Conway gives Andrettis 8th GP of Long Beach win
One Australian dominated practice and qualifying and another one almost got the job done on race day. But in the end it was a Brit, Mike Conway, who won Sunday's 37th running of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach before a sun drenched crowd of 70,000. Briscoe, using good pit strategy, grabbed the lead after the first round of pit stops and then survived two late race restarts only to have British youngster Mike Conway smoke him with 13 laps to go and waltz away to victory.
Briscoe held off Franchitti to finish 2nd, but it was not the result he was hoping for.
On the next to last restart Helio Castroneves locked his brakes going into Turn 1 and speared his teammate Will Power, who was running third and battling Hunter-Reay for 2nd, and spun both Power and himself out.
On the final restart American Ryan Hunter-Reay appeared to lose his transmission and Franchitti jumped up to second behind race leader Ryan Briscoe. But Conway was on fire and passed Franchitti for 2nd and on the next lap (Lap 72) passed Briscoe in Turn 6 on the 1.968-mile, 11-turn Long Beach street course. Once in the lead Conway drove away from the two veterans for an easy 6-second victory in the most prestigious road race in the USA.
He became the 274th driver to win an IndyCar race.
The English driver sustained multiple leg fractures and a compression fracture in his back in the crash in May 2010, which ended his season. He went through a grueling rehabilitation and signed with Andretti Autosport for 2011, finishing 23rd and 22nd in his first two races.
"As soon as it happened, I wanted to know what the time frame was until I could get back into the car," Conway said. "I was kind of over it, really, and the physical things just kind of take time. It was a long offseason, but there was a lot to keep my mind on and when I got a chance to get back into the car, I was ready."
But after today all that hard work paid off.
"What a great result," said Conway! It looked a bit difficult here earlier this weekend, but this morning I knew the car would be fast. It was really tough to overtake here, but they just told me to hang in there. The team did a great job; good strategy. I can't thank the guys at Andretti Autosport enough, as well as everyone at Window World Cares and DHL, for putting their faith in me."
"For sure this place is special for me. I got my first win here and my last win here, and my father had great success here as well. Long Beach is just a special place, a fun place to come and I think that makes us come up for this race and good things happen."
Briscoe said after the race, "I thought I was going to win but Conway was really fast at the end and I had nothing for him. Mike was in a class of his own today.
"It is incredible how close the competition is and we were off just a bit in qualifying and started 12th. Roger [Penske] made the right call on bringing me in early on the first stop which put me in a position to have a chance to win. But in the end we had nothing for Mike Conway.
"I was happy with the start but we were not getting the power down out of the hairpin today," said Franchitti. "I thought I was in good shape at the end but here comes the Conway Express who blew past both Ryan Briscoe and I and just drove away.
"I just want to say that the crowd was amazing today. On the victory lap it has been a long time since I saw such a vibrant enthusiastic crowd. It was a massive crowd and it was really nice to see."
Canadians had a good day with rookie James Hinchcliffe was 4th and Alex Tagliani rounding out the top-5. Oriol Servia was 6th, and would have finished higher had he not been forced into a spin when Castroneves speared Power in Turn 1.
Danica Patrick advanced 13 positions to finish seventh in the No. 7 Team GoDaddy car. Tony Kanaan was eighth in the No. 82 GEICO-KV Racing Technology-Lotus entry, and Vitor Meira recorded his second top 10 of the season in the No. 14 ABC Supply car for A.J. Foyt Racing.
Power recovered to finish 10th in the No. 12 Verizon car but lost considerable points to Franchitti. Castroneves also continued and finished 12th.
After the race team owner Michael Andretti had high praise for Conway. "He made some great passes at the end. It proves he's a real racer."
A dejected Helio Castroneves was apologetic after the race for taking his teammate out of the lead battle. He accepted full blame for the incident.
"First of all, the Auto Club Team Penske crew did a great job today,” said Castroneves. “To be running inside the top-five for most of the race was just amazing. As far as the restart, I'm really not sure what to say. I feel terrible for Will (Power). I wasn't even trying to pass, but we just made contact. Will is my teammate, and of course you just can't take each other out. It's just very unfortunate and I have to say I'm sorry to the team. Good job to Ryan, he deserved at least a second-place finish today. And congratulations to (Mike) Conway on the win."
The first two out of the race were Sebastien Bourdais and Marco Andretti. Andretti pulled out of the pits right in front of Bourdais who had nowhere to go on the narrow pit lane. Both cars were damaged beyond repair.
