Will Power went from ninth to win at Barber two weeks ago, and topped it Sunday at Long Beach – coming from 12th to win on the streets in southern California. The win is also his second at Long Beach, and first for Team Penske since Helio Castroneves won in 2001.
“After last week, you can never say never; but I thought it'd be very tough to win,” Power said. “I had to save so much fuel to get there. I used some fuel to get around people, and Tim told me you have to save fuel, and be as quick as I could doing so.”
While Power starred, Simon Pagenaud was in another stratosphere on the day – with both his middle and last stints run at an absolutely storming pace to first gain enough of a gap on Power prior to pitting, and then close down that gap after pitting. Power pitted twice and Pagenaud stopped three times on the day.
“It was great, and the car was fantastic,” Pagenaud said. “It's Long Beach and I really love this place. With one more lap, I would have given him a hard time.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay finished third on the road, but was penalized 30 seconds for avoidable contact with Takuma Sato at turn 6, as Sato was in line for his first podium finish of his career and the first for the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team on its return to full-time IndyCar competition.
James Hinchcliffe benefited at Hunter-Reay's expense, the Canadian garnering his first career IndyCar podium at the same track where he scored his first top-five finish one year ago.
“I feel really bad for Ryan,” Hinchcliffe said. “I owe him a lot, as I followed him through for a lot of passes. It sucks to get at his expense.”
The colorful Canadian admitted he'd lost a bet with Wade Cunningham, and now that he has secured his first podium, he'll be clean shaven for the series' next race in Brazil. If he wins the Indianapolis 500, Hinchcliffe said he'd shave his head.
Tony Kanaan and JR Hildebrand rounded out the top five, on a day where Chevrolet teams fully maximized their strategies and avenged the series of 10-spot grid penalties that plagued them going in. Seven of the top 10 finishers were Chevrolets, with only Pagenaud, the stationary Sato and Justin Wilson providing Hondas respectable results.
The top Lotus finisher was Oriol Servia in 16th. Chip Ganassi Racing had a brutal day with all four of its cars finishing 15th or worse.
From the pole, Dario Franchitti should have had nothing to lose, but the young man to his outside proved he wasn't about to let the leader go without a fight. Promoted to his first ever front row starting position, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing rookie Josef Newgarden went for it on the opening lap, and came up empty.
Newgarden went to Franchitti's outside around turn 1, but wasn't able to complete the pass without the rear of his car swapping ends and hitting the tire barriers. There may have been contact between the two, although replays didn't clearly show Franchitti and Newgarden made contact. Regardless, Newgarden's race was over before it ever had the chance to fully materialize.
“I saw one replay and had a feeling that would happen,” Newgarden admitted. “Thought I would get alongside, get touched on exit and into the wall. Maybe it wasn't the right move. I thought I had a good run on him, and it's a good learning experience. I'm hired to drive for the team and I feel bad for them.”
The incident was reviewed with no further action taken, to which Newgarden's team owner Sarah Fisher tweeted, “Politics. Love it.”
Whether or not Franchitti would actually be penalized became a moot point, because his bigger issue was struggling on restarts. After the initial yellow flag, Justin Wilson came by for the lead, and within a few laps, Pagenaud had done likewise for second. Before the end of his first stint, Franchitti had dropped out of the top five.
The new rule allowing the pits to stay open the instant a full course yellow hit struck at lap 20 for the first time. Sebastien Bourdais nosed into the turn 9 tire barriers, and although he didn't suffer significant damage it did change the complexion of the race. Leaders Wilson, Pagenaud, Scott Dixon, Graham Rahal and Mike Conway all pitted, while several cars waited to go off strategy.
Although the green flew two laps later, the first major accident testing the structural rigidity of the new Dallara DW12 and its rear bumpers came at lap 22 when Rahal moved slightly right going into turn 8, coming across where Marco Andretti then collided with him. Andretti's car careened over the right rear wheel pod and flew airborne, before crashing into the tire barriers.
Unsurprisingly, they had different perspectives on the incident.
“He wasn't going to make the corner no matter what,” Rahal claimed. “I think it slipped underneath me. He was going to shoot long how deep we were because he was already braking.”
Andretti countered, “There's one thing blocking, but there's another thing chopping. That was a chop.”
The early yellows affected how the race evolved, but with no further yellows, the race developed into a flat out blast to make different strategies work. Pagenaud's first stop wasn't without incident, as he contacted one of Power's tires on exit. Still, he was not penalized for the contact. As it became apparent Pagenaud was on a three-stop strategy, he could run flat out while Power's longer middle stint, aided by yellows, ran for a full 33 laps. Pagenaud pitted for his second stop on lap 48. In the 22 laps that followed, Pagenaud increased his lead over Power to 18.8 seconds – consistently running lap times in the 1:09 range while Power countered with slower 1:10s or 1:11s in the quest to make his strategy work. Power pitted for the second and last time on lap 64, needing to go 31 laps to make the flag.
Pagenaud pitted on lap 70, at the immediate moment he hit a four-car train of backmarkers. He exited the pits 14.2 seconds behind Power, and had 15 laps to close back the gap. He got within 0.8675 of a second by the flag, and described those two stints that were driven at the maximum.
“I asked them at some point where I was, because I didn't know what was going on,” he said. “I was just pushing as hard as I could with what they were saying. At the beginning of the race they said, ‘Do this fuel mileage, and you need to go as fast as you can,' so I did. Once we started thinking about the three-stop strategy it was clear I had to push and not save fuel.
