Series News And Notes 2011-04-18

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Today's IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines

Today's IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines:
1. Andretti experiences thrill of victory, agony of defeat
2. Back-to-back podiums have Wilson in title race
3. Inside the numbers: Long Beach

Ryan Hunter-Reay, Mike Conway, Andretti Autosport
Ryan Hunter-Reay, Mike Conway, Andretti Autosport

Photo by: Adriano Manocchia

1. Andretti experiences thrill of victory, agony of defeat: Watching Ryan Hunter-Reay's car fade through the quick-paced pack on Lap 70 of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Michael Andretti had that sinking feeling. The No. 28 Team DHL/Sun Drop Citrus Soda car started on the front row and was running second with 15 laps left, with Hunter-Reay primed to win for the second consecutive year on the 1.968-mile street circuit.

At that point, someone should have reminder the Andretti Autosport owner of the Yogi Berra malapropism "It ain't over till it's over." It would have been clairvoyant.

"It was crazy and I've got to admit unexpected," Andretti said. "It's so difficult to pass here, so I was really happy to see Mike (Conway) up in the top six, and I thought that's not bad. At that point we were feeling good about where Ryan was and then all of a sudden Ryan has this (gearbox) problem. I was thinking, 'Oh, man, this is over.'

"And then, all of a sudden, everybody starts cheering, and I'm thinking, 'What are they cheering about?' Mike is like, boom, going past Dario (Franchitti), and next thing you know he's past (Ryan) Briscoe. Unbelievable."

Conway, driving the No. 27 Window World Cares car, overtook Briscoe's No. 6 Penske Truck Rentals car on Lap 72 and went on to his first IZOD IndyCar Series victory. There were mixed emotions in Victory Circle for Andretti to be sure.

"That's the only downside about it when you have a four car team -- not everybody is going to be happy leaving here," Andretti continued in the post-race news conference. "I feel bad for the other three, but so excited for Mike. He had to fight back hard, and it just shows he doesn't give up. He drove like a champion today."

Conway, seated a few feet away, smiled in an "ah-shucks" moment. He's the second consecutive Andretti Autosport driver to win at Long Beach - a race that has the family surname embedded in its 37-year history. Michael Andretti won his first and final Indy car races on the street circuit, while his father, Mario, won four times (including 1984 when the event transitioned from Formula One to Indy cars).

Hunter-Reay was credited with 23rd place. But teammate Danica Patrick, driving the No. 7 Team GoDaddy car, advanced 13 positions to record a season-high seventh place. She also extended her series record to 36 consecutive races running at the finish.

"I think this is a start of a good thing for the GoDaddy.com car," said Patrick, who's advanced her starting position in all three races.

Maybe for the team in general, too. Conway's victory was the first for Andretti Autosport since Iowa Speedway last June, and the team that won three championships (2004, '05 and '07) in four years looks to again be making waves through three-fourths of the initial road/street segment of the schedule.

Next up is the streets of Sao Paulo, where Hunter-Reay was runner-up and Conway finished eighth in the inaugural 2010 race. Then it's on to the 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where all four drivers again will be contenders.

Conway led 15 laps on the 2.5-mile oval last year before a crash late in which he suffered back and leg injuries that curtailed his season. Sooner than receiving medical clearance, Conway began a strenuous physical rehabilitation routine in his native England without guarantees of returning to IZOD IndyCar Series competition.

"Initially I saw the injuries I had and I just wasn't sure when I'd get back," Conway said. "Things like that can definitely stop your career. But I was just determined to not let it, determined to get back, back to fitness and back in a car."

I think Mike showed a lot of signs of brilliance last year at the beginning of the season...

Michael Andretti

He didn't stick with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing for a third season, but his management - led by former Indy car driver Mark Blundell - began talks with Michael Andretti.

It wasn't a leap of faith on the part of the veteran Indy car driver and team owner to sign Conway.

