By DALE & KEN BOSOWSKI
Special to the Bulletin
LONG BEACH In a near duplication of his victory last year, Alexander Rossi (#27 Andretti Autosports NAPA Auto Parts Honda) once again dominated the entire race to capture Sunday’s 45th running of the NTT IndyCar Series Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach for his first win of the 2019 season.
“To win in California is absolutely amazing! I have so many friends and family here for support makes it really special,” said Rossi, who hails from Nevada City. “To win this race two years in a row is a testament to our whole team.”
It was Rossi’s sixth career victory in the series which includes the Indy 500 in his rookie season of 2016.
The win was also the 200th for Michael Andretti’s Andretti Autosports empire, which includes teams in Indy Lights, GT4 America, Formula E and RallyCross where Manteca native Scott Speed holds three consecutive titles.
“This is exciting. I am so proud of what our team has been able to accomplish in our 15 years or so of existence and doing it at Long Beach makes it extra special,” said Andretti, who won his first (1986) and last (2002) of his 42 career IndyCar wins at Long Beach. “We have had so many great people and sponsors to help get us to this point including 38 different drivers who have won for us.”
Rossi became the eighth driver to repeat at Long Beach and the first since Sebastien Bourdais captured three checkered flags in a row from 2005-07.
Al Unser Jr. holds the record for both the most consecutive wins at Long Beach with four in a row from 1988-91 and most total wins with sixth, feats that earned him the title “King of the Beach.”
Rossi most important lap of the weekend have been his final one in Saturday’s fast six qualifying session where he turned in a blistering time of 1 minute, 6.4811 seconds (106.569 mph) around the twisting 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit to steal the pole position for Sunday’s race from Scott Dixon (#9 PNC Bank Ganassi Racing Honda) and Will Power (#12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet).
“Winning the pole here is huge,” explained Rossi. “It allows you to run your own race, control the pace and strategy and dictate what the rest of the field does.”
Rossi took full advantage of the pole position to beat the rest of field into turn one on the opening green flag. He was able to duplicate his fast start following the only yellow-caution restart in the race which occurred on lap four after three cars collided between turns two and three on the opening lap.
Once in the lead Rossi never looked back as he would lead a total of 80 laps out of 85 in the race, only relinquishing the top spot when his two routine pit stops briefly shuffled the running order.
He steadily built on his lead the entire race, finishing 20.23 seconds ahead of Josef Newgarden (#2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet). It was the largest margin of victory at Long Beach since Al Unser’s 25 second win over Scott Pruitt in 1995.
“Honestly, Alex was just too quick today,” admitted Newgarden. “It was a good weekend for us, but it is always tough to fall just short.”
Dixon, Graham Rahal (#15 TOTAL Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda) and Rossi’s teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay (#25 DHL Honda) rounded out the top five in the 23 car starting field.
Dixon actually took the checkered flag behind Rahal but was awarded third well after the race when officials ruled that Rahal intentionally blocked a pass attempt by Dixon late in the race.
“You are not allowed to react to another driver’s move and that is exactly what he did and it forced me to hit him,” said Dixon unapologetically. “If he hadn’t made that move I think I would have gotten by him easily. We are ok with it and I’m sure he is not, but that is just the way it is.”
The win vaults Rossi into second in the IndyCar point standings after four events, trailing only Newgarden by a 166 to 138 margin.
“This is a good kick start to our year. Up to now we have had good pace, but not results,” said Rossi. “The whole team needed this. It was a good confidence and moral boost heading into the month of May.”
The Indy cars will not be back in action until Sunday, May 11, when the series returns to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the infield road circuit which will be followed two weeks later with the 103rd running of the Indy 500 on Sunday, May 25.
The 17-race 2019 IndyCar season will conclude with the Firestone GP of Monterey at Weather Tech Raceway at Laguna Seca on September 20-22.