IndyCar Race Review: Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach
Four races was all it took for the partnership between Ryan Hunter-Reay and Andretti Autosport to pay dividends.
After a near-miss at the season opener in Brazil, in which they finished second, the all-American team took victory at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday, for Hunter-Reay's first win since Watkins Glen in 2008. It was also the first win for team owner Michael Andretti since 2008 at Richmond, and the first for the team since an offseason restructuring transformed the former Andretti Green Racing team.
Hunter-Reay started the race in second, behind only Will Power, already twice a winner this year and the champion of this race two years ago. Power entered the race with a daunting 32-point lead over teammate Helio Castroneves, and added a bonus point for his third pole of the season. Justin Wilson took third in qualifying, setting up a battle between three ex-Champ Car stalwarts for the victory.
Power took an early lead in the race, followed by Hunter-Reay and Wilson, and at the start it appeared likely that he could win his third race of the season. But on lap 17, coming out of the hairpin, Power made an uncharacteristic mistake.
He hit the pit road speed limiter inside the cockpit, and because the car was going under 50 miles per hour in one of the slowest zones on the track, the limiter engaged and slowed him down. By the time he was able to bring the car back up to full speed, Hunter-Reay and Wilson had gotten by. They ran in that order for much of the rest of the event.
All told, Hunter-Reay led 64 of the race's 85 laps, while Power paced the field for 19. Scott Dixon led the other two.
The only caution of the day came when Graham Rahal and Mario Romancini got into a tire barrier after completing 58 laps. Three other cars retired due to mechanical failures. 17 of the 25 cars finished on the lead lap, with Danica Patrick and Simona de Silvestro, the last two, separated by less than a second.
Power, despite throwing away Sunday's race win, still sits pretty atop the points standings, having expanded his lead over Castroneves to 42 points. In fact, Power would have to finish last at Kansas, while Castroneves would have to win from the pole and lead the most laps, for the points lead to change hands.
Even then, that margin would be a single point. Power looks to assemble a dominating campaign on par with those of Sebastien Bourdais in the later days of the Champ Car World Series. He is the only driver to score top five finishes in all four races thus far this year.
In Firestone Indy Lights, James Hinchcliffe made the most of his second pole of the year, winning an accident-filled race for his first victory in the division. It was Team Moore Racing's second Lights victory, and their first since 2008.
Also of note, 1996 Long Beach race winner and current IndyCar team owner Jimmy Vasser took the checkers in the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race, beating Brian Austin Green to the finish line. Vasser's top driver on Sunday was Mario Moraes, who overcame a 15th place start to finish sixth.
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