Franchitti wins Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach
On a typical bright sunny day in Southern California, Dario Franchitti used timely pitstops and a fast race car from his Target Chip Ganassi team to win the 35th running of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. It was the best gift Franchitti could have given his jubilant wife Ashley Judd, who was celebrating her birthday today. Polesitter Will Power led early in Team Penske's 3rd car and then fell back, but recovered to finish 2nd.
A caution on lap 73, caused when KV Racing's Mario Moraes clouted the tires in Turn 8, bunched the field up. However, when the race went green on lap 78 of 85, Power had nothing for Franchitti who pulled away easily to win by 3.3 seconds on the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit. It was Franchitti's first road/street victory in the IndyCar Series and his ninth overall.
"I made a really bad start," said Franchitti, "but we pitted early and that worked to our benefit. We got track position and that allowed me to control the pace of the race and save fuel when we had to.
"It feels good to be back here in Long Beach and win in front of this enthusiastic crowd. I had a couple of extra seconds per lap in the car if I needed it, the car was so good."
"The track was good but the track positions were good. The track is bumpy like most street circuits, and you can pass here if your car is working right, unlike some street circuits."
Afterward Power said, "I lost radio communication with my pits so we had a hard time knowing how much fuel we could burn. If I could have run full rich we would have given Dario a real race, but because I did not know how much fuel I had left I was saving fuel big time and that slowed me down.
AGR teammates Tony Kanaan and Danica Patrick finished 3rd and 4th, both benefitting from timely pitstops before two cautions to get good track position on the hard to pass on circuit.
After qualifying poorly, the AGR team used perfect race strategy to put three of the four AGR cars in the top-6.
During the caution on lap 73 St. Petersburg GP race winner Ryan Briscoe got into the back of defending series champion Scott Dixon and spun him around exiting the hairpin. Dixon stalled and lost a lap. Briscoe received a 30-second penalty for causing the contact.
Another driver that had a bad day was Justin Wilson. What started out as a great battle for the #18 Z-Line Designs IndyCar Series team quickly turned into what amounted to a freeway pile-up.
Wilson was fired up at the start and passed two cars into the first turn to gain third place. He was running a strong fourth place when the full course caution flag came out on lap 17. Nine cars stayed out under yellow which put the Z-Line designs team back in the field. Wilson was patiently waiting for the field to cycle through when trouble started on lap twenty four.
“There was a lot of traffic in close quarters going into the hairpin and someone tried to pass about three cars ahead of me which caused everyone to check-up,” Wilson explained. “I got hit pretty hard in the rear which caused me to hit Moraes in front of me. I’m very disappointed for the team and for Z-Line Designs which just announced their return to Dale Coyne Racing”.
“We are disappointed at what could have been the best start in the first two races of the season,” noted Dale Coyne. “The day started out well and we wanted to put on a good performance here at this historic race”.
Dario Franchitti comes away with the points after Long Beach, with the next 5 or 6 races on ovals, where the Ganassi cars are strong.
DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, first): “I got lots of Champ Car street and road course wins, but I haven’t had one in the IndyCar Series, so to finally get one feels good for all kinds of reasons. After everything we went through last year and then Chip (Ganassi) coming up and saying, ‘Hey, do you want to drive my Indy car?’ And now we’re back here winning together. Having finished second to his cars here twice I said to him last night, ‘If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,’ and here we are. Thanks to my crew and the whole Target team. It’s good to be back and see full grandstands and see a buzz at the track. Great day.”
WILL POWER (No. 12 Team Verizon Wireless, second): “It was a great day. We had no radio and no telemetry, so I was doing it off the steering wheel and off the pit board. I’m very happy. Second is very good. I feel happy for all the guys. They put a lot of effort in. I really want to thank Roger Penske and Tim Cindric for bringing this Verizon Wireless car here for me. I really appreciate it. They’ve given me a fantastic ride, and I can’t thank them enough.”
TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven/Dr. Pepper, third): “We work better under pressure, I guess. It’s a good day for Andretti Green Racing. Great job for the 7-Eleven team. That’s how we count points and move forward. When we have a car to win, we win, and when we don’t we finish on the podium.”
