The Mayor of Hinchtown won the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Sunday in grand style on a sunny day with mild temperatures and brisk breezes. James Hinchcliffe of Canada did the Maple Leaf proud in No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. He led twice during the 85-lap race, one of three different leaders, which didn’t include pole sitter Helio Castroneves in No.3 Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet. His Margin of Victory over second place was 1.4940 seconds.
This was Hinchcliffe’s fifth IndyCar win, the first since New Orleans in 2015, a gap of 21 races. NOLA was also the last victory for team owner Sam Schmidt and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. “I feel like I’m back. (His last victory was a month before his horrific crash at Indy in 2015.) The history of this event is second only to Indy, so we love coming here and putting on a show for everyone. Cooler temperatures do help. The blacks were unbelievably consistent, and the reds were incredibly fast. Only one other Canadian (Paul Tracy) has more IndyCar wins than all those famous Canadian contenders. Tough to beat your first win for importance, but this one ranks right up there. Winning is great, but earning it like here is great.
Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 Trench Shoring Dale Coyne Racing Honda finished second with a big grin on his face. He now leads the points standings, nineteen points ahead of Hinchcliffe. “Best finish since victory in 2007 at LBGP. We felt off on setups, and I was mostly responsible for it. Stuck with two-stop strategy after pitting for replacing broken body work from the start. Someone lost an end plate or something. It flew by, I dodged it in the car, it went really close and it ripped off the whole left side of the rear wing and rear pod and that’s why we came in so early. It gave us a couple of laps to save fuel, but we played to our strengths. I’ve always been pretty comfortable saving fuel and that one kind of came to us. I was just really surprised that no one played the game. It was feasible fuel wise, for us at least. James (Hinchcliffe) really deserved that one. He looked very comfortable and quick up front and I didn’t really have the balance at the end to go challenge him so I just managed for second place. I don’t know that we’re a contender but we’ll find out. We’ll have stayed up there for two races so that’s not too bad!”
Third finisher was Josef Newgarden/No.2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, the top bow tie. “Our strategy didn’t play out at the end with the caution. A third place is good. I have momentum with a top ten and podium finish in two races with a new team.”
Fourth was Scott Dixon/No.9 NTT Data Honda, who led twice.
Fifth was Simon Pagenaud/No.1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet, who had charged from last place, gaining sixteen places. He started last due to his Qualifying penalty, but quickly moved up the line and by Lap 10 he was up to P10. Pagenaud then executed a smooth pass on pole sitter Castroneves, who was slowly moving backwards. By Lap 29, he was in sixth position. The 2016 Champion moved back a bit during Pit Stops, but was back up to P7 for a run on the last ten laps. With three laps to go after the last caution, Pagenaud had moved up to fifth, running faster than the field at that point. Zero to near-Hero. He was a happy camper, despite his warning and monetary fine for ‘unattended equipment’ during a pit stop.
Rookie honors went to Ed Jones/No.19 Boy Scouts of America Dale Coyne Racing Honda, who finished sixth, after starting thirteenth. The 2016 Indy Lights Champion is the youngest driver in the field.
The last lap was drama-filled. Hinch did his doughnuts, while Aleshin and JR Hildebrand/No.21 Preferred Freezer Services Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet had contact. JR went up and over Aleshin’s left rear wheel and drove off to the runoff, joined by Aleshin. The Stewards reviewed the incident, and penalized Aleshin one position for blocking. This put Aleshin back to twelfth and Hildebrand up to eleventh. Hildebrand was seen by the INDYCAR Medical Director Geoffrey Bellows, who said the driver suffered a broken bone in his left hand, and will be re-evaluated upon his return to Indianapolis. At the moment, Hildebrand is not cleared to drive.
Hildebrand said “At the end of the race, we all were bunched back up because of that last yellow. I was on reds and had a little bit for at least the handful of cars in front of us. On the last lap, I was making a move on Mikhail Aleshin and I could tell he was struggling. I was out of push-to-pass so I was trying to make a proper, full-out pass down the front straightaway. He had been starting to move over, not a major blocking maneuver but enough to assert his line. He hit the brake a lot earlier than I was expecting and I ended up running into the back of him. In doing so, it ripped the steering wheel from my hand and I ended up tweaking it. At the end of the day, to come home with an 11th place finish isn’t terrible. It is a bummer though as we were certainly on our way to finishing in the Top 10 and now we are in a bit of a jam going forward. Hopefully I can get back to it here before the next race.”
Meanwhile Aleshin wasn’t having a good time under the Steward’s watchful eyes. Earlier he’d had a warning and monetary fine assessed for ‘unattended equipment’ during. And then he had wheel-to-wheel contact with Tony Kanaan/No.10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, but no action was taken that time.