The race did not turn into the crashfest we predicted as the drivers stayed cleaned until the next to last restart. That restart took out 5 cars on the go-green lap, but everyone has come to accept that the excitement of double file restarts is worth the tradeoff of the resulting crash damage and hurt feelings.
Conway was brought to IndyCar by Mark Blundell, who is his agent. Blundell won three CART IndyCar races so his protégé has come good.
The series now packs up for an overseas flight to the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil in two weeks on May 1st.
Results - 85 Laps
MIKE CONWAY (No 27 Window World Cares, winner Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach): "It feels awesome. As soon as I got in the lead, I was thinking of winning already. I knew I had to forget about it and get with the job at hand. The car was great. I could push all the time and control the gap. I can't thank everybody at the team Andretti Autosport for this result for the Window World Cares and DHL car. My guys hung in there all day. I made a mistake on a pit stop when I locked up. I thought our day might be done, but we had to hang in there and push all the way. On the restarts the car was awesome and it just came to life." (About pass for the lead): "I made the same move on Dario (Franchitti). It was like they were struggling to get temperature in the tires. My car was good to go. I just took my time and picked my point, and was able to pull away."
MICHAEL ANDRETTI (Owner, Andretti Autosport): "I am so happy. His comeback is now complete. He impressed me right away. The first time we put him in a race car, I could tell he had potential. I'm just so happy he was able to (win) this early and win one of the greatest races here in Long Beach. I'm just so proud of him and the whole Window World Cares team. They had a tough time on that pit stop, and they were able to overcome."
DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, finished third): The car was really quick everywhere except for turn into the straight and down the straight. I think with the gear ratio and setting up for the wrong parts of the track made it hard for me to pass anyone because of the gap they would get coming out of the hairpin. It was an interesting day for me. It has been a long time since the radio failed. After the first stop, it went out so we were getting wrong signals and mixed calls. I caught a little bit of luck to get on the podium because the other guys took each other out. I almost got caught up in one incident because I locked the wheels up and we did the best we could to avoid the incident. I struggled on the out lap after my last pit stop and I don't know if it was the car or something I need to work on but we lost a lot of time there. Overall it was a good day for Target Chip Ganassi Racing to be on the podium and I am pleased to be first in points for the championship running
RYAN BRISCOE (No. 6 Penske Truck Rentals, finished second): "Mike Conway was in a class of his own today and there was nothing I could do. He was so much faster when he made that move on me. I really thought we were going to bring the #6 Penske Truck Rentals car to victory lane this weekend. It is a great day though as we started twelfth and moved our way up to second place."
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 19 Boy Scouts of America): "The run was going much better than I thought it would be because we made up some positions. I passed Danica then I passed Marco and I things were going all right. And then the car, the car was definitely a lot tougher to drive than you'd like but overall it was still about as good as we were going to get it. We could do decent mileage with the pace we had so it was all right. We're still lacking grip, but I think we are making progress. It was an interesting race but they sent Marco out and he had no idea I was going to use that side and he just squeezed me there and that was it."
ORIOL SERVIA (No. 2 Telemundo Newman/Haas Racing): "I am very, very happy with how competitive the Telemundo team is. We had a strong performance the whole weekend and the team keeps moving forward. But I do have a bit of a bad taste in my mouth because this was probably the best race car I have ever had in a race. I felt in control the whole race; I felt I was better than anybody around me. I felt I was better than the Ganassi's, the Penske's and we were just running our strategy. When the yellow came, it hurt us because we were just coming in that lap so that didn't go our way but we were still strong and we still thought a podium was definitely in our future and then on the restart Helio was a little too optimistic and got into Power and just didn't leave me anywhere to go because I was on the outside. I had to do a little bit of a circus maneuver to get back on track and that obviously cost us the podium there but we finished sixth and it could have been a lot worse. I'm happy with how we're doing. We're consistent, we're always there and the wins will come. We are working hard and it's paying off."
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 06 Sprott Newman Haas Racing, finished fourth): "The guys did such a good job getting the back-up car going this afternoon. We had to tweak on it a little bit, but I didn't think we got the best out of qualifying, but we had a really good race, we were able to save fuel when we needed to, push when we needed to. There's no doubt that we benefited from some other people's misfortunes, but at the end of the day it was just such a great drive. The car was awesome and consistent. On that final restart anything could have happened and we managed to gain a spot. Huge thanks to Newman/Haas, Sprott and everybody on board here because it was great results after what happened at Barber."
