produce even a hand-slap as of yet. Not good!
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Can you tell the difference between the Porsche factory GTLM car and the GTD entry of Alex Job Racing? It’s fairly easy – but not for IMSA – Anne Proffit photos

Much later in the event, poor Alex Job, one of the most honorable racers on this planet and marking a quarter-century of Sebring entries, received a penalty for his No. 22 Porsche GTD car that belonged to the [winning GTLM] Porsche, the No. 912 AND to its stablemate, the No. 911, for “avoidable contact” in which the No. 22 was not involved. He bitched about it and Scot Elkins said, “I’m sorry but there’s nothing in the rules that allows me to reverse that penalty.” Horse manure.

It’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback but it’s clear that mistakes were made – admitted by Elkins – so the hierarchy at IMSA needs to have many meetings with its officials and get this mess straightened out. Before Long Beach and certainly prior to the race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in early May.

As a writer and photographer at races across this country and occasionally overseas, I’ve seen the best and worst of officiating. This group is definitely overdoing it; it’s my opinion that the best officials are those that aren’t seen or heard on a regular basis.

One official that’s learning what it’s like to be on the other side of the fence in Beaux Barfield, chief steward for the Verizon IndyCar Series. He was working at Daytona and Sebring as team strategist and got to see the horror show from the pit/paddock perspective, rather than the control tower. It would be interesting to ask Barfield if he’s got a different perspective after these two races being on the other side of the fence?

So here we are, back to square one. No, I’m cutting Elkins, Paul Walter and anyone else who’ll admit they were part of race control for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring (presented by Fresh from Florida) any slack.

It might have been fun for everyone watching (and certainly less expensive than this endeavor has been to date for teams) to have all cars run to their 2013 ALMS and/or Grand-Am rules in the first three races, the 24-hour race at Daytona, the 12-hour contest on Sebring’s former airport runways and the sprint race scheduled next month for the city streets at Long Beach.

That way Elkins and his cohorts would have known and understood how these cars race together and made calculated changes to their former sporting rules in order to have them interact in a more sensible fashion.

Changing rules on a minute-by-minute basis so close to race-dates, failing to recognize the differences between a GTLM and GTD Porsche during an event, casting away a great safety team to use untrained and inexperienced local responders, calling full-course cautions when a waving yellow at an incident scene would suffice – all of these travesties and more are why I’m disappointed with the first two races I’ve worked. I’m hoping for better at Long Beach, but then, I’m a hopeless optimist.

One other thing: half a week after the race, IMSA still hasn’t produced an official box score for the race. They didn’t have one for Daytona (held January 25-26) until February 8th. Even NASCAR posts official box scores a day or two following competition. What’s the problem?

By Anne Proffit

Should F1 return to Long Beach?

Here’s a warning to the Long Beach city council: be mindful of an extremely short man with flowing gray/white hair. Bernard Charles Ecclestone will bleed you of money and laugh all the way to HIS bank.

Next Tuesday, the city council in this city, which is preparing to host the 40th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach April 11-13, will consider whether to automatically extend the current contract beyond 2015 for another five years. This contract lies with the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach (GPALB) and its head Jim Michaelian. It can also consider a request for proposal (RFP) that would include the possibility of bringing back Formula 1 to these city streets.

F1 lived here from March of 1976 through 1983, following an initial co-sanctioned late September 1975 SCCA/USAC Formula 5000 race. The initial years of the F1 race were financially precarious – and that’s being kind. Most years, until Toyota came on-board 35 years ago to become the naming sponsor at Long Beach, it was touch-and-go as to whether sanction fees would be paid and if the race would actually go on.

Former travel agent Chris Pook gets the bulk of credit for bringing racing to the moribund, former Navy town of Long Beach, where strip bars, nasty movie houses and tattoo parlors lined now pristine Ocean Blvd. He had some heavy hitters working with him like Dan Gurney and Phil Hill, both of whom raced in F1 (Hill was the 1961 champion). With their help, in some cases physically as everyone pitched in to get the circuit built in time for the 1975 contest, the show made it to the road. Michaelian, who has been with the race since it started, knows the history well and, for that reason, he’s not a fan of an F1 return.

Why not? In a word, money. The costs of putting on an F1 race are prohibitive these days; not that it wasn’t in the middle to late 1970s and into the 1980s, but now this race will break a city trying very hard to get back on its feet after the Great Recession. Until recently, Long Beach had a horrible deficit (like most California cities, after the state bled their funding capacity), which was erased by the current mayor on the backs of cuts for police, fire, education, public safety and the arts.

To go forward with an F1 race now – and maybe any time – would break the bank.

