Chaotic would be a fair, perhaps even understated, way of describing the 40th running of the Long Beach Grand Prix, as Mike Conway survived his own minor front wing endplate damage and an avalanche of carnage around him to take his second victory in the annual “Roar by the Shore” event at the iconic Californian harbour location.
But while Conway’s victory took the headlines, the event will be long remembered for an incident on Lap 56 which saw a multi-car pile-up triggered by an impatient Ryan Hunter-Reay who went for an overtaking move on Josef Newgarden that was never really on. The incident tipped the young Tennessean into the wall and set off a chain of events that also ruined the races of Andretti teammate James Hinchcliffe, Tony Kanaan, Takuma Sato and impressive rookie Jack Hawksworth.
Leading the majority of the race to that point, Hunter-Reay was looking a sure bet for the win. Although he never really held a commanding advantage thanks to a few sporadic caution periods caused by Sébastien Bourdais (who had an almost magnetic attraction to a number of tyre barriers) and Charlie Kimball (smoking engine), Hunter-Reay was still comfortable in front.
Hinchcliffe and Newgarden, running very well in second and third respectively, were never too far behind but never close enough to challenge for the lead, while Will Power was steadily climbing through the field through excellent pit stops to that point and was well in contention.
Knowing the final stops of the day would settle everything, Power was the first to blink, pitting to try and maximise his advantage with fresh tyres and a clear track ahead. RHR was in next, heading for service with Hinchcliffe right behind, both resuming without any problems.
This left Newgarden to pit last, with very efficient work from the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing mechanics seeing him emerge right in front of the charging train of Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe and Power, all of whom who had completed at least one lap on their new tyres.
It appeared only a matter of time before Newgarden would be passed, as the three following were almost literally nose to tail through the fountain section. Then, it all went wrong.
Hunter-Reay dove up the inside for the next medium-speed ultra-narrow right hander – a corner any driver will tell you would never be where one should try a pass at racing speed – and pitched Newgarden into the outside wall, sandwiched by Hinchcliffe who dutifully crashed in behind. Somehow, Power managed to avoid the whole lot, darting out just in time to dive through safely, closely followed by Mike Conway, who wasn’t far behind.
But it didn’t end there. The momentum of Hunter-Reay’s impact sent his car back out across the track, providing a barrier for Helio Castroneves to make contact with, although the Brazilian managed to drive away soon afterward with little more than a wonky front wing. Takuma Sato was next around the corner, blissfully unaware of what awaited him and slamming into the side of Hinchcliffe’s car.
Tony Kanaan and Jack Hawksworth were both next to make contact and end their day early. It was utter carnage of the most sensational order and effectively blocked the track, threatening to claim Juan Pablo Montoya and others following, although by this point a gap wide enough to slowly navigate the mess has opened. The Holmatro Safety team managed to clean things up fairly quickly, but the finger of blame was pointed squarely at Ryan Hunter-Reay.
The feeling of disappointment in the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing pit was palpable, while James Hinchcliffe later referred to his teammate’s hasty and unsuccessful passing manoeuvre as “a rookie error”.
Just as this was happening, Scott Dixon, who had gone off-strategy early in the race, now found himself in front, followed by Justin Wilson (a similar beneficiary of a number of earlier cautions and also off-sequence), Conway and Power and everyone else who had managed to survive the earlier crashing demonstration. It was a sensational drive to the front for the reigning series champion, whose poor qualifying position of seventh warranted a few gambles, which were now paying off.
However, the downside was that he was running practically on fumes, and needed more laps under caution in order to remain in front. Upon the green flag resumption with 11 laps to go, Conway pressured hard. Wilson found his race ended a few laps early after inexplicably trying an overtaking move around the outside of Dixon while turning on to the back stretch – a corner only ever wide enough for one car on the racing line.
Dixon, holding the racing line, nudged the lanky Yorkshireman into the wall, the move unfathomable and never likely to succeed. Regardless, with broken suspension, Wilson’s race and the chance of a podium finish was over. Dixon carried on unabated and admirably continued trying to defend his lead before diving for the pits with three laps remaining, eventually coming home in twelfth place.
The weekend as a whole was miserable for Graham Rahal, who found himself starting last, penalised with a drive-through penalty for tipping Justin Wilson into a spin early in the race before having the favour returned by Mikhail Aleshin later in the day. Rahal is dangerously low on confidence at the moment and needs to turn things around, as even nepotism has its limits.
So it was Conway who took the chequered flag after a tense final green flag stint, taking the first street-course victory for Ed Carpenter Racing. A win is a win, so the team knew how to celebrate, even if it wasn’t on an oval.
Power came home second, followed by Carlos Muñoz – who claimed his second Indycar podium in five starts – Juan Pablo Montoya and Simon Pagenaud. The latter could have finished a lot higher if not for a gentle nudge into the tyres by Power earlier in the race, an incident for which even Power admitted surprise that he wasn’t penalised.
As Long Beach comes to a conclusion once again, the teams pack up and head east once