ALEX TAGLIANI (No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins/Sam Schmidt Motorsports, finished fifth): "I think we had a better car than fifth, but not a winning car. We were struggling a bit with the balance on the blacks. The reds were going down pretty quickly for us - too quickly I would say. But, the team did a good job, the Bowers & Wilkins car all day, ran flawlessly other than one refueling problem. We were top-five all weekend, so I think that's what we deserved.
SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA (No. 34 Conquest Racing): "It was great to finish the race. I was very happy. That was our main goal; that was what we worked for. We maintained a great pace, unfortunately we had to use blacks at the end compared to other cars that had reds on the end. It was a crazy race with those cautions. Unfortunately when a yellow came out in Turn 8, I had contact with (Charlie) Kimball which damaged my front wing, making me come in for a change. But it was a great day. The guys did a great job changing the wing and we had great pit stops. We've got to keep going. I want a top 10."
TONY KANAAN (No. 82 GEICO - KV Racing Technology - Lotus, finished eighth): "It was a long day. We had a little bit of an issue with a pit stop and that cost us the race. We still finished in the top-10 which is a decent result. Things like that should not be happening, so we have to go home and fix it."
TAKUMA SATO (No. 5 KV Racing Technology - Lotus): "I am extremely disappointed. It was a clean start and a strong race. We saved tires and fuel and really concentrated on our strategy. Other drivers ahead of me pitted early, but I was able to stretch a few laps more, which helped me move up. After the restart I was running as high as seventh and side-by-side with Conway, who won the race, but I got hit from behind. This caused me to get a puncture and I had to return to the pits. Overall, I felt we worked well together as a team and I had a good strategy, but we still need to work hard on pure speed. Hopefully we can improve this for Brazil."
E.J. VISO (No. 59 PDVSA - KV Racing Technology - Lotus): "I was having a good, clean race. We were running in the top-10. Then after my second pit stop I was attempting to pass another car and we made contact. I haven't looked at the video, so I don't want to say too much, but I thought it was a legitimate pass because the other driver had lost momentum after being overtaken by other car. It is a shame because I think we were in a position to have a good result. We will just have to try and get things going in Brazil."
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Automobile Club of Southern California Team Penske): "First of all, the Auto Club Team Penske crew did a great job today. To be running inside the top-five for most of the race was just amazing. As far as the restart, I'm really not sure what to say. I feel terrible for Will (Power). I wasn't even trying to pass, but we just made contact. Will is my teammate, and of course you just can't take each other out. It's just very unfortunate and I have to say I'm sorry to the team. Good job to Ryan, he deserved at least a second-place finish today. And Congratulations to (Mike) Conway on the win."
PAUL TRACY (No. 8 Dragon Racing-Ralphs Grocery): "Today overall was a long, lonely day. Due to early penalties we stayed in the back of the field most of the day. However the car ran great and kept a consistent pace. The team performed well together and we were able to finish under the checkered flag."
WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske): "The Verizon car was strong today. It's definitely not the finish we wanted. I'm not really sure what happened on the restart. I got hit from behind by Helio (Castroneves) but sometimes that's what happens in racing - especially close racing like this with the double-file restarts. We drove back to finish 10th and made the most of it. It wasn't a great day for points, but Verizon Team Penske will keep working hard and move forward."
VITOR MEIRA (No. 14 ABC Supply Co./A.J. Foyt Racing): "We had a good car but at the end of the stint we were hurting. And on both my outlaps we had problems—first with Rahal hitting me in pitlane and then Danica bumped wheels with me after my second stop outlap. Every time something happened in front of me, I had to make a choice where to go and it was never the right one! So I lost 4 positions but hey, it's still another top 10 so we can't complain—this ABC Supply team will have the result we deserve soon."
JR HILDEBRAND (No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing): "I was really happy for the National Guard guys that we were able to hang in there and push to the end and I was able to rip off some of my fastest laps right there at the end of the race, and I felt like that was a good way to end it." (About hitting the debris on Lap 67): "The coast was pretty much clear by the time I got down there and I just ended up running over a piece of debris and it just instantly destroyed the right-front tire. I got lucky because there were other guys having similar problems and it was if suddenly there was oil slick on the track because guys were going off right and left as they ran over stuff, which forced me to drive a little bit slower until I realized I had a serious issue. Then we had to pit again because we entered a closed pit and ended up at the end of the line, and following that I took back off and thought I had an issue with one of the rear tires and then pitted again under green. For me personally and for us as a group we just need to take what we can from this weekend and learn as much as we can going to Brazil, because that's not going to be too much different."
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