(Our ever-knowledgeable IndyCar correspondent Matt Lennon has enjoyed an exciting Long Beach Grand Prix that saw Ryan Hunter-Reay pick up a win for the Andretti Autosport team, finally ending the hat-trick of wins picked up by Penske in the season-opener. Have a read and enjoy his review!)
The celebrities were wining and dining and the sun was shining in Long Beach, California as the IndyCar Series came to Tinseltown…well, close enough anyway.
Other celebrities who took part in this race included Adrian Brody, Jesse McCartney, Keanu Reeves, Tony Hawk and Christian Slater.
The whole field made it through Lap 1 without incident.
One of the signature corners at Long Beach is the final 180-degree hairpin leading back on to Shoreline Drive and the start / finish straight. Over the years, this corner has seen its fair share of bungled overtaking attempts that have caused spins and accidents that in turn have ended up blocking most of the track. Prior to the race, all the drivers met in an effort to discuss how to avoid any track blockages occurring in the 2010 event. All the drivers recognised that it is practically impossible to make a successful pass through the inside of this corner without taking out another car.
An agreement was reached with all participants agreeing not to make any desperate lunges down the inside of this final hairpin corner. Marco Andretti must have nodded off during this meeting as he attempted a bold move on Alex Tagliani into this hairpin on Lap 2. Lucky for all concerned, Tagliani, the driver in the field with the most experience at Long Beach, was able to deflect the move, losing nothing more than a small piece of his rear-wing bodywork, and avoiding a certain full-course caution in the process.
On Lap 7, entering the front straight, leader Will Power suddenly slowed. First impressions were that the series championship and race leader appeared to accidentally engage his pit-lane speed limiter, whereas Power’s had accidentally become stuck in first gear. His error was quickly rectified, however it was enough to push him back to 3rd place behind Hunter-Reay and Wilson.
The race ran under green throughout the first half of the event. Takuma Sato was the first to tempt the pace car after spinning at Turn 6. He was able to regather himself quickly enough and continued without causing a caution.
On Lap 48, newcomer Bertrand Baguette, driving his second event for Conquest Racing, was forced to urgently pit after his right-front suspension failed, causing his car to bottom out and lightly spew sparks out from underneath.
Back at the front, Hunter-Reay was having trouble lapping backmarker Alex Lloyd, who was desperate to stay on the lead-lap. This caused the 2-second gap Hunter-Reay was maintaining over Justin Wilson to shrink to nothing. Eventually Hunter-Reay managed to get past.
Wilson, however, was a little too desperate to pass Lloyd immediately afterward in order to maintain pressure on the leader, and clipped Lloyd’s car entering the back straight, damaging his front-wing. Wilson made it back to his pit stall easily enough. The real damage came during the pit stop itself. The Dreyer & Reinbold crew struggled to remove the front wing in order to replace it, costing Wilson many vital seconds and effectively ending Wilson’s charge at the lead. The Versus television coverage later showed pictures of Wilson’s race engineer Matt Curry furiously addressing race officials at the pit wall, no doubt blaming Alex Lloyd for his unwillingness to yield to faster cars.
On Lap 60, series rookie Mario Romancini attempted a pass for position on Sarah Fisher Racing’s Graham Rahal. The move was never on, with Romancini failing to move alongside Rahal into the corner, desperately out-braking himself and punting both himself and Rahal into the tyre barriers. From all accounts and replays, the pass never looked like succeeding as Rahal had the line into the corner. Rahal was none too pleased and made his frustrations evident to Romancini.
This incident brought out the first full-course caution of the day. The timing couldn’t have been better for Justin Wilson, as with the caution period, most of those ahead would pit, giving him a free pass right back up to 3rd following his earlier errant pit stop, right behind Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
And so it was from there until the finish. Ryan Hunter-Reay took a well-deserved win, adding strength to a claim for a full-time drive with Andretti Autosports. It was Hunter-Reay’s first win since Watkins Glen in 2008 and the first win by any Andretti driver since Tony Kanaan won at Richmond, also in 2008. This was also the first win by a non-Penske, non-Ganassi driver since Justin Wilson won for Dale Coyne at Watkins Glen in 2009.
As a fairly new resident of southern California, Hunter-Reay likened the race to his home event. His fiancée Becky Gordon (sister of former IndyCar and NASCAR driver Robby Gordon) was in attendance and rushed to victory lane to join her future husband. In a further positive note, Hunter-Reay dedicated the win to his late mother, who was sadly lost to cancer during the off-season.
After four straight street and road courses to open the season, the series moves onto 4 high-speed ovals with Kansas Speedway next up on May 1.
Click here for the Final Standings of the race.
Click here for the current Championship Standings.
[Images via AUTOSPORT]