Hunter-Reay dominates on the streets of Long Beach
American Ryan Hunter-Reay, who still does not have a ride past the Indy 500 this year, showed why he may be the fastest American driver in IndyCar today with a dominating victory in the 36th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Fellow ex-Champ Car driver Justin Wilson gave Hunter-Reay a good run for his money, but Hunter-Reay seemed to be controlling the gap up front at around 5.5 seconds over the final 20 laps and at the finish he was 5.6s to the good on the 1.98-mile circuit.
Hunter-Reay, who recently lost his mother Lydia to cancer on November 14th, dedicated the win to his mother and said "she was riding along with me today. I have been living in Southern, California (Dana Point) for 6 years now and this is like a home win for me today. I have to thank my sponsor IZOD for believing in me and Michael Andretti for giving me this opportunity. The car was handling so well I had a great time driving it. I have to thank my crew for a great car today.
"I met my fiancĂ© Beccy at this race in 2004 and Friday was our anniversary, so this makes it extra special. It means so much for me to get this win for Andretti Autosport and especially for IZOD who stuck with me through thick and thin for over two years. They are doing so much for me and also for this series."
Michael Andretti agreed. "What IZOD is doing for this series is phenomenal and this thing is going to really take off with them behind us."
Ironically Andretti won his first and last race as a Champ Car/IndyCar driver on these very same streets of Long Beach.
Polesitter Will Power made it an ex-Champ Car 1-2-3 when he brought his Penske Team car home in third for the final podium position before a large sun-drenched crowd in Southern, California.
Power did recover to hold onto third and the problem did not resurface again.
Uncharacteristic for Long Beach, the first full course caution did not come came out until lap 60 when Mario Romancini tried to dive under Graham Rahal going into Turn 1 but could not make it and he speared Rahal into the tire barrier on the outside of Turn 1. Rahal was livid and had some words with Romancini before the rookie could even get out of the car.
Rahal couldn't believe Romancini made the attempt to pass.
"I just said to him, 'What are you thinking?' " he said. "He said, 'I'm sorry. I missed my braking mark a little.' It's been a disappointing end to a disappointing weekend."
"Once he lost the lead lap to Ryan, and because his corner was already compromised because of Ryan getting by, I thought he was going to let me through too, but he chopped right down to the apex as if I wasn't there and took off my front wing. I don't know what he was thinking.
"Ryan was pretty quick there at the end and I don't know if I could have gotten by him, but we were running similar lap times and making similar fuel mileage. The unscheduled pitstop meant I was short of fuel at the end and not able to push Ryan as hard as I would have wanted to. I guess we'll never know."
Lloyd defended his role.
"When Ryan got close enough and got a run, I let him by, but at the same time we're trying to stay on the lead lap," he said. "We just can't make it easy and back out (of the throttle).
"Ryan had just got by and at the next corner Justin must have tried to get down to the inside and his front wing him my right rear tire. That's nowhere near being alongside me.
"I can't run around the outside because of the tire marbles. If he had just waited a corner and got a good run, I wouldn't have challenged it.
"He just got impatient."
But this day belonged to Ryan Hunter-Reay and Andretti Autosport, who went winless in 2009. For Hunter-Reay, who won on the streets of Surfers Paradise and the Milwaukee Mile oval in Champ Car, added his 2nd Indy Car victory after winning in Watkins Glen two years ago.
The series now moves to the 1.5-mile oval in Kansas City in two weeks time.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 37 Team IZOD, winner): "Man, that was awesome. The car was so much fun to drive. That was some of the most fun I've had in a race car because it was handling so well. My mom was out there with me today. She just passed away recently. This race is for her. I was in a great zone. It was on the last couple of alps where I said (to myself), 'Thanks for being with me today, Mom.' We were the fastest car out there today. We deserved it. This is like a home race for me."
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 67 Dollar General/Sarah Fisher Racing, 22nd): (What did you say to Mario Romancini?): "I just said, 'What are you thinking?' He said: 'I'm sorry. I missed my braking mark a little.' It's been a disappointing end to a disappointing weekend. We had problems with our drink bottle and our radio. It's been a tough day. To end it that way is just incredibly frustrating." (About struggles at the last three races): "We made a lot of changes, and nothing has happened. I think we figured out what it is." (About his schedule after this event): "I've been working really hard on a couple of things, but unfortunately we had a curve ball thrown at us a couple of weeks ago. I'm working hard to get back, hopefully at Kansas, but it's looking more like Indy."
JUSTIN WILSON (No. 22 Team Z-Line Designs/DRR, second): "I am really disappointed. Alex was a lap down and he nearly took Ryan (Hunter-Reay) out a couple of times. Once Ryan got past, it got him off line and slowed him up. I dove down the inside of Turn 8, and I braked pretty late. I just got the door slammed in my face. Even if you aren't going to give way to the leaders, you need to leave room at the apex to back out. Nothing you can do about it. We had to come in and change the front wing and we were just in mad fuel saving mode after that. It's just a shame that it happened. We had a great day. The Z-Line Designs car was fantastic. To have a front wing change and to come back in finish second is an amazing day."