Long Beach has been making money with CART, Champ Car, IRL, IndyCar since it changed horses in 1984. The costs to produce and promote F1 would be multiplied at least four-square and the returns would be extremely small by comparison.

F1 requires permanent garages and there is nowhere near the current circuit where those can be built; F1 requires a billiard table raceway – these city streets aren’t good enough for that now and the city has been lax in repairing its infrastructure during these dismal financial times. F1 requires grand hotels – and we’ve got a few here, but certainly not enough within the general area to satisfy Mr Ecclestone and his thousands of circus-mates.

There will be a closed-door session of the city council to discuss the matter this coming Tuesday, March 4. Michaelian explained to the Long Beach Press-Telegram, “What will transpire Tuesday night is that the city council will vote on whether they wish to issue an RFP to determine whether Long Beach will continue with the IndyCar weekend and with the [GPALB], or consider another party that wants to conduct a Formula 1 race. We are asking the city to extend this very productive relationship for another five years if the RFP is denied.”

Pook, who is an advisor to Mr Ecclestone, is part of the group looking to return F1 to what was once known as Iowa by the Sea. While it’s true the city has been, as the paper put it, “modernized and revitalized by auto racing,” this change has not been at great cost to city hall.

There is a current F1 race at Circuit of the Americas outside Austin, Texas, a purpose-built facility for F1 (at over $345 million); racer Leo Hindery has been trying to placate Mr Ecclestone’s desire for a New York City backdrop on F1 with an event at Port Imperial which seems to be stillborn after being on the provisional calendar from 2012 through this year but failing to make the bell at Port Imperial, New Jersey.

As one who has worked every single Long Beach race – and I live two blocks from the former Linden Leap where James Hunt drove over half the field in the first turn – I think this idea has more machinations behind it than is immediately evident. I realize Mr Ecclestone was not happy about Long Beach leaving the F1 scene and he’s got a bone to pick with this town. He’s using Pook as his representative, thinking the city council will do whatever Pook says is right.

They shouldn’t. Mr Ecclestone, an 83-year-old man who is under indictment in Germany right now and fighting court battles left and right over his financial dealings, is looking to pad his pockets even further. While Pook told the Press-Telegram that “this market is very important to him,” I’m not sure he’s on the up-and-up. And I don’t know all the financial details, but I’m figuring it would take nearly $100,000,000 to get the race started in Long Beach and, at minimum $25 million to keep it going every year.

“We’ve always met or exceeded our commitment to the city and we’ve continued to be a substantial contributor to the overall economy of Long Beach,” Michaelian said. I sure hope it continues that way.

By Anne Proffit

Alexis DeJoria wins in Phoenix

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Anne Proffit photo

Racing is the only type of sport I can think of where men and women can – and do – compete at the same level.

This is true especially in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, where being a female driver isn’t a quirk at all. Witness the success of three-time Top Fuel champion Shirley Muldowney, Shelly Anderson, Melanie Troxel, three women named Force (Ashley, Brittany – who raced to her first final at Phoenix last Sunday – and Courtney), Erica Enders-Stevens, Leah Pritchett – and now first-time pro Funny Car winner Alexis DeJoria.

DeJoria is in her third season of professional competition and went to only her second final round in the 30th annual Carquest Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsport Park on Sunday. After becoming the first woman to race a Funny Car in less than 4 seconds at the season opener in Pomona two weeks earlier in her Toyota Camry, DeJoria served notice with four good qualifying attempts on Friday and Saturday.

She was one of a very few drivers to register consistent times on the newly resurfaced Phoenix-area drag strip, one that has new promoters anxious to make the NHRA drag racers feel at home. The new surface presented unique challenges for the tuners that prepare these cars for battle, as they have to harness as much as 10,000 horsepower to keep a machine churning down a 1,000-foot drag strip.

For Tommy DeLago, the victory was one that he needed after not standing in NHRA’s Winner’s Circle since tuning Matt Hagan to his 2011 Funny Car championship. DeLago, an intense and hands-on safety activist in the NHRA paddock, never lost his ability to tune; he just didn’t have the right surroundings to activate his talent.

He’s found it with Kalitta Motorsports, a family operation based out of deepest, coldest Ypsilanti, Michigan – far from most Brownsburg, Indiana based teams – and its pair of Funny Car and Top Fuel entries. Tuning Alexis DeJoria, DeLago is now back on-stride and it’s evident in his his body language and his smile.
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As for DeJoria, a winner in the Top Alcohol Funny Car ranks, well, she’s quietly emerged as a true competitor in Funny Car. What started out as looking more like PR for her father’s Patron Spirits tequila brand has morphed into a truly professional operation with Alexis herself showing the way.