“So I pushed as hard as I could when Will was behind me. I realized if he wasn't staying up with me, it's because he was saving fuel, so I knew he was going to the end and I wasn't, so I was trying to open the gap.”
Power, methodically rather than aggressively, progressed up the order until he was in a prime position to pounce. Most of his race was spent dicing with Sato, who was in a better fuel position having stopped two laps earlier on his last pit sequence. Had Power not throttled back enough to make the finish, Sato could have been in the running.
Then the final laps happened. As Pagenaud passed Sato for second on lap 80 into turn 1, he was closing down on Power still at the consistent 0.8 to 1.2 seconds per lap. They encountered Katherine Legge and EJ Viso ahead of them and would have to make it through. Viso got out of the way for Power, but hit a bad spot on the track through the fountain complex before he could do likewise for Pagenaud, and that sealed the win for Power.
“We'd saved enough fuel to be able to push for the last two laps, so I felt we were pretty safe,” Power said. “The only thing was the couple of backmarkers there on the last. Whoever was in front of (Viso) and him almost got together in the hairpin. So when I got a run, it was a very slow run. I'm not sure his team informed him the leaders were coming.”
Pagenaud made sure to leave Viso out of the crosshairs. “Well, I really thought I would have a go when EJ was there, but I thought EJ did a good job,” he said. “He did his best to get out of the way in the right place. There's not much else he could have done, really.”
Behind them, there was two portions of chaos. The first was the Hunter-Reay/Sato dust-up at turn 6, when Hunter-Reay attempted a somewhat opportunistic maneuver up the inside, and collected Sato. Hunter-Reay received a 30-second time penalty added on, but that only dropped him to sixth from third. Sato was sidelined and classified eighth.
“I was told he was saving fuel, and he broke early going in,” Hunter-Reay said. “I figured he'd give me some room. I guess it was my fault. We ran such a great race and to end that way is a shame. Anytime I come to Long Beach and don't win, it's a big disappointment.”
Sato took the result in stride although it meant he still hasn't seen the checkered flag in three races. He led twice for 16 laps, second only to Pagenaud's 26 laps led.
“We haven't finished yet, but the race was awesome with great excitement,” Sato said. “We had good calls from the team, and we worked hard for the strategy. When Ryan caught me up, he wasn't in deep enough, so we touched.”
There was more drama to come at the final hairpin, as Castroneves collided with Rubens Barrichello. That turned the hairpin into a parking lot and Castroneves, originally 10th, was also given a 30-second time penalty netting him an unlucky 13th place result. Barrichello still ended ninth ahead of the Dale Coyne Racing teammates Wilson and James Jakes. Jakes ran in the top five throughout the race but had a late off and a late pit stop that negated his progress.
Rather quietly, and on different strategies, both Kanaan (19th on the grid) and Hildebrand (20th) overcame their grid penalties and scored top-five results. As both had shown promise but not achieved a result in the first two races, this was very much needed for both.
Franchitti's day ended 15th with late mechanical issues, but he was rarely in the top five despite starting from pole.
“We were on a two-stop strategy obviously and thought that would be the way the race played out,” he said. “We had a mechanical issue at the end and that was it. We didn't have the car handling quite right, but we were still staying close to the front. We had four over-boost penalties on one restart, and Briscoe came across and damaged the front wing. After that we lost time making a wing change and to top it all had a mechanical failure.”
Power has now surged to a 24-point lead in the standings ahead of Castroneves at 103, and Pagenaud, the top Honda runner at 100. Dixon and Hinchcliffe complete the top five in points; Franchitti is currently 13th and some 74 points behind Power already.
The series resumes in two weeks on the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Results - 85 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Will Power Penske DW12-Chevy
2. Simon Pagenaud Schmidt DW12-Honda + 0.8675s
3. James Hinchcliffe Andretti DW12-Chevy + 13.2719s
4. Tony Kanaan KV DW12-Chevy + 18.1951s
5. JR Hildebrand Panther DW12-Chevy + 22.9947s
6. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti DW12-Chevy + 42.5631
7. Ryan Briscoe Penske DW12-Chevy + 1m40.1271s
8. Takuma Sato Rahal DW12-Honda + 1 lap
9. Rubens Barrichello KV DW12-Chevy + 1 lap
10. Justin Wilson Coyne DW12-Honda + 1 lap
11. James Jakes Coyne DW12-Honda + 1 lap
12. EJ Viso KV DW12-Chevy + 1 lap
13. Helio Castroneves Penske DW12-Chevy + 1 lap
14. Ed Carpenter Carpenter DW12-Chevy + 2 laps
15. Dario Franchitti Ganassi DW12-Honda + 3 laps
16. Oriol Servia Dreyer & Reinbold DW12-Lotus + 3 laps
17. Sebastien Bourdais Dragon DW12-Lotus + 3 laps
18. Charlie Kimball Ganassi DW12-Honda + 5 laps
19. Katherine Legge Dragon DW12-Lotus + 5 laps
Simona de Silvestro HVM DW12-Lotus 74 laps
Alex Tagliani BHA DW12-Lotus 46 laps
Mike Conway Foyt DW12-Honda 41 laps
Scott Dixon Ganassi DW12-Honda 27 laps
Graham Rahal Ganassi DW12-Honda 23 laps
Marco Andretti Andretti DW12-Chevy 22 laps
Josef Newgarden Fisher DW12-Honda 0 laps