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Hinchcliffe wins Long Beach Grand Prix
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LONG BEACH — Canadian James Hinchcliffe (#5 Arrows Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda) executed a two-stop pit strategy to perfection and received a couple of timely breaks in rolling to a popular victory in Sunday’s 43rd Annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach for the Verizon IndyCar Series.
“I am thrilled. There are three races I have told my crew that you have to win – Indy, Toronto and here,” explained Hinchcliffe afterward. “Long Beach is the Indy 500 of street racing. I have one down and two to go.”
It was the fifth career win for Hinchcliffe, who also won at Long Beach in 2010 while competing in Indy Lights.
Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais (#18 Sonny’s BBQ Honda), the winner of the opening round of the 2017 IndyCar season at St. Petersburg, finished in second for Dale Coyne Racing, while Josef Newgarden (#2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) captured third for his first podium with his new team.
“This is a great finish for us. It is so unexpected since we were not on the money all weekend,” said Bourdais a three-time winner at Long Beach. “I had to really nurse it home at the end, but somehow I was able to bring it in.”
Newgarden, who replaced the veteran driver Juan Pablo Montoya at Team Penske this season, was equally satisfied with his effort.
“It is great to get my first podium for the Captain (Roger Penske) and now our next step is a win,” said Newgarden. “Penske always gives you the equipment to win, but the yellow just didn’t fall our way today.”
Scott Dixon (#9 NTT Data Ganassi Racing Honda) and Simon Pagenaud (#1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet), both employing three-stop strategies, rounded out the top five, respectively. It was somewhat of a moral victory for Pagenaud, the defending series champion, considering he started dead last in the 21-field after being assessed a penalty for blocking during qualifying.
Brazil’s Helio Castroneves (#3 Auto Club of Southern California Team Penske Chevrolet) started the race on the pole, but immediately dropped five spots on the opening lap. He was never a serious contender after that, finishing ninth.
It was a disappointment for the 20-year veteran driver after turning a blistering track record lap of 1 minute, 6.2254 seconds around the twisting 11-turn, 1.968 mile temporary street circuit in Saturday’s qualifying to earn the pole position (106.980 mph) for Sunday’s race. It was his third consecutive pole at Long Beach and the 48th pole of Castroneves’ IndyCar career putting him just one shy of Bobby Unser for third on the all-time list.
It was even a bigger disappointment for Castroneves’ Penske teammate Will Power and Charlie Kimball after the pair came together in a first-lap accident putting an early end to the hopes of both for a good race. Power was able to make repairs to salvage 13th while Kimball was unable to continue.
The race went caution free after that until 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi (#98 NAPA Auto Parts Andretti/Herta Autosports) suffered a mechanical failure on lap 63 where he was running a strong third.
Hinchcliffe inherited the race lead from Dixon, who dove into the pits for his final stop of the race, and slowly began to pull away from Ryan Hunter-Reay (#28 DHL Andretti Autosports Honda) following the restart.
Hunter-Reay would later come to a halt just five laps from the finish with a mechanical failure to complete a dismal day for Michael Andretti’s four car team which also saw Takuma Sato and Marco Andretti retire from the race early.
“I hated to see things happen to Rossi and Hunter-Reay as things were shaping up for a great race, but I think we had them covered,” said Hinchcliffe, one of the most popular drivers in the series.
When Hinchcliffe was asked how he was able to keep his wits about him while the other front runners were having their issues he quickly replied with a laugh, “It’s easy to keep your wits when you don’t have any.”
The IndyCar season will be back in action on Sunday, April 23rd as the series heads to Barber Motor Sports Park for the Honda GP of Alabama. Then it is on to Phoenix International Raceway for the Desert Diamond West Valley Grand Prix on Saturday evening, April 29. The 101st running of the Indy 500 will take place on Sunday, May 28.