Mike Conway claimed his first IndyCar Series race victory with a late charge in Long Beach, despite tumbling down the order with a messy first pit stop.
Long-time leader Ryan Briscoe and reigning champion Dario Franchitti had to settle for second and third, ahead of star rookie James Hinchcliffe, while Will Power was only 10th after a tangle with Penske teammate Helio Castroneves.
Andretti Autosport driver Conway had run third behind Power and fellow Andretti man Ryan Hunter-Reay in the opening laps, but dropped back mid-race when he overshot his markers on his first pit stop.
Conway, coming back from serious injuries suffered in a crash late in the 2010 Indianapolis 500, is the first first-time winner of an IZOD IndyCar Series race since Briscoe in Milwaukee 2008. It was Andretti Autosport's first victory since June at Iowa Speedway.
"His comeback is now complete," said team owner Michael Andretti, whose first and final Indy car victories came at Long Beach. "The first time we put him in a racecar, I could tell he had potential. I'm just so happy he was able to (win) this early and win one of the greatest races here in Long Beach. I'm just so proud of him and the whole Window World Cares team."
It had looked like this would be Briscoe's race for much of the afternoon. The Penske driver had jumped from his early 12th place to the lead thanks to having made his first pit stop just before the first caution of the race came out, and was then able to edge away from second-placed Hunter-Reay, who had jumped Power on the restart.
Briscoe was still ahead after the final stops, which took place under a yellow caused by a suspension problem on Justin Wilson's car that pitched the Dreyer & Reinbold driver – who had earlier been punted down the order by Castroneves – into the tires.
At the restart following this incident, Power challenged Hunter-Reay for second, only for his following Penske teammate Castroneves to slide into the back of him at Turn 1, sending both spinning. Chain reaction incidents behind saw Oriol Servia (Newman/Haas) taking an escape road detour and Scott Dixon (Ganassi) picking up damage, while farther around the lap there were tangles between Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato, and Charlie Kimball and Sebastian Saavedra. That led to another yellow, with Briscoe leading Hunter-Reay, Franchitti, Alex Tagliani (Sam Schmidt), Hinchcliffe (Newman/Haas) and Conway as the green came out. Conway passed the two Canadians at the restart, picked up another place when Hunter-Reay's car slowed with an apparent gearbox problem, then sliced past Tagliani, Franchitti and Briscoe in quick succession to take the lead.
Once ahead, Conway absolutely stormed away from the field, going on to win by 6 seconds as Briscoe held off Franchitti for second.
"It feels awesome," said Conway, who added that the win wasn't all that surprising. "As soon as I got in the lead, I was thinking of winning already. I knew I had to forget about it and get on with the job at hand.
"The car was great. I could push all the time and control the gap. My guys hung in there all day. I made a mistake on a pit stop when I locked up. I thought our day might be done, but we had to hang in there and push all the way. On the restarts, the car was awesome and it just came to life."
Conway said that his late-race passes of Briscoe and Franchitti were helped by their relative tire status.
"I made the same move on Dario [as Briscoe]. It was like they were struggling to get temperature in the tires. My car was good to go. I just took my time and picked my point, and was able to pull away."
Briscoe conceded that he had no chance of holding off the Briton at the end.
"Mike Conway was in a class of his own today and there was nothing I could do," said the Australian. "He was so much faster when he made that move on me. It is a great day, though, as we started 12th and moved our way up to second place."
Although he never looked like a contender for victory, Franchitti was satisfied with a third place that, combined with Power's problems, propelled him back into the championship lead.
"The car was really quick everywhere except for the turn onto the straight and down the straight," related the Scot. "I think with the gear ratio and setting up for the wrong parts of the track made it hard for me to pass anyone, because of the gap they would get coming out of the hairpin.
"It was an interesting day for me. It has been a long time since the radio failed. After the first stop, it went out so we were getting wrong signals and mixed calls. I caught a little bit of luck to get on the podium because the other guys took each other out. I almost got caught up in one incident because I locked the wheels up and we did the best we could to avoid the incident. I struggled on the out-lap after my last pit stop and I don't know if it was the car or something I need to work on, but we lost a lot of time there."
Hinchcliffe and Tagliani completed the top five, with Servia quickly rejoining to take sixth ahead of Danica Patrick (Andretti) and KV's Tony Kanaan, who recovered well from going a lap down when he was delayed at his first pit stop.
Foyt's Vitor Meira escaped pit lane contact with Rahal to hold off the recovering Power for ninth, with Castroneves 12th behind Raphael Matos. Another pit lane incident ended Marco Andretti's and Sebastien Bourdais' afternoon – the American accepting the blame after accidentally squeezing the Dale Coyne car into the wall.
Paul Tracy was only 16th on his return with Dragon Racing, having been penalized for qhat was later determined to have been a pit-road speeding violation rather than his contact with HVM's Simona de Silvestro that knocked the Swiss into a spin at the hairpin.
Pos Driver Team Time/Gap
1. Mike Conway Andretti 85 laps
2. Ryan Briscoe Penske + 6.3203s
3. Dario Franchitti Ganassi + 6.7163s
4. James Hinchcliffe Newman/Haas + 9.1705s
5. Alex Tagliani Sam Schmidt + 16.0177s
6. Oriol Servia Newman/Haas + 16.8966s
7. Danica Patrick Andretti + 17.5016s
8. Tony Kanaan KV + 18.9655s
9. Vitor Meira Foyt + 19.4723s
10. Will Power Penske + 19.8909s
11. Raphael Matos AFS + 20.4660s
12. Helio Castroneves Penske + 20.7784s
13. Graham Rahal Ganassi + 21.3464s
14. Sebastian Saavedra Conquest + 23.1137s
15. James Jakes Dale Coyne + 24.5926s
16. Paul Tracy Dragon + 1m03.7578s
17. JR Hildebrand Panther + 1m10.9001s
18. Scott Dixon Ganassi + 1 lap
19. Ana Beatriz Dreyer & Reinbold + 2 laps
20. Simona de Silvestro HVM + 3 laps
21. Takuma Sato KV + 4 laps
Justin Wilson Dreyer & Reinbold 78 laps
Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti 72 laps
Charlie Kimball Ganassi 66 laps
EJ Viso KV 59 laps
Marco Andretti Andretti 37 laps
Sebastien Bourdais Dale Coyne 27 laps