James Hinchcliffe scored his first win in 2 years taking the chequer at the historic Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. When it looked like the race would be decided by fuel strategy, a brace of late cautions set up a frenetic finish.
Here is my rundown of the heroes and zeroes from the 2017 IndyCar Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
2017 IndyCar Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Heroes
Hero – James Hinchcliffe
Hinch delivered a complete performance on Sunday. The Canadian tracked Ryan Hunter-Reay all race to make his fuel numbers. He executed when his opportunity came to pass RHR and pull away. The 2016 Indy 500 pole winner was then mighty on later re-starts and smoked the opposition on the final and race-deciding restart.
I am really looking forward to seeing what Hinch can do with this win and momentum going in to round 3 of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar season.
Hero – Alexander Rossi
At the second set of pit stops Rossi jumped Ryan Hunter-Reay and looked like he could be challenging Hinch for the win alongside off-strategy runner Scott Dixon.
Rossi had a legitimate shot at not only a 2nd career IndyCar win but one owing mostly to speed and race craft, as opposed to fuel saving. Thankfully this will not be the last time that Rossi is in genuine contention for a win in 2017 – assuming Andretti Autosport can sort their technical issues from Long Beach (more on that later).
Hero – Sebastien Bourdais
With 6 laps to go and back markers out of the way, Bourdais looked like he could challenge for an unlikely 2nd win of the season. A late surge from Josef Newgarden – Chevrolet’s top finisher in 3rd – moved the Frenchman’s focus to defending his second place.
The Dale Coyne team struggled during qualifying but Bourdais’ skills around the iconic Long Beach track pulled him through the field on race day. For one of the ‘minnows’ of the IndyCar series, Dale Coyne and Bourdais top the championship point standings for the second race in a row.
Honourable mentions – Conor Daly & Ed Jones
On a day when he finished dead last on the road, Daly gets this for one thing and one thing only: walking out to the grid with an attractive Hollywood starlet. Otherwise Daly was destined for the zeroes list all weekend.
Ed Jones was superb claiming a top 10 finish at the tricky Long Beach circuit. The former IndyLights champion was smooth and smart throughout the race, despite his rookie status. The likes of Conor Daly and JR Hildebrand will be concerned if Jones can perform like this consistently across the 2017 season.
2017 IndyCar Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Zeroes
Zeroes – Andretti Autosport
The strategy call for Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi – 3 stops over 2 – looked set to score Andretti Autosport a win in Long Beach. Luck was involved – as it always is in IndyCar strategy – but it had set up RHR or Rossi for the win. Then the Andretti Autosport cars started self-destructing.
In the space of 5 laps Rossi, Sato and Hunter-Reay’s cars broke down. Following Marco Andretti’s earlier retirement, none of the four Andretti Autosport cars made the finish. It is hard to criticise Honda after the performance gains made during the off-season. But to lose four cars in one race with no accidents involved is a bitter blow.
Zero – Charlie Kimball
Kimball is fast becoming a danger to the IndyCar field. Following an ill-judged move on Graham Rahal at St Petersburg, Kimball clearly had not learned his lesson in Long Beach.
Kimball forced his way past Will Power through the fountain chicane, banging wheels as they excited. With Power halfway alongside, Kimball cut across. IndyCar officials deemed it a racing incident but Kimball’s behaviour was, for me, naive and once again ill-timed.
After 2 races Kimball has 2 DNF’s. To make matters worse, he has yet to complete a full race lap.
Zero – Will Power
In my Long Beach preview I talked about Will Power’s predilection for losing his head when things do not go his way. After a disaster in St Petersburg, I suggested the matured Power would emerge. Instead ‘mad’ Will Power returned in Long Beach.
Banging wheels with Kimball through the opening corners, Power kept his nose in on lap 1. Kimball turned in and Power went to the back of the field. Whilst teammate Pagenaud had his tail up and rose from the back of the grid to a 5th place finish – Power trailed home 13th.
Zero – fuel saving races
Despite the extension of the race length at Long Beach, only 3 cautions meant this was another IndyCar race for the strategy-fans. There is certainly an element of intrigue during fuel saving races in terms of how it plays out, caution periods and the like. But it is pretty dull for the majority of fans. Thankfully a final caution with 10 to go set up a more exciting finish in Long Beach.
I have no idea what the solution is but IndyCar will need to have a think about what it does to prevent street/road races going the same way.
Zero – NBCSN race director
We missed a ton of key moves during the broadcast – Hinchcliffe passing RHR for the lead after 2nd round of stops. Then a few moments later the pass by Rossi on RHR for what become might have been a shot at the race win.
Zero – Helio Castroneves
After snatching an unexpected pole for Long Beach, Castroneves suffered an over boost issue on the race start. The resulting penalty only compounded the misery as the Brazilian wheel-spun his way down the field on the opening lap. .
Castroneves proceeded to subsequently speed on pit road not once but twice. Those additional penalties dropped Helio to the back of the field on the final restart of the race. Definitely a hero to zero day for the 3-time Indy 500 champion who scored a 9th place finish due mostly to the quadruple Andretti Autosport retirements.
Race rating – 7 out of 10
Fuel strategy dominated the race until the final full course caution set up a grandstand finish. Strategy races are seriously dull and Long Beach was heading for a win decided by either a 2 stop or 3 stop fuel decision. Thankfully a grand stand finish in the closing laps knocked this one up from a 5 out of 10 to a solid 7.