LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Carlos Munoz won the Long Beach 100 almost by default.
The pole sitter would have preferred competition over the scheduled 45 laps on the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit, but an incident seconds after taking the green eliminated the cars of Jack Hawsworth, Zach Veach and Peter Dempsey -- the second through fourth starters.
Eleven laps later, Juan Pablo Garcia and Mikael Grenier dropped out because of spins and contact.
That left Gabby Chaves and Sage Karam to challenge the 21-year-old Colombian over the remaining laps, but the No. 26 Dialy-Ser car for Andretti Autosport was too strong. He went on to win by 2.2190 seconds over Chaves in the race shortened to 41 laps (one-hour time limit).
It was the second consecutive flag-to-flag victory for Munoz, who leaped over Hawksworth for first in the Firestone Indy Lights championship standings (133-112) heading into the Firestone Freedom 100 on May 24 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Hawksworth was penalized and moved to the rear of the field following the race.
"It was a perfect weekend again," said Munoz, who provided Andretti Autosport its second Firestone Indy Lights victory at Long Beach (JR Hildebrand won in 2009). "I saw the crash (on Lap 1) in the mirrors and thought, 'Whoa, it’s my two biggest competitors in the championship. I have to finish this race. I don’t care if I finish second or third, I’m going to be the points leader."
Chaves, driving the No. 7 Schmidt Peterson with Curb-Agajanian car, has finished third and second in the past two races of his inaugural Firestone Indy Lights season. Fellow rookie Karam recorded his second podium finish in the No. 8 Schmidt Peterson with Curb-Agajanian car.
More cars were expected to be in the mix.
Heading down the long front straight, Veach was to the left of Hawksworth with an eye of making the pass on the inside of in Turn 1. But the front-right wheel of Veach's No. 12 K12/Andretti Autosport car made contact with the left-rear wheel of Hawksworth's No. 77 Schmidt Peterson with Curb-Agajanian car.
Veach's car made left-side contact with the retaining wall, while Hawksworth's car spun across the track and made contact with the retaining wall. The incident collected Dempsey's No. 5 Belardi Auto Racing's car. All drivers exited their cars without assistance from the Holmatro Safety Team.
"With Carlos ahead of me I had a pull, something that Hawksworth didn't have," said Veach, who qualified a season-best third. "Obviously, he could tell in a way that I was gaining on him. I felt that we were going to get him going into Turn 1. I kept gaining on him and he kept trying to muscle me to the wall. At that point I was to a spot that I couldn't lift. I was to the wall so I gave him as room as I absolutely could."
Added Hawksworth, whose team had to prepare a backup car because of a crash in practice: "I thought I was clear on the inside for the first lap and when I came across there was a car there. It was my fault and I'm sorry to Zach and Peter for ruining their days. It was an awful weekend for me here in Long Beach and I'm sorry for the team that we have another wrecked race car."
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