Alexander Rossi came, saw and conquered the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach emphatically. The Andretti Autosport driver was on another level relative to the rest of the highly competitive IndyCar field, claiming pole, the win, and most laps led.
Here we rate the heroes and zeroes from one of IndyCar’s most iconic events which was once again a thriller from the first green flag to the checker.
An IndyCar masterclass from Alexander Rossi
A late full course caution at Long Beach set up IndyCar’s second 10 lap shootout for the checkered flag in as many weeks. The resurgent Will Power looked set to put serious pressure on Rossi thanks to careful management of his push to pass allocation.
But the advantage held by the Penske driver was not enough to prevent the No. 27 NAPA sponsored Honda taking the win.
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ed Jones picked through the debris and carnage to bag the second podium finish of his brief IndyCar career, followed home by rookie Zach Veach for Andretti in 4th.
Graham Rahal recovered from an early clash with Simon Pagenaud and subsequent drive-thru penalty to round out the top 5.
2018 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach – heroes
Hero – Alexander Rossi
Sebastien Bourdais nailed it when he described Rossi as being “on a different planet” in Long Beach. Driver and car were hooked up to a point where not even a proven street course master like Will Power could touch the #27 NAPA Honda.
Rossi was calmness personified despite facing a late race challenge from Power – the Aussie’s push to pass allocation dwarfing that of the eventual race winner. The Andretti Autosports Honda looked like a sitting duck and yet Rossi never allowed Power’s Chevrolet to get close to even the chance to pass.
The competitiveness of the IndyCar field makes performances like Rossi’s rare and something to savor. This was a masterclass in IndyCar street course driving; Rossi’s management of restarts a case in point. He was untouchable every time.
Did we witness the emergence of IndyCar’s champion-elect at Long Beach? Quite possibly.
Hero – Will Power
Though he came up short Will Power’s run to second is the kind of confidence-building performance the 2014 champion needed.
After a disappointing 10th place in St Petersburg and a DNF in Phoenix, Power was looking at an all too familiar scenario; a poor start to the season scuppering his championship chances.
Instead, the Aussie now sits 8th in the points and looking forward to Barber and the Indy Grand Prix, two circuits he likes.
Power benefitted from the misfortune of others on Sunday. Sebastien Bourdais and Scott Dixon, in particular, had the pace to secure podium spots. But for a driver so often on the wrong side of yellow flags, Power will be happy to take any lucky breaks.
Hero – Graham Rahal
Starting 5th and finishing 5th would not typically merit a mention but Graham Rahal’s recovery from his turn 1 misdemeanor does. This was the drive of a champion in waiting.
Rahal drove his #15 TOTAL Honda into turn 1 on the opening lap like a rookie. Completely misjudging his braking point – perhaps still tuned to the high downforce aero kit of 2017 – he punted Simon Pagenaud out of the race. A drive-thru penalty dropped him to the back of the field.
Winning championships is as much about bagging the best result possible on a difficult Sunday, as schooling the field as Rossi did. Which is why Rahal’s drive could be a critical one.
Typically Rahal starts slowly before making a mid-season push for the championship. After Long Beach, he sits 3rd in points which is a luxury his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team is not used.
If this is Rahal before he completely gets to grips with the 2018 IndyCar, there is much more to come.
Hero – Sebastien Bourdais
That move. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out below.
Race control, of course, came along and spoiled the party with a pit blend line infringement penalty (more on that later).
How the French veteran was supposed to avoid crossing the pit out line and prevent an almighty shunt wasn’t included in the memo from race control. But still, it would be no surprise if that was the move of the entire 2018 Verizon IndyCar season.
Bourdais was one of a handful of drivers who looked like they could keep Alexander Rossi honest. Sadly fate, overly ambitious drivers and ridiculous pit lane rules wrecked his chances. The Honda driver put it better than we could in his post-race interview.
Enjoy one of the most honest and damning post-race interviews in a long time.
I got Dixon on the restart and Race Control deemed that a violation. I thought that was interesting because I am not quite sure what I was supposed to do. I was committed. There was room and he didn’t see me, so he came down on me and pushed me into the pit lane.
If you get forced into the pit lane, I am not sure it is your responsibility. So, I got rather upset, so I passed him right back. I was pretty happy about that. Then we were just cruising.
Unfortunately, as a group, we took a chance to stay out too long and then it went yellow. Race Control could have waited a couple seconds before closing the pits, but they didn’t and we went to the back where we had to race idiots. I was racing (Charlie) Kimball side-by-side and he gives me no room, and he bent both of my toe links on the right side. It was pretty much game over from there. I made a mistake because of it trying to pass him again later into Turn 9. The car wouldn’t turn anymore.
Then, in the next corner, Jordan King felt like a hero and took us out. After that, I had to deal with another idiot, Matheus Leist, who tried to crash both of us a couple of times. There really wasn’t much to salvage after that.
Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach – zeroes
Zero – Race control (part 1)
Scott Dixon and Sebastien Bourdais got burned on Sunday by a rule that is well-intentioned but in practice turns races on their head.
Both drivers were committed to pitting just as a full course caution was thrown on lap 60 for Zachary Claman DeMelo’s crash. Missing the pit in by fractions of a second both were penalized for stopping before the pits were officially open.
The spirit of the rule is to prevent teams gaining an advantage by pitting before the field has bunched up behind the safety car. A reasonable position for the series to take. But the practical application lacks some common sense.
A short grace period – perhaps a 5 to 10-second delay – could provide a fairer application of the rule. Drivers already committed to pitting could do so but the period would be short enough to prevent teams manipulating a caution period to their advantage.
Zero – Race control (part 2)
IndyCar needs to keep things safe and tidy in the pit out/approach to turn 1 at Long Beach. Cars exiting pit road merge straight into the racing line, a recipe for disaster if not properly policed.
Race control did exactly that when Bourdais pulled his audacious, outlandish and downright ridiculous overtake into turn 1. They applied the letter of the law and made the best overtake in years null and void. But if you watch the clip a few times, the sudden dive by Bourdais to the inside looks a lot like an attempt to avoid crossing the blue pit out blend line.
Again with a little common sense, things could have worked out so much better.
Race rating: 4 out of 5
Long Beach tends to offer plenty of thrills and spills, but the 2018 event was a real gem.
Drama up and down the field, the best overtaking move in a long time, back of the field comebacks and a masterful performance by Alexander Rossi made for a very exciting afternoon in southern California.