After grabbing the lead following his final pit stop of the day Frenchman Simon Pagenaud (Team Penske PPG Automotive Refinish #22) held off New Zealand’s Scott Dixon (Target Ganassi Racing #9) over the final 24 laps to earn the victory in Sunday’s 42nd running of the Verizon IndyCar series Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
It was the first win for Pagenaud since he joined Penske racing in 2015 and his fifth overall in IndyCar.
“This is my favorite street course. To win here in an Indy car is amazing,” said Pagenaud. “The PPG car is always good luck for me. Every time I am in that car I seem to be on the podium. And to get my first win for Roger Penske makes this a great day for me.”
The 80-lap race was run entirely under green in a blazing fast time of 1:33:54.5 at an average speed of 100.592 mph and as is often the case on a tight street circuit, the race was decided in the pits.
Pagenaud’s teammate Helio Castroneves (Team Penske Auto Club of Southern California #3) held the pole position on the 21-car starting grid after topping Saturday’s qualifying. Castroneves controlled the race until his second and final pit stop of the day on lap 52, handing over the lead to Pagenaud who had yet to make his final stop.
Dixon, who had been running second to Castroneves from the start of the race, pitted a lap earlier on lap 51, but ended up just ahead of Castroneves when Castroneves encountered heavy traffic leaving his stop.
After Pagenaud made his final stop on lap 58, he raced out of the pits just as Dixon was barreling down the front straightaway into turn 1. Pagenaud reentered the track just in front of Dixon, appearing to prematurely cross over the blend line in order to do so.
Dixon, last year’s Long Beach winner, pressed Pagenaud for the remainder of the race, but he could never get close enough to make a pass attempt at the lead and finished just .3 seconds off the pace.
Castroneves held on for third, Columbia’s Juan Pablo Montoya (Team Penske Verizon #2) finished 4th and 2013 Long Beach race winner Takumo Sato of Japan (Team AJ Foyt ABC Supply #14) rounded out the top five.
“We lead the first half of the race, but unfortunately that was the wrong part. It should have been the end,” said the smiling Castroneves.
After the race Dixon voiced his displeasure with the race stewards for only warning Pagenaud, rather than penalizing him, for crossing the blend line early.
“Personally I think we should have won today. The rule seems very clear and it was discussed in the driver’s meeting on Friday. I thought we were done with warnings and this wishy washy stuff and stick to hard rules, but that obviously wasn’t the case today. I don’t know why we other to discuss it if we are not going to stick to the rules.”
Pagenaud, of course, had a different take on the controversy.
“It was an inch on the track there, so I am good,” he said. The left side’s on the right side of the dots (blend markings) which it was, so I’m good.”
When he was asked about being issued a warning he simply replied “I don’t care.”
The IndyCar season will be back in action on Sunday, April 24, as the series heads to Barber Motor Sports Park for the Honda GP of Alabama. Then it is on to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Angie’s List Road Course Race on May 14 and the 100th running of ‘the Greatest Spectacle in Racing’ with the Indy 500 on May 29.
Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach officials announced that the 2017 race weekend is scheduled for April 7-9.
Alfonso Ribeiro, best-known for his role as ‘Carlton’ on “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and winner of the 2014 “Dancing With the Stars” competition, won Saturday’s 40th annual and final Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race.
As a sendoff the popular event, 18 former winners were included in the 20-car starting field, including actors Frankie Muniz, Chris McDonald, Ricky Schroder and Sean Patrick Flanery as well as 12-time Olympic medalist Dana Torres and former IndyCar champions Al Unser Jr. and Jimmy Vasser.
Ribeiro, starting 8th on the inverted grid, passed the seven drivers ahead of him in the first two laps and then held off a determined charge from former IndyCar driver “Mad Max” Papis to capture the checkered flag in the 10-lap race.
“I tried everything I could to get by him,” said Papis. “He is not only a heck of a dancer, but a great driver too.”
Ribeiro credited his win to the steward’s decision before the race to invert the field.
“The best break I got was when it was announced that they would invert the field putting the pros in the back,” laughed Ribeiro, now a four-time Toyota Pro/Celebrity champion with previous wins in 1994, 1995 & 2015. “I’m going to miss this race. It gave some of us the chance to actually live out a piece of our dreams.”
The Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race is scheduled to be broadcast on CBS Sportsnet on May 14 at 3 p.m.