Joe Jennings, IndyCar correspondent
Power unlikely winner at Long Beach
Coming into the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Will Power thought the deck was stacked against him due to his 12th starting position but when the dust settled, the accomplished driver once again found his way to victory lane.
To do so, he had to rely upon another masterful strategy called by his Team Penske team along with his prowess for maneuvering around the tight 11-turn and occasionally bumpy 1.968-mile street course. Power became the first repeat winner in the IZOD IndyCar Series and he chalked up his 17th career win.
He now has two victories on the streets of Long Beach, having won the Champ Car finale in the past.
I passed when I could, and every time I could get a run on someone I passed them.
The winner drove the Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.
“Going into the race, we thought a top five would be good for points, but you always believe it is possible to win, although it seemed unlikely,” the victor said. “I passed when I could, and every time I could get a run on someone I passed them. I think that was the key to winning. It was a good race for us.
“It came down to good call at the beginning of the race and then we had to save fuel throughout the race. At the end I was aware that Pagenaud was coming fast, but we saved enough fuel to run hard the last two laps. I was running as hard as I could but trying to have a good finish.
“This victory was very sweet. We made no mistakes and it was a complete team effort. I won the pole here the last three years, and it just frustrated me that I couldn’t get a win – it seemed impossible to win here. But I can’t believe how it turned out (today).”
Power took the lead for the first time on the 71st lap and went on to lead the final 15 laps.
Second place went to hard-charger Simon Pagenaud, who led 26 laps. In the closing laps, he reeled in the winner, finishing a mere .8675 seconds behind at the checkered flag. He drove the Schmidt-Hamilton HP Motorsports Honda.
“It must have been a cool race to watch, and I am glad to be at Long Beach,” he said. “I’ve been lucky here in the past, winning an ALMS race on the last lap. The Schmidt-Hamilton team is great and a lot of the credit goes to Sam Schmidt. I think it is my engineer and all the work he and the other engineers are doing. A one-car team is not bad, as they are focused on my car only. It takes us longer to accumulate data but we know we can catch up if we have the time to do so.
“I gave it all I had today, and I am really happy with second, but if I had the opportunity (to challenge), I would have really tried to do so.”
In the race, Power pitted twice while Pagenaud’s team had him on a three-stop strategy.
James Hinchcliffe gained the final podium spot when teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay received an avoidable contact penalty (involving Takuma Sato) at the end. Hinchcliffe drove the Team Go-Daddy.com Chevrolet and earned his first career top-three finish in IndyCar racing.
“You want to earn your finishes and you don’t like being given stuff,” he commented, expressing concern that he garnered the spot at the expense of his teammate. “I am sorry for him as he drove a great race.”
Regarding the race, he said, “It was a bit of an eventful race and it is cool to see exciting racing back in IndyCar. I had a clean start and had a great stint. It all came down to the Andretti guys making brilliant calls, and it is great to have such strong support behind you. That’s what makes IndyCar racing so cool when you can start 16th and still have a crack at it with the right strategy. The car was fast at the end and my fastest lap was the second to the last lap of the race, but I didn’t have enough to catch up.”
Coming from the 19th starting position, Tony Kanaan drove superbly to gain fourth place in the KV Racing Technology Chevrolet. He also turned the fastest lap of the race.
J. R. Hildebrand drove to fifth place after starting 20th. He drove the Panther Racing Chevrolet.
Sixth through 10th were Hunter-Reay (Chevrolet), fast-qualifier Ryan Briscoe (Chevrolet), Sato (Honda), Rubens Barrichello (Chevrolet) and Justin Wilson (Chevrolet).
Seven of the top-10 finishers were powered by the newly replaced Chevrolet engines.
Three full-course caution flags slowed the race for 10 laps and numerous bumping incidents occurred without triggering slowdowns.
The initial accident occurred in the first turn of the opening lap when Josef Newgarden crashed after tangling with Dario Franchitti. “I felt like I got alongside him and gave him the inside lane,” the young driver said. “I just got touched on the exit (of turn) and went right into the wall. It is one of those tough breaks.”
Pagenaud, who was immediately behind the lead duo, witnessed the accident and thought Franchitti put him into the wall, although he admitted he needed to see a replay.
In a potentially serious accident, Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti tangled while battling for position with Andretti’s car being launched into the air. Not surprisingly, each driver blamed the other.
“He wasn’t going to make the corner, no matter what,” Rahal said. Stated the frustrated Andretti, “There’s one thing blocking, and another thing chopping. That was a chop.”
The IndyCar Series races next through the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil, in two weeks.