DANICA PATRICK (No. 7 Motorola, fourth): “It was a good job on the strategy and getting that right. We pitted at the right times. I believe they just said Dario (Franchitti) and I were on that strategy. If the yellows would have fallen just right, we’d have had the lead, and there was just no passing out there. Unfortunately, I made a little mistake and Will Power got by and then Tony Kanaan got by me because of the blend line, but it’s weird because there’s no way he would have beat me out, because I passed him still on the track, but the way that the blend line works, it’s so early in the straightaway compared to where you enter. But it was a much better result, obviously, for us, and I’m real proud of how we all kept our heads down and made a result out of it instead of getting down. The Motorola guys did a great job and got me out quickly.”
DAN WHELDON (No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing, fifth): “So far the Panther team has done a fantastic job calling the races, and certainly it was a different race; there wasn’t a lot of passing out there. Once I got off the black tires, which I really struggled with rotating the car and getting good power down, it really came alive. Once the track rubbered-in, that helped us as well. But the National Guard Panther Racing team did a really good job. I thought we were pretty competitive all weekend. Everybody worked hard and did a good job in terms of the pit stops, and it was a tough race and a race of attrition, but we made it to a top-five. It was important for us to score points going into Kansas, because that’s a race I’m very confident about, but the IndyCar Series is so competitive now that you can’t count your points too early.”
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 26 Automatic Fire Sprinklers, sixth): “I think today was definitely a good effort for the No. 26 car. We found some speed during the morning warm-up and were able to have the pace we needed to work our way through the field. The whole AFS crew did a great job in the pits, and Kyle (Moyer) made some great calls to get us to the front. Unfortunately, we were held up by a couple yellows but we had one of the fastest cars, for sure. This weekend we learned a lot about what we need to work on the rest of the season. I’m looking forward to Kansas next weekend.”
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Team Penske, seventh): “Wow. That’s the first word that comes to mind. It was special day for me. Before the race as I rode around the track, the crowd gave me so much support. I could see they weren't all wearing my shirts, but they didn’t care. They were cheering for me. It was emotional, but I was thinking, ‘I have to race. I have to focus.’ I have to thank the fans from all over the world for their support. It’s an incredible compliment that I’ll never forget. This is my therapy. I need stuff like this to forget about what happened.” (About the race): "It was rough in the beginning for the No. 3 Team Penske car because I didn’t want to touch anybody. I saw that the nose of my car had some scratches, but that’s what happens when you haven’t been in the car for a while. It takes a little time for you to judge the distance (between cars). It was fun. I only had an hour and a half (in practice and qualifying) and most of it was by myself. When you run behind someone, the car changes a lot. Finally I got a rhythm and was able to get going, and it felt so much better. We got caught by a yellow, and that dropped me to where we finished (seventh). But that’s racing. I'm so happy to sound like a driver again and very happy to finish and get back into the championship.”
ROBERT DOORNBOS (No. 06 Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, ninth): “I think we had a very good first stint. I passed three or four guys going into Turn 1, which was nice, and then I found myself in the front, so I was hoping all of the bad luck this weekend was behind us and we would have good luck with the yellows. The crew was saying, ‘This can be our lucky shot, keep it up. Your fuel saving is great.’ Then the yellows came at the wrong time so I went completely to the back and had to start over again with the fuel saving and passing people. It was fun, but I’m just not happy in general with the weekend. Finishing ninth is not why I am here. I hope in Kansas that we have less mistakes and the championship starts there.”
ALEX TAGLIANI (No. 34 Conquest Racing, 10th): “We were doing really well and on our way to a good result. Unfortunately, the yellow flag came out at the wrong time, and that cost us some positions. We also had a little mishap in the pits that cost us. It’s really too bad because I had a very good car. At the end, I had a good fight with (Graham) Rahal and then I was able to make it into the top 10 for a second race in a row by passing (Ryan) Hunter-Reay on the last lap. Once again, I want to thank the team for their hard work and our partners, ODW Logistics, TorcUP and the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, for their support this weekend.”
Winner's average speed: 84.491 mph
Time of race: 1:58:47.4658
Margin of victory: 3.3182 seconds
Cautions: 5 caution flags for 18 laps
Lead changes: 6 among 6 drivers
Lap leaders: Power 1-16, Matos 17-18, Kanaan 19-25, Andretti
26-31, Franchitti 32-52, Castroneves 53-55, Franchitti 56-85.
Point standings: Franchitti 84, Power 69, Briscoe 67, Kanaan
65, Hunter-Reay 59, Wilson 49, Wheldon 46, Andretti 45, Rahal
45, Patrick 44.
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