James Hinchcliffe took a hugely popular victory in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in a hard fought eighty-five-lap race on Sunday in California.
The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver hit the front for the first time after the final round of pit stops, eventually edging out Sebastien Bourdais by 1.4940 seconds, with Josef Newgarden completing the podium just 0.8220 seconds further back.
Helio Castroneves’ aim to turn his pole position into a first Long Beach win since 2001 was ruined by a sluggish start, where the Team Penske driver was swallowed up by those close behind and as a result dropped down to sixth, with Scott Dixon taking the early lead ahead of Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi and Graham Rahal.
There was further disappointment for Team Penske at turn four on the opening lap, when Will Power clashed with Charlie Kimball, with the former heading to pit lane for a new front nose section, while the latter also hit pit lane but to retire with suspension damage on his Chip Ganassi Racing machine.
Dixon surprised many by abandoning a two-stop pit strategy early in favour of a three-stop strategy, which ultimately proved his undoing as Hunter-Reay inherited the lead and looked on course to challenge for the race win as he led Hinchcliffe and Rossi through to the first round of pit stops.
The trio continued to lead into the second round of stops, although Rossi found a way passed Hinchcliffe heading into turn one the lap before both he and Hunter-Reay headed into pit lane. Hinchcliffe stayed out on further lap, and gained enough time to emerge ahead, and once the two stoppers made their final stops, he inherited the lead once more and was never headed thereafter.
There was disappointment for Rossi as, when just after pitting for the final time and moving ahead of Hunter-Reay on track, his Honda engine appeared to let go, ending his chances of a potential podium finish.
The subsequent caution period to remove his car from the end of the start/finish straight bunched up the field, and left Hinchcliffe leading from Hunter-Reay.
Hunter-Reay’s own bid for the race win came to a premature end as he stopped on track on the exit of turn three with just five laps to go as he attempted to close the gap down to Hinchcliffe. The American’s demise meant that all four Andretti entries were forced into retirement with mechanical issues, two from the lead battle, much to the chagrin of team boss Michael Andretti.
The issues for Rossi and Hunter-Reay promoted St Petersburg race winner Bourdais up into second place for Dale Coyne Racing, ensuring the Frenchman retained his lead in the Drivers’ Championship heading into round three at Barber Motorsports Park, while Newgarden was the best of the two-stoppers in third, taking his first podium finish since his off-season move to Penske.
Despite leading early, Dixon found himself passed by Newgarden and was ultimately forced to settle for fourth, while defending series champion and 2016 Long Beach winner Simon Pagenaud climbed from the very back of the field at the start to claim fifth for Penske.
Ed Jones drove a superb race in the second Coyne entry to claim an excellent sixth place finish, just ahead of AJ Foyt Racing’s Carlos Muñoz, while Spencer Pigot confirmed himself as one to watch on the road and street tracks this season with eighth for Ed Carpenter Racing.
Castroneves trailed home in ninth ahead of Graham Rahal, who was running sixth and on course to finish there only to be forced to pit with six laps remaining with a puncture that relegated the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver to the back end of the top ten.
Mikhail Aleshin was the final driver to finish on the lead lap, albeit he did so with a right rear puncture and damage to his car after being hit from behind heading into the first turn on the final lap by JR Hildebrand, who retired at the spot but was still classified twelfth ahead of Power, Max Chilton, Tony Kanaan and Conor Daly.
Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Race Result
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