The top four drivers were on Reds-alternates tires. The average race speed was 90.845 mph. No doubt due to late cautions, the speed dropped. Earlier in the race the race average speed had been 96.8555 mph. Ten cars finished on the lead lap.
It was Off To The Races from the drop of the Green Flag. Pole sitter Helio Castroneves/No.3 Auto Club of Southern California Team Penske Chevrolet was snookered by Scott Dixon/No.9 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda followed the leader, with Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda in close pursuit. Graham Rahal/No.15 PennGrade Motor Oil Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda and Alexander Rossi/No.98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda slotted in behind, reversing their starting positions. Castroneves fell back to sixth position. And this was on the first part of the first lap, and sixteen cars finished the race.
On Turn Four the first lap, Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was turned on by Charlie Kimball/No.83 Tresiba Chip Ganassi Racing Honda and both cars hit the concrete barrier. Kimball limped into the Pits with broken parts and retired. Power waited impatiently for the quickly-responding IndyCar Safety Crew and was restarted. He continued and moved up to P18 and soldiered on. He finished thirteenth. Apparently no one heard AJ Foyt’s advice from Friday to his Indy 500 driver, Zach Veach – ‘To finish first you have to first finish. You don’t win it on the first lap.’
The lead changes after the first lap were due to Pit Stops. It was Dixon, then RHR, then Dixon, then Hunter-Reay, then Hinchcliffe, then Dixon, and then Hinchcliffe. Officially, seven lead changes among three drivers. Dixon led three times, for 32 laps; Hunter-Reay twice for 28 laps, and Hinchcliffe twice for 25 laps.
A five-lap full course caution was thrown for Rossi who slowed to a stop on course in Lap 63 with engine failure – while running second. His teammate, Marco Andretti/No.27 United Data & Fiber Andretti Autosport Honda had earlier pulled off in Turn Eight with a blown engine. RHR coasted to a stop in Turn Four on Lap 80 bringing out the last full course caution, victim of electrical problems. Hero to Zero. A lap earlier, Sato had already pulled off course the prior lap. By then team owner Michael Andretti was seen forlornly on the Pit Box. “Why Me?” All four of his drivers were out with mechanical woes.
Rossi said “The NAPA AUTO PARTS car was awesome this weekend. We’ll just have to fight back at Barber. Honda has done an amazing job so it’s unfortunate. But congrats to Honda and Hinch on the win.” Ever the diplomat. He was overheard after the race discussing his ‘catastrophic engine failure.’
Cycling through pit stops cause much of the lead changes up front. That’s not to say there wasn’t passing – there was according to IndyCar stats: 199 total passes. Strategy played its part during the race. Near the end of the race, four of the 18 running drivers were on alternate (red) tires.
Young Spencer Pigot/No.20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet kissed the wall but maintained his eighth position. He started nineteenth, and gained the second most positions in the race – eleven. He is the second youngest driver in the full-time series, and ran ten races last season.
The race was five laps longer this year – 85.
It was interesting to note that ‘The Captain’ aka Roger Penske was on site in the paddock from Day One, not a usual occurrence.
Except for turning the fastest lap of 104.542 mph on Lap 59, it seemed for awhile that Castroneves couldn’t catch a break. After his less than perfect start, he was assessed a drive-thru penalty for a Pit Speed Violation on his second pit stop, and ordered to the back of the field for another speeding ticket on his last pit stop. By the finish he’d faded to ninth.
It was another glorious day for the 43rd running of the Beach Party, now called the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. For 38 years Toyota has been the title sponsor, the longest running entitlement sponsorship in motorsports.
VERIZON INDYCAR OFFICIAL RESULTS
1. (4) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 85, Running
2. (12) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 85, Running
3. (8) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 85, Running
4. (2) Scott Dixon, Honda, 85, Running
5. (21) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 85, Running
6. (13) Ed Jones, Honda, 85, Running
7. (14) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 85, Running
8. (19) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 85, Running
9. (1) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 85, Running
10. (6) Graham Rahal, Honda, 85, Running
11. (15) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 84, Contact
12. (16) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 84, Running
13. (9) Will Power, Chevrolet, 84, Running
14. (20) Max Chilton, Honda, 84, Running
15. (11) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 84, Running
16. (17) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 84, Running
17. (3) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 79, Off Course
18. (18) Takuma Sato, Honda, 78, Off Course
19. (5) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 62, Mechanical
20. (10) Marco Andretti, Honda, 14, Off-Course
21. (7) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 1, Contact
VERIZON INDYCAR STANDINGS
1. Sebastien Bourdais 93
2. James Hinchcliffe 74
3. Simon Pagenaud 71
4. Scott Dixon 68
5. Josef Newgarden 59
6. Helio Castroneves 51
7. Ed Jones 48
8. Takuma Sato 43
9. Ryan Hunter-Reay 39
10. Marco Andretti 36