Last Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach for the Verizon IndyCars proved to be one the most entertaining and action packed races in the 40-year history of the event.
Saturday’s qualifying would be a prelude of things to come when 21 cars all negotiated the difficult 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit within one second of the pole-setting time put up by Andretti Autosports Ryan Hunter Reay.
Even more interesting was the surprising absence of super powers Team Penske and Team Target/Ganassi in the final quick six qualifying session. Instead, several drivers from smaller teams, including Simon Pagenaud, British rookie Jack Hawksworth and Josef Newgarden, all found themselves battling it out for the pole.
“It was anybody’s session and it just depended on could put up just the right lap at just the right time,” said Hunter-Reay on Saturday. “It is so, so close that it is amazing. A tenth of second here or a little bobble there makes such a big difference.”
On Sunday, virtually every car in the race spent some time at or near the front as pit stops, tire and fuel strategy, crashes and just plain luck kept the 23-car field in constant flux.
Case in point were the trials and tribulations suffered by Justin Wilson (Dale Coyne Racing Honda) during the day.
Wilson started the race from the 10th position, but thanks to some help from behind by Graham Rahal was relegated to the back of the field after a spin coming out of the turn 11 hairpin on lap 32. Wilson methodically worked his way back to mid pack when Ryan Hunter-Reay made his ill advised pass for the lead on Newgarden in the narrow turn 4, causing a massive pile up that took out both of them as well as many of the other front runners.
When the race finally returned to green several laps later, Wilson suddenly found himself in second place right behind the new leader Scott Dixon. One lap later, when Wilson attempted a pass to take the lead in turn 7, Dixon swung wide and planted the Brit into the concrete wall, putting a painful end to his afternoon.
Wilson was undoubtedly without sympathy when Dixon ran short on fuel and was forced to the pits with just two laps remaining in the race, relegating him to 12th in the final results and giving Wilson’s countryman Mike Conway (Fuzzy’s /Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet) his third career win.
Conway could not have been more pleased at his good fortune.
“I didn’t know whether he had the fuel to finish or not,” Conway said. “The guys were telling me he was saving fuel and they weren’t sure that he could make it. Second would have been good, but this is awesome.”
The Pacific Challenge Series Late Models made the first of their three scheduled 2014 appearances at the 99 Speedway last Saturday night. Tracy’s Justin Philpott held the lead through much of the 75-lap feature, but he eventually succumbed to Roseville’s Eric Schmidt, the night’s fast qualifier.
Lakeport’s Darin Snider edged Chad Nichols of San Carlos and Nick Chivello of Manteca in the 30-lap Bay Cities Midget Racing main. The 99 returns to action on May 3 with the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, Legends of the Pacific, Pro-4 Modifieds, Mini Cups and Basic 4-Cylinders.