Verizon IndyCar Series driver/Pole Sitter Alexander Rossi/No.27 NAPA Auto Parts Andretti Autosport Honda won the 44th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. His Margin of Victory was 1.2413 seconds ahead of Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. Finishing third was Ed Jones/No.10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. It was in front of what appeared to be a massive crowd, perhaps exceeding last year’s crowd of 183,000. GPALB President Jim Michealian had predicted on Thursday that the event was on target for exceeding last year’s numbers. And the crowd was so big even the drivers were commenting on the turnout.
Photos by Nico and Pablo Matamoros.
Fourth was Top Rookie Zach Veach/No.26 Group One Thousand One Andretti Autosport Honda – who started sixteenth. He said “(Fourth) feels like a win, to be honest. The crew was pushing me pretty hard at the end to try to get on the podium but… after St. Pete, after Phoenix, we’ve just been chipping away on it and we took a big swing at it today.”
Finishing fifth was Graham Rahal/No.15 Total Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda.
Reigning IndyCar Champion, Josef Newgarden/No.1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet finished seventh overall, and set a new race lap record of 104.881 mph/1:07.5511 on Lap 30 of the 85-lap race.
The weather became cloudy an hour before the start. It was 70 F with 8 mph breeze.
Rossi was the third different winner in three races, and it is his third victory. This win makes 58 indycar wins for Andretti Autosport. He is the first pole winner since 2007, and the fifth pole winner in the Long Beach history. Rossi continues to lead the standings with 126 points. Second is reigning series champion, Josef Newgarden/No.1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet with 104 points. He finished seventh.
Rossi said “It’s Hard to put into words what the victory means. Such a welcoming, special race. Turn Eleven is the most important corner in the track, so we put emphasis on that. I was happy with the gap (between himself and Power,) but I had enough PTP if needed. Having friends and family here doesn’t change my way of driving, but it’s nice. It doesn’t cross my mind when I’m in the race car. The new aero kit car you can really play with the limits on it. It’s a lotta fun. From a physicality level, it’s down, but you’re holding your breath a lot. We all had a smile on our face at Phoenix. Indycar came as close to perfection as they could with this car. I certainly hope I haven’t peaked too early. I hit a lot on the wish list with WGI, Indy and LB for victories. Global CEO was on the podium with Rossi. It was fantastic for all of us. For sure the competition level is high, the most competitive championship in which I’ve competed. And these Rookies are making an impression.
There were six lead changes among five race leaders. Rossi led three times for 71 laps in the 85-lap race, the most he’s ever led in a race. Other leaders were: Power-six laps; Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda-one lap; Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 Sealmaster Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan-four laps; and Newgarden-three laps.
Power said “it’s like qualifying every lap for both of us there at the end. Rossi was just too fast all day. The cloud cover helped track temperature go down, so that certainly helped. There wasn’t that much tire degradation. Looking at the crowd today was pretty impressive. Good momentum going into Indy. It’s a cool, historic race, and you would say it’s second to Indianapolis as far as wanting to win. If you look at the series and everything as a whole, it’s at a great level as far as teams and drivers go, and it’s on the upward slope. Yes, I would say right now is the most competitive, talented group of drivers that the series has seen. When you look at how Rossi has come on and the rookies that are here this year, guys like Wickens and so on, it just gets harder. It gets harder and harder, and the common body kit I think was a really, really good idea. Yeah, great, great, honestly. To win and be on pole these days, you’ve just got to get it so right. The new car definitely needs more driver input. It’s not so physically hard, but there’s a lot more sliding. I’m just enjoying the car. Reminds me of Champ Car. Alex had a perfect weekend. I had one going for a Barber weekend last year. It’s pretty great when you can dominate the weekend. He’s going to be tough to beat in the championship. He’s definitely a road course standout, and you saw him at Phoenix oval as well.”
Jones said it was good today after the disappointment of Phoenix. Jones agreed with Power on tire wear.Degradation wasn’t really much of a factor for us. I think getting up to speed was a bit more difficult because of the cooler conditions, and for us anyway, the balance usually when it was hotter was quite different to the cooler conditions, and I think that helped us in our position quite a bit. The yellow at the beginning of the race helped. After that it was reasonable easy the way the yellows fell. The style of driving now in the new car is more like Lights. I think now the jump won’t be as difficult a transition. Being loose is the only way to be quick, similar to the Lights car.”