ALEX LLOYD (No. 19 Boy Scouts of America, 19th): "I only found out what happened a few minutes ago. I just thought I had a flat tire. I didn't feel any contact. I was running my race. I wasn't going to make it hard for those guys. I had an issue with (Takuma) Sato that put us in that position where we were about to get lapped. When Ryan (Hunter-Reay) got close enough and got a run, I let him by. At the same time, we're trying to stay on the lead lap. We just can't make it easy and back out. Ryan had just got by and at the next corner, Justin must have tried to get down the inside and his front wing hit my right rear tire. That's nowhere near being alongside. I can't run around the outside because of the marbles. If he had just waited a corner and got a good run, I wouldn't have challenged it. He was just impatient and it ended up hurting both of us. Not that our race was going as great as his, but it certainly cost us three or four positions."
ALEX TAGLIANI (No. 77 FAZZT Race Team, 21st): "We just had a tough day today, and it's just a shame for the team. We had contact on the first lap with Marco Andretti in the hairpin, but we recovered and stayed up front, running with the leaders. Unfortunately on our first stop, we had an issue with our refueling. I think the butterfly was stuck, and we didn't get enough fuel into the car. From that point on, we realized we were in trouble. We had to make a second stop that we hoped we wouldn't have to make, and then when we came in on the last yellow to get fuel and they put us in the back of the pack. On the restart, I was trying to make my way up, and I got tangled up with someone and it damaged the front suspension. The team is doing well, though, and we have the speed in qualifying. So this little glitch was unfortunate today, and we're going to try and fix it and make sure we don't put ourselves in a trouble situation again."
VITOR MEIRA (No. 14 ABC Supply Co./A.J. Foyt Racing, 11th): "I thought it was a fair result for ABC Supply and A.J. Foyt Racing. As competitive as it is and having an almost top-10, except we got unlucky on the yellow. But it was a fair race; nobody dropped out and it was green all the way, so there was nothing artificial about it. We've finished all the races this year, so now we can go on to our oval sector of the series, which should be better for us."
DAN WHELDON (No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing, ninth): "I think it was a very good race for the National Guard/Panther Racing team. We had a little bit of a fuel collection problem, which made us have to save fuel for the major race, and that is difficult. But the car was really very, very good. I was able to run good lap times saving fuel and enjoyed the race. I would probably say that the position we finished doesn't reflect how good the car was, and sometimes you have those races. But this was a good race for us."
RYAN BRISCOE (No. 6 Team Penske, eighth): "The car was pretty good today. It was difficult to pass. We missed it a bit on our strategy today. A yellow flag would have helped our situation, but as it turned out, we lost a few spots in the pits. We had a car that was better than eighth place, but we scored some points and we'll continue working hard to improve."
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Team Penske, seventh): "It was an interesting race. It was very unusual in that there were so few yellow flags. Everybody was behaving out there. We definitely had a car that was better than seventh place. Unfortunately, we lost a few positions during our second stint. The good news is we are still second in the championship points. We need to keep pushing heading into Kansas at our first oval race."
HIDEKI MUTOH (No. 06 Formula Dream/Panasonic, 13th): "I struggled with the brakes at the beginning of the race in Turns 1 and 9, so it was hard to overtake. Then we switched to black primary tires for the second stint and the pace wasn't that bad, but it was still very hard to overtake other cars. The Formula Dream/Panasonic car had the speed, but we just couldn't make it past to overtake."
RAPHAEL MATOS (No. 2 HP Luczo Dragon, 20th): "It's really a shame that we struggled in qualifying because we had a very competitive car today, especially in the end. The track really came to us, and we were running with the leaders. When you start in the back here, you have to take risks because it's just so difficult to pass. Unfortunately our strategy didn't work. We were expecting at least one more yellow, but that's how it goes sometimes. We just have to analyze and understand where we need to improve and go to the next one."
MICHAEL ANDRETTI (Team owner, Andretti Autosport, owner of today's winning car, two-time winner of Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach): "I just love this place. It's where I got my first win as a driver (in 1986), and now I've got my first win as a sole team owner (here)."
DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, 12th): "Disastrous weekend for us. Not what we expected at all. We got as high as 10th, but we struggled all day in the Target car. We had some troubles getting around Alex Lloyd there at the end for some reason."
E.J. VISO (No. 8 PDVSA-Jet Aviation-KVRT, 15th): "It was a straightforward race, so we couldn't do much as far as strategy. It's a shame because the car was balanced all through the race, but we just lacked a chunk of grip everywhere around the circuit. We will just have to keep working hard, and I am confident that we will improve. But right now the most important thing is to get ready for the oval in Kansas."