DeJoria got her chops by working with now-teammate Del Worsham in her first year of Funny Car. Worsham, who had stepped out of the driver’s seat after winning the Top Fuel championship with Al-Anabi Racing in 2011, taught Alexis a lot about driving one of these beasts which, by virtue of their shorter wheelbase than the dragsters and their drag inducing bodies are truly a race car that must be manhandled, to use a tired phrase. It was a good task for a strong woman – and Alexis DeJoria fits that bill.

Now she finds herself with a Funny Car Wally trophy, becoming the 90th NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car winner, the fourth female Funny Car driver to win in the category and the first woman to win in both Funny Car and Top Alcohol Funny Car. I have a feeling it won’t be the last time she’s hoisting a Wally over her head, as Alex DeJoria is focused on her work and achieving joy in her success.

By Anne Proffit

Villeneuve’s Indy 500 return finally official

While the news of French-Canadian CART and Formula 1 champion Jacques Villeneuve’s return to the Indianapolis 500 has been floating about over the past week, it wasn’t until Wednesday, Feb 26 that the news became official. The 1995 Indy 500 winner joins Schmidt Peterson Motorsports as a third entry for the 98th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. He joins season regulars Simon Pagenaud and Mikhail Aleshin on the Indy-based team.

While not on hand for the announcement as he prepares to race in the upcoming FIA World Rallycross Championship, Villeneuve participated in a teleconference through the magic of video. Villeneuve has only two starts on the Brickyard’s iconic 2.5-mile oval: he finished second as a rookie (winning rookie of the year honors along the way) and won the race in his second try, coming from two laps back to drink his milk, after Scott Goodyear passed the pace vehicle and declined to pit, rendering his entry disqualified.

Citing “memories I have there will stay with me for the rest of my life,” Villeneuve declared he’s “excited to create new memories in 2014.” It’s been 20 years since Villeneuve drove an Indy car on an oval and 21 since his first time at the track. In the ‘90s Villeneuve drove a Ford-powered car on Goodyear tires; he’s about to step into one of Honda’s twin-turbocharged V-6 Indy cars shod on Firestone Firehawk rubber when it’s time for his refresher course.

HIs FIA World Rallycross Championship team, Albatec Racing released Villeneuve to work the race even as it clashes with the Lydden Hill round of the campaign on the same day as Indianapolis. Albatec Racing will allow Villeneuve to come to the US after he competes in his World Rallycross debut at Montalegre the weekend of May 3-4, which means, should he want, Villeneuve could actually do the Indy double, competing on the road course the following weekend. (He professed not to know anything about that race during the teleconference)

With his entry, Villeneuve adds his name with former Indy 500 champs on the current entry list, joining Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Juan Pablo Montoya, Tony Kanaan and, presumably Buddy Lazier in the Memorial Day classic.

“I’ve been trying to get back to those memories, to the speed of driving on that track on the edge,” Villeneuve said. “There is no other form of racing that has that level of excitement” that Indianapolis produces. “It is the biggest race event in the world.”

The agreement between Villeneuve and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has been very quick in coming together – in just a few weeks, Villeneuve said – and for him, “It happened at the right time. I’ve been watching IndyCar last year and certainly it’s very exciting with the new cars. I was jealous I wasn’t racing,” although he’s been active since leaving CART after his 1995 championship season, racing in Formula 1, NASCAR, off-road and now rallycross. “I wasn’t considering going back to something I’d already done but it seems that IndyCar is going back to its glory days with exciting racing, a great field of drivers that are more impressive every year.

What Villeneuve always enjoyed about his open-wheel experience hasn’t been part of F1 – or even IndyCar – until recently. “The cars look fast, they’re aggressive and difficult to drive – what I love about racing.” As this agreement came together quite quickly, neither the SSM team nor its newest driver have figured out what their testing schedule might be for the 500-mile race.

Villeneuve thinks his bigger adjustments will be getting used to the downforce and the stiffness of the open wheel Indy car after driving cars over the past few years that don’t offer the same type of experience. The power level? “I’ll get used to it,” he said. He also said the track time afforded all drivers at Indianapolis will help him get acclimated. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been on the racetrack but it feels like yesterday.”

The addition of a third car is a big step for owner Sam Schmidt, who first entered the IndyCar Series in 2011 and had a fifth place series result in 2012. Last year with Pagenaud (and rookie Tristan Vautier), the team earned third in the championship as well as winning two contests with Pagenaud at the wheel. For Canadian co-owner Ric Peterson, having Villeneuve on the team is a dream. “The Villeneuve name is synonymous with winning and this is very special. I watched Jacques from Formula Atlantic through Formula 1 and, with a few other Canadians employees on the team, we’re especially excited.”

By Anne Proffit

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