Photo Sequence by Pablo Matamoros
The race got off to a rocky start with a Full Course Caution on the first lap for a car in the wall in Turn One. Graham Rahal/No.15 Total Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda hit Simon Pagenaud/No.22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet. The incident went under Steward’s Review, with the outcome being Rahal was assessed a Drive-Thru Penalty for “Avoidable Contact.” As Pagenaud’s car wasn’t towed from the corner, he was unable to make repairs. Pagenaud was not a happy camper. He said he felt like Rahal “never broke. It’s a real shame and the shame is that the car is totally repairable. We just need to change the front wing and some suspension parts and we can go back out.” Rahal said “I’m sorry about what happened to Simon (Pagenaud). That’s not how I like to do things. It’s just like St. Pete, the rears (tires) locked up and I barely made the corner.
Cars pitted during the caution, including Kyle Kaiser/No.32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet, who was assessed a Drive-Thru Penalty for “Improper Exit.”
Photos by Pablo Matamoros
Early on, the speeds kept increasing. Rossi set a couple of fast laps, followed by Rahal and Newgarden. Other fast laps were set by Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda, Rossi again, and Newgarden then set a new race record.
There were four Full Course Cautions. The first involved Pageaud being retrieved from Turn One. The second was for Kyle Kaiser/No.32 Juncos Racing, who was rear-ended and drove into the Turn One runoff. The third was for Zachary Claman De Melo/No.19 The Paysafe Car Dale Coyne Racing Honda who hit the wall. The fourth caution was for fourth was for a pile-up in Turn Eleven, with Rookie Robert Wickens/No.6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda, Bourdais, Hunter-Reay, and Jordan King/No.20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet. the Steward’s reviewed and assessed King a Drive’Thru Penalty for “Avoidable Contact.” That capped off the day for Wickens, who had gearbox trouble early on, sticking him in fifth gear.
Bourdais had an up and down day. Early in the race, he made a couple of smooth but gutsy passes, weaving in and out of a tight pack. It moved him into P2. However, the Stewards ruled that he must give back his position to Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, as Bourdais had used the exit of Pit Lane to make that pass. Once he relinquished his position to Dixon, he didn’t waste time in taking it back. Later he was involved with Jordan King/No.20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, for which King was assessed a Drive-Thru Penalty for “Avoidable Contact.” Up to that point, King had been the highest running Rookie, but he faded after that. Later, Bourdais had a run-in with Rookie Matheus Leist/No.4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet. Bourdais and Leist finished P14 and P13, but the Stewards reversed that order after the race, ruling that Leist blocked Bourdais.
More Steward’s actions: Takuma Sato/No.30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet and RHR had contact. No action taken. Dixon was assessed a Drive-Thru Penalty for taking a service in a Closed Pit. He was running second at the time. Sato had too many crew over the wall, which will be dealt with after the race. Max Chilton/No.59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet had to restart at the back of the next restart for fueling in closed pit; and he he also had an improper restart position which he had to give back. Hunter-Reay received a 15-second hold for an entering the pits by back door.
There are now thirty-five confirmed entries for the 2018 entries in the Indianapolis 500. Of those, 19 are Honda, and they are solid. Art St. Cyr, president of Honda Performance Development, said Saturday that they have been approached to take on other groups, other teams. “Honda is already over it’s max capacity of 18 and one reason we can do it is because they’re all affiliated with our existing teams, so it helps us from an overall support standpoint.” Honda won’t be adding any new teams to its roster for the race.
Left to Right: Matthew Brabham, Cole Potts and Gavin Harlien.
Matthew Brabham/No.83 put on a show on the way to taking the Checkered Flag for his win in Sunday’s Stadium Truck Series win. He came around much of the course on the two right wheels. Second was Cole Potts/No.60 and Gavin Harlien/No.55 was third. Fourth and fifth were Robby Gordon/No.7 and Paul Morris/1. It was an exciting race with lots of action, some wall-bashing and ending with stunt driving. Brabham said he’s been practicing and taking tips from Gordon on how to do it. Going into the Sunday race Brabham and Gordon were tied for the lead with 29 points, and Harlien a close second with 28.
Gallery Photos by Pablo Mataoros