BERTRAND BAGUETTE (No. 36 Conquest Racing RACB, 24th): "It was a difficult race starting from the back. I was blocked at the beginning behind Mario (Romancini). We struggled a bit on the red tires, and we had to pit quite early because of that. We changed to blacks and the pace on those was quite good, but I was blocked behind (Alex) Lloyd and that's when we encountered the problem with the front suspension so we had to stop there."
MARIO ROMANCINI (No. 34 Conquest Racing, 23rd): "Of course, I'm very disappointed. Our strategy was working pretty well, and we were having a great race. What happened today was a race accident, which sometimes happens. My crew did a great job, and I want to thank them for that. Now we go to the ovals, where we will hopefully be more lucky."
MARIO MORAES (No. 32 KV Racing Technology, sixth): "Since the start of the weekend, Iain (Watt, Moraes' engineer) and I worked well together. It is just Iain's second race with the team. Qualifying was disappointing. I thought we had a better car than 15th. In the race, I got a good start and tried to save fuel. It is very hard to save fuel on this circuit. We were able to use the tires well, and the car handled very good throughout the race. I am very happy for our KV team. Iain and I are learning each other better with every race. I am feeling more comfortable with him now. I am gaining more confidence with my driving, too. I was able to make a move on Helio (Castroneves) on the restart in Turn 1. The car just felt good all day. Now we move to the four oval races, and we need to work on that setup in the test this week at Kansas."
TAKUMA SATO (No. 5 Lotus-KV Racing Technology, 18th): "It was a tough weekend. After qualifying Saturday, we made a number of changes to the car for this morning's warm-up, and it was a positive move. The race started solidly. We saved our tires and fuel to stretch our first stint. It was all setting up nicely, but in the second stint, Alex Lloyd came out of the pits on cold tires. He couldn't stop and struck my car under braking, causing me to spin. That really ended my race because there was no full-course caution until the end. In all, it was a very disappointing and tough race, but it was another good learning experience for me. Next we race in Kansas, and my first oval test will be there this coming Friday. I am very excited to start my oval adventure."
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, fourth): "It was a tough day, and I think we missed some gears a bit. Our first gear was too long, and it was hard to get out of it. Our sixth gear was too short. We had plenty of good speed, but I think there at the end we just couldn't get close to Will, and whoever was in front of each person was going to pull away. That was kind of the end of it for us, and we decided just to cruise around in fourth gear."
TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven, fifth): "I am happy for Ryan, and I think he deserves this win. He was quick all weekend. We did all we could, but we lost a couple of positions on our pit stop. It was a hard race and seemed to be very physically demanding. I am happy for the Andretti Autosport team, and I feel like when one teammate wins, it is a victory for all of us. We are on the right track, and I am looking forward to heading into the ovals."
WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske, third): "Once Justin passed me, I tried for a couple of laps, but there was no point in putting the car in the wall. The Verizon Wireless car is still leading in points, and the team has a goal of winning the championship, so we are still in line for that. Overall it was a good day, but on one lap I got stuck in first gear. I have no idea why that happened, and I hope it doesn't do that again because I slowed down. I was able to get out of it and speed back up, but it hurt my placement. It is great to be on the podium again this weekend, and I am very happy with the car and the team."
MIKE CONWAY (No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, 10th): "It went well today. We just tried to save a lot of fuel by doing a lap more than everybody ahead of us and make up positions that way. It's frustrating, though, because it doesn't feel like you're pushing at all because you're just saving fuel. I think the only time I pushed was during the last stint. But the guys worked out a good strategy, and we got a top-10 finish and good points for the championship in the end."
DANICA PATRICK (No. 7 Team GoDaddy.com, 16th): "Today's race was definitely challenging, and the result doesn't show how hard the GoDaddy crew worked. It's been a frustrating weekend all around for the #7 car. But I'm so happy that my teammate Ryan won. His win is great for the #37 guys and Andretti Autosport as a whole."
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 26 Team Venom Energy, 14th): "Today was just one of those days when things don't go your way. Track position was so important, and we just kept giving it away. We bent the front wing twice and had to change the whole front nose, so that set us back. We just weren't able to get back where we needed to be. It was a disappointing finish for the Venom car but a great day for team. Ryan drove a great race and had a strong car. I'm really happy to see Andretti Autosport in Victory Lane."
SIMONA DE SILVESTRO (No. 78 Team Stargate Worlds/HVM, 17th): "It was nice to be back on a track that I know. It's really different in Indy cars compared to Atlantics. But the race was good. I made a bit of a mistake on the restart when I got a lot of wheelspin and got passed. But I learned a lot, and we'll see how the next one goes."
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