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Rossi Rules at Long Beach Grand Prix
Alexander Rossi of Nevada City won the Long Beach Grand Prix on Sunday - photo by DALE BOSOWSKI/The Bulletin

LONG BEACH — Alexander Rossi (#27 Andretti Autosports NAPA Auto Parts Honda)  capped a near perfect weekend by dominating Sunday’s 44th running of the Verizon IndyCar Series Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

“This was a very rewarding win. It is hard to put it into words,” said Rossi afterwards. “The crowds, the atmosphere, the energy, it is overwhelming here. I will remember this for a long, long time.”

It was Rossi’s third career victory in the series. He also won on the road course at Watkins Glen last season and the 2016 Indy 500.

Rossi topped the speed charts in Friday’s practice then claimed the pole in the 24-car field by posting the fastest time in all three of Saturday’s knockout qualifying sessions.

Rossi’s fast time of 1 minute, 6.5528 seconds (106.454 mph) around the twisting 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit was just over .3 second slower than last year’s track record time set by Helio Castro-Neves due to this season’s new aero package which limits downforce, allowing for higher speeds in the straightaways, but slows the cars in the corners.

The race got off to a rough start for 2016 series champion Simon Pagenaud (#22 Team Penske Verizon Chevy). 

Pagenaud, who started in the second row, was punted into the wall by Graham Rahal (#15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing) when Rahal attempted to move up on the outside after taking the green flag going into turn 1. Rahal was able to continue on while Pagenaud was done for the day without completing a single lap.

When the race resumed Rossi slowly pulled away from the field. He would lead a total of 71 out of 85 laps only relinquishing the top spot when pit stops shuffled the running order.

Rossi completed the race in a time of 1:53.15 with an average speed of 88.622 mph, beating runner up Will Power (#12 Team Verizon Penske) to the checkered flag by a 1.2 second margin. 

“I thought I had a shot to win, but the gap just stayed at about one second no matter what I tried,” explained Power, who stood on the podium for the 63rd time in his career. “He was just too fast today. His car was really, really good.”

The third of four yellow-cautions in the race, occurring on lap 60 when Zachary Claman De Melo (#19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda) tagged the outer concrete barrier coming out of turn 9, played a major role in the final finishing order.

Some drivers had already made their final pit stop while others had yet to come in when the caution came out. The advantage went to those who had already pitted and resulted in a shakeup of the running order during the final laps of the race.

Ed Jones (#10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) was one of the beneficiaries, using the track position gained during the caution to finish third, tying his career best. 

“My guys had a great pit strategy today and we also got lucky on the yellows,” said Jones. “This was a strong finish for us.”

The final yellow came out on lap 72 when rookie Jordan King piled into the back of Sebastien Bourdais causing a four car pileup that also included Ryan Hunter-Reay and Robert Wickens.

Rossi was able to keep Power at bay when the race resumed four laps later despite being at a disadvantage in push-to-pass, which allows the driver to activate a boost of turbocharger pressure and additional horsepower.

“We nailed the setup in each session this weekend,” said Rossi. “You can always look back and think of something you would do different, but this was pretty close to perfection.”

 Rookie Zach Veach (#26 Andretti Autosports Honda) took fourth place while Rahal, overcoming a drive through penalty for hitting Pagenaud, recovered to salvage fifth place. Other notables included Marco Andretti in sixth, defending series champion Josef Newgarden in seventh and 2017 Long Beach race winner James Hinchcliffe in ninth.   

The Indy cars will be back in action next Sunday, April 22,, when the series shifts to Barber Motor Sports Park for the Honda GP of Alabama. Then it is on to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the GP of Indy road race on Saturday, May 12, and the 102nd running of the Indy 500 on Sunday, May 27.

The 17-race 2018 IndyCar season will once again conclude at Sonoma Raceway on September 14-16.