Alexander Rossi dominates Grand Prix of Long Beach to take third-career win

by Jordan Groves

Alexander Rossi has won the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach after a dominating drive in the #27 Andretti Autosport Honda. The Californian put on a stunning display in his home state to lead virtually every lap of the race, minus the laps during pit-cycles.

After leading two of the three practice sessions before going on to take pole position, all eyes were on Rossi as the eighty-five lap race got underway at the historic Long Beach street circuit. Rossi got a great launch and was clear of his challengers on the run to turn one, but the caution came out soon after when Graham Rahal rear-ended Simon Pagenaud at the first corner. The contact put the Frenchman in the Team Penske Chevrolet out of the race, with Rahal earning himself a drive-through penalty for the contact.

Rossi would once again sprint away on the restart, something which he would then repeat for the remaining three race restarts that took place later on in the race. Rossi only gave up the lead during the race when he made his two pit-stops.

A late caution would set up a nine-lap sprint to the finish, with Rossi being pressured for the first time all day by the #12 Penske of Will Power; who had a lot more seconds left of push-to-pass to use to try and get by the dominant race leader. Rossi once again fired off of the final hairpin for the restart to build a second lead, but Power would cling on as he burned through his push to pass.

However, whilst Power was able to keep on terms with Rossi, he wasn’t able to get any closer. Within four laps, Power had burned through so much of his push to pass that Rossi now had more. From there, Rossi maintained an advantage ranging from a second to a second and a half, with the Andretti Autosports driver crossing the line at the end of lap eighty-five to take the win by 1.2-seconds.

The win was perhaps Rossi’s most dominant of his Verizon IndyCar Series career so far; right up there with his performance in last year’s race at Watkins Glen. Rossi has now won three times in IndyCar, all on vastly different styles of race track. With Rossi now in the lead of the championship by twenty-two points over Josef Newgarden, Alexander must now be considered a major player for this year’s crown.

Power would start and finish in second place, but he did not occupy the runner-up spot for much of the race. It was Scott Dixon and Sebastien Bourdais who had been Rossi’s closest challengers for a vast majority of the event. Bourdais took over second place from Dixon in the mid-stages of the race with a breathtaking, overtake of the year worthy, pass at turn one whilst negotiating lapped cars. However, Bourdais was judged to have made an illegal move by having run over the pit-exit line to set up the pass. Bourdais was forced to give the position back to Dixon, which he did at turn nine, but just three corners later the Dale Coyne Racing driver dived down the inside at turn one to retake the place.

Credit: Joe Skibinski / Courtesy of IndyCar

In the end, both Bourdais and Dixon would be caught out by a caution in the middle of the final pit sequence. The pair immediately hit pit-road when the #19 car of Zachary Claman De Melo hit the wall in the final sector, but both were awarded drive-through penalties for entering the pits whilst it was closed. This would drop both out of contention and into the midfield, where they would then fall victim to further incidents in the closing laps. Dixon would wind up taking eleventh, with Bourdais the last car on the lead lap in fourteenth.

Bourdais and Dixon’s penalties meant that in the closing stages of the race, Ed Jones and rookie Zach Veach would battle over the final spot on the podium. In the end, Jones – the sophomore driver for Chip Ganassi Racing – would take his second-career podium finish in third place; with Veach finishing a fantastic weekend in Long Beach with fourth place. It was a breakout performance by the twenty-three-year-old who started the race way down in fourteenth.

Despite his first corner clash with Pagenaud and the drive-through penalty that followed, Graham Rahal took his #15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda back through the field to take a superb fifth place, with Marco Andretti bouncing back from a poor qualifying result to take sixth having started twentieth.

Reigning champion Josef Newgarden took seventh in the #1 Penske Chevrolet, just ahead of the A.J. Foyt Enterprises #14 of Tony Kanaan and the #5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda of James Hinchcliffe; last year’s race winner at Long Beach.

Completing the top ten was Charlie Kimball, who after struggling for the first two races of the season and also in qualifying yesterday, took Carlin‘s first top ten finish in IndyCar. The American was fighting with faster cars for the whole race and after a determined drive was rewarded with a fantastic finish; with four-time champion Dixon finishing right on his tail in eleventh place.

Further back, Ed Carpenter Racing‘s rookie Jordan King had been in the mix for a potential top-five finish until he was forced to pit for repairs during the penultimate full course caution. He would then end up pitching Bourdais into a spin in the closing stages at the hairpin, with the British driver eventually finishing one lap down in eighteenth; just behind fellow countryman Max Chilton.

Ryan Hunter-Reay arguably had the most frustrating weekend of all. After a pit-exit penalty yesterday cost him a potential shot at a front-row qualifying, Hunter-Reay was involved in four separate incidents throughout the race, including damage to his front-wing, a puncture, being caught up in King’s incident with Bourdais and finally suffering a suspension failure with eight laps to go. After a weekend to forget, Hunter-Reay would take twentieth place.

Robert Wickens, arguably the star of the first two races this season, would have a torrid race after his #6 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda would develop a mechanical fault mid-way through the race. Multiple trips down pit-road for the remainder of the race would see the Canadian finish twelve laps down; with only the retired Claman De Melo and Pagenaud classified behind him.

The teams and drivers of the Verizon IndyCar Series have barely any time to regroup ahead of the fourth round of the 2018 season. The series will head to Barber Motorsports Park next weekend for the third race in as many weeks; the 2018 Grand Prix of Alabama.

Credit: Chris Owens / Courtesy of IndyCar

2018 Verizon IndyCar Series – Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach – Race results:

127Alexander RossiUSAAndretti AutosportLeader
212Will PowerAUSTeam Penske+1.2413
310Ed JonesUAEChip Ganassi Racing+9.2906
426Zach Veach (R)USAAndretti Autosport+10.1050
515Graham RahalUSARahal Letterman Lanigan Racing+10.7466
698Marco AndrettiUSAAndretti Herta Autosport+11.5513
71Josef NewgardenUSATeam Penske+12.2175
814Tony KanaanBRAA.J. Foyt Enterprises+16.1048
95James HinchcliffeCANSchmidt Peterson Motorsports+16.4757
1023Charlie KimballUSACarlin+17.0119
119Scott DixonNZLChip Ganassi Racing+17.3301
1260Jack Harvey (R)GBRMeyer Shank Racing+18.3469
134Matheus Leist (R)BRAA.J. Foyt Enterprises+18.7729
1418Sebastien BourdaisFRADale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan+18.9443
1521Spencer PigotUSAEd Carpenter Racing+1 Lap
1632Kyle Kaiser (R)USAJuncos Racing+1 Lap
1759Max ChiltonGBRCarlin+1 Lap
1820Jordan KingGBREd Carpenter Racing+1 Lap
1988Gabby ChavesCOLHarding Racing+2 Laps
2028Ryan Hunter-ReayUSAAndretti Autosport+4 Laps
2130Takuma SatoJAPRahal Letterman Lanigan Racing+11 Laps
226Robert Wickens (R)CANSchmidt Peterson Motorsports+12 Laps
2319Zachary Claman De Melo (R)CANDale Coyne RacingDNF
2422Simon PagenaudFRATeam PenskeDNF

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