The set up for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach IndyCar race – ultimately won by Will Power – promised something interesting. All Chevy-powered cars were penalized 10 spots from qualifying due to unauthorized – but evidently necessary – engine changes. IndyCar rules mandate a 10 spot penalty for an unauthorized engine swap. Chevrolet’s decision was prompted by the failure of James Hinchcliffe’s engine during a practice session at Infineon prior to the start of Long Beach festivities. Apparently, the replacement engines are the same spec, and there has been speculation that fuel detonation (AKA knocking) was the problem.
With that backdrop, Parnelli Jones gave that famous command for the drivers to start their engines. The excitement started shortly after the green flag as Josef Newgarden attempted an outside pass on pole-sitter Dario Franchitti at Turn 1, clipped Dario’s right front, and slid into the tire barriers. Full course yellow before lap 1 complete! On the restart, Justin Wilson made a successful Turn 1 pass on Franchitti, which began Dario’s slide over the next several laps. Simon Pagenaud, Takuma Sato, and Scott Dixon passed Franchitti in succession while Justin Wilson was simply running away from the field.
On lap 20, Sebastien Bourdais, former four time Champ Car Champion skidded into the Turn 9 tire barriers after having moved up 5 positions from his last row starting spot. Wilson took the opportunity to dive into the pits and changed from red to black tires. Franchitti had a horrible restart on lap 23, and Sato took the lead. Shortly after the restart, EJ Viso tangled with Alex Tagliani, causing Tagliani to pit for an extended repair. Viso was later penalized with a drive thru penalty. Later on lap 23, Marco Andretti hit the Turn 8 tire wall in a violent crash that brought out another full course yellow. Marco had been making a run on Graham Rahal, and as Rahal moved right slightly to defend, Andretti’s left front tagged Rahal’s right rear. The resulting collision launched Andretti into an airborne 360 degree spin – taking out Rahal’s rear wing – before slamming into the barriers. While the cars circled under yellow, Bourdais rejoined the race and Dixon left it. Dixon’s car simply quit on the approach to Turn 8, not far from where Andretti and Rahal collided.
The top 5 on the lap 30 restart were Briscoe, Franchitti, Castroneves, Wilson, & Pagenaud. Even though Dario was struggling thru the first third of the race, he was still near the front. Dario, Helio, & Will Power pitted on lap 34, leaving Pagenaud in the lead with Kanaan in second and Wilson third on lap 35. By lap 40, Power was pushing James Jakes hard for fifth place, and on lap 41, he completed a Turn 1 pass. Pagenaud was in first and Wilson second as Kanaan pitted.
With 40 laps to go, Pagenaud was still in the lead, but needed to save some fuel. Wilson was still hanging on in second on his blacks; Sato was third. Will Power had managed to fight his way to fourth from twelfth. Rubens Barrichello was all the way up to seventh, and JR Hildebrand was eighth but struggling with handling issues. Conway’s car just quit – the second Honda to simply give it up. Pagenaud pitted from the lead with 37 to go; Sato moved up to take the lead once again with Wilson right behind in second. One lap later, Power took second from Wilson with a Turn 1 pass. At this point, Charlie Kimball was hanging on in fourth as the top Ganassi car, and Barrichello was right behind him in fifth.
Viso had been holding up Castroneves, who was desperate to get past him. In a crazy incident between Turns 7 & 8 Helio ended up accidentally chopping his teammate Ryan Briscoe while trying to get past Viso. Amazingly, there was only minor contact, and all three managed to get thru Turn 8 relatively unscathed – and with Helio ahead of Viso.
Wilson pitted with 33 to go, and Power came in two laps later leaving Sato in first, followed by Hildebrand, Hunter-Reay, and Hinchcliffe. With 30 to go, Sato made his last stop, leaving Hunter-Reay in first and Hildebrand in second. Within the next three laps, Hunter-Reay, Hildebrand, Briscoe, and Hinchcliffe all pitted. Now the top four were Pagenaud, Kanaan, Sato, and Power. The question remained: of all the fast runners, who had to conserve fuel, and who could make it to the end?
With 20 to go, the top five were Pagenaud, Power, Sato, Jakes, and Wilson – Power having gotten by Sato on lap 26. From this point, Wilson began slipping back, his tires going away; he was passed by Barrichello (for fourth) then Hildebrand (for fifth).
Pagenaud pitted from the lead with 16 laps to go, promoting Power to the top spot. He came back out into fourth between Rubens and JR and was charging hard. By now Hunter-Reay, Kimball, Wilson, and Hinchcliffe were running in a tight pack for sixth thru ninth. Pagenaud took third from Barrichello with 11 laps remaining. The final ten would be exciting – still, who was okay on fuel?
With eight to go, Will Power had about a 5 second gap to Takuma Sato in second, but Simon Pagenaud was charging fast. One lap later, Barrichello, who last pitted on the same lap as Power, came in for a splash of fuel. How could Power make it seven more laps? Pagenaud passed Sato for second with six to go at Turn 1. With 5 to go, he was about 5 seconds behind Power, who seemed to be conserving fuel, and charging very hard.
Kanaan was pushing Hildebrand very hard for sixth; he took a run at Turn 8 but backed out as the two nearly touched. Finally at Turn 1 with three laps to go, Kanaan took the spot. Power got the call to put the pedal down; could he keep Pagenaud behind him?
On the final lap, Hunter-Reay spun Sato from third at Turn 6. What a shame; after such a great run, Sato would lose a podium spot. Later at the Turn 11 hairpin, Helio punted Rubens into a spin that caused a major conflagration involving those two plus Wilson and Servia – blocking the entire turn!
In the end, Will Power was able to hold off Simon Pagenaud for the win, and James Hinchcliffe took the final podium spot. Hunter-Reay and Castroneves were both penalized for their final lap transgressions – small consolation to their victims. Congratulations to Will Power and Team Penske.
The big story lines for the 38th running of the Grand Prix of Long Beach were:
- Will Power wins from twelfth after the IndyCar mandated ten spot grid penalty; he was also able to run a hard 31 laps from his last stop while others needed fuel
- Franchitti finished two laps down at fifteenth after starting on pole; neither Target Ganassi cars were competitive beyond the midpoint of the race
- Honda could not manage a win even though all Chevrolet powered cars were penalized 10 grid places
- Team Penske is 3 for 3 so far this season
- Andretti getting airborne and crashing hard after hitting Rahal’s right rear with his left front
Can’t wait until next year…