"I think Mike showed a lot of signs of brilliance last year at the beginning of the season and then unfortunately had his accident," Andretti said. "Coming back, I had no question in my mind. I personally felt like he was going to be hungrier than ever, and that's exactly the way it came about.

"I never felt like it was taking a chance. I was so happy that we were able to put a deal together with Mike because I wanted him all the way from the end of last year. I was very happy because I felt like he was going to be a great addition to the team -- not only as a great talent, but he just fits in with the other three drivers, which is quite important to have that chemistry. And I think we have a great chemistry right now between the drivers, and because of that, I feel really good about the rest of this year. I think we're going to be strong."

2. Back-to-back podiums have Wilson in title race: After two podium finishes in the first three races of the 2011 Firestone Indy Lights championship, Stefan Wilson is almost where he wants to be.

Thanks to a third-place finish on the streets of Long Beach, Calif., the 21-year-old from Sheffield, England sits third in point standings, 20 points behind the series' new point leader Conor Daly.

It's a long way from Wilson's nightmare start in the St. Petersburg opener where he finished 16th after an early-race incident. And with Daly only contesting a limited schedule, Wilson finds himself only 10 points behind second-place driver Josef Newgarden as the series heads into its marquee event - the Firestone Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 27.

"All in all, I'm very pleased," Wilson said. "The second consecutive podium in two weeks, so I'm pleased with that, and it's good points, and it's just nice to be here on the podium at Long Beach and good momentum heading into Indianapolis."

That Wilson drove his way to the podium is a testament to his experience in the series. Wilson is one of only three drivers in the field - along with Gustavo Yacaman and Brandon Wagner - that has raced at nearly every track.

And it was that experienced that he relied on as he moved from sixth to third, while negotiating a Long Beach course that was unforgiving to those who made slight errors.

The second consecutive podium in two weeks, so I'm pleased with that...

Stefan Wilson

"I knew that Turn 1 would be crucial and I thought it was going to be very tight, and I'm glad that I was able to maintain my position through Turn 1," Wilson said. "We had a good race car and were able to pressure guys into mistakes.

"Right at the end there I was keeping up with Esteban (Guerrieri) on the cold tires, and I felt if we had an extra couple laps we could have had a chance to get by, and then it turns out the next corner Josef (Newgarden) made a mistake and went off, and that elevated me to a podium finish and took away the rest of the race.

"Obviously it was very surprising to see Josef go off there at the end. He had been running a really strong pace, and obviously unfortunate for him, but it was beneficial to me."

3. Inside the numbers - Long Beach: Numbers to note following the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, the third of 17 events in the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season.

1 - Driver who has finished on the podium in the first three IZOD IndyCar Series events -Dario Franchitti, who has a win, a second-place finish and a third-place finish.

2 - Drivers who have finished in the top-10 in each of the first three events of the 2011 season Franchitti and Oriol Servia.

4 - Wins for Michael Andretti at Long Beach as an owner and a driver. Andretti won at Long Beach as a driver in 1986 and 2002 and owned the winning cars in 2010 and 2011.

8 -Teams represented in the top 10 of the series point standings.

13 - Positions improved by Danica Patrick, the most positions gained by any driver. Ryan Briscoe improved 10 positions from 12th to second.

16 - Consecutive top-five starts by Will Power, who has won three-straight poles to start the season and 11 of the last 20 PEAK Performance Pole Awards.

117 - Consecutive Laps led by Will Power over the races at Barber Motorsports Park and Streets of Long Beach.

279 - Different drivers to win an Indy car race after Mike Conway's first win at Long Beach

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The next IZOD IndyCar Series event is the Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300 presented by Nestle on May 1 on the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil. The race will be televised live at noon (ET) by VERSUS and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network. The next Firestone Indy Lights race is Firestone Freedom 100 on May 27 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It will be televised live at by VERSUS.

-source: indycar

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Series INDYCAR
Tags andretti, conway, hunter-reay, izod, long beach