LONG BEACH, Calif. -- The door was open for Andretti Autosport's Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe, who were running 1-2 (the way they started the 80-lap race), to battle for the victory in the 40th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Until Lap 56.
That's when the door swung wide open for others -- the result of a multi-car pile-up triggered by the front-runner -- to challenge over the final 24 laps on the 1.968-mile, 11-turn street course.
The chief beneficiaries were Scott Dixon, Justin Wilson, Will Power and Mike Conway – all of whom squeezed through the Turn 4 incident – and the intrigue continued on the single-file restart. Wilson’s No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing car was summarily punted into the runoff in Turn 8 and Dixon had to simultaneously fend off the challenges while attempting to conserve the E85 left in the 18.5-gallon tank aboard the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car.
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Calculations showed that the reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion would be a half-lap short following a Lap 71 restart (the caution because of the stranded car driven by Graham Rahal in Turn 11), and he pitted on Lap 78 for a splash that enabled him to secure 12th place.
Conway inherited the point on worn Firestone alternate tires and no push-to-pass availability to hold off Power, who had won the past three races dating to last season.
“Somehow, I got it done,” said Conway, who earned his second victory on the street course and won in his second race driving for Ed Carpenter Racing. “It can’t believe I’m actually (in Victory Circle).”
Power, driving the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car, was .9005 of a second back and series rookie Carlos Munoz finished third. Web traffic from Colombia was at an all-time high as Juan Pablo Montoya, who won the 1999 Long Beach race and was competing in his second Verizon IndyCar Series race in the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske car, picked up 12 positions relative to his starting spot to place fourth.
“Just an awesome job by the team,” said Conway, who started 17th in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka car that sustained front wing damage early on. “You never know where you’re going to be, so you just have to push as hard as you can all the time. I pushed because I knew Will was going to be close and he was good off the last corner. I knew I had to keep it clean there. I wasn’t sure Scott was going to pull in there. I couldn’t see he was saving fuel where he should have been saving. Second would have been good, but this is awesome.”
In total, the top four finishers gained 48 positions, partially because of the incident that eliminated Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden, Jack Hawksworth and Tony Kanaan – the first three starting in the top five – and other misadventures on the circuit by Sebastien Bourdais and Simon Pagenaud.
The front wing of Hunter-Reay's No. 28 DHL car clipped the right-rear tire of the Newgarden’s No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing car as he attempted to complete the pass in Turn 4. Newgarden’s car was pushed to the left-side barrier and Hinchcliffe had nowhere to turn while the others also were collected. Hinchcliffe suffered a sprained wrist that will be evaluated by INDYCAR’s medical team this week.
Newgarden had pitted for what was to be his final time on Lap 55.
“We had a strong car and Newgarden came out of pit lane and I knew he was on cold tires,” Hunter-Reay said. “He was really struggling to get up to speed through Turn 1, and then through Turn 3 he had some wheel spin so I went for it. I started to back out because he was closing the door. I could have waited a little later. Maybe that’s my fault, but at the same time I had at least a half a car up along sides of him so I went for it. If we had given each other a little bit of room we both maybe would have gotten through there.
“I made the decision at that split second, when he had some wheel spin, to go for it knowing that I was on hot tires. That’s the type of driver I am, I go for it. I feel bad for everybody involved. A racing driver, when he’s in the moment and he sees a chance to go for it… I went for it because I want to win the race.”
Power, three times a series championship runner-up, has a sizable points lead (93-66 over Conway) heading to the April 27 race at Barber Motorsports Park, where he's won twice and started on the pole twice. Hunter-Reay is the defending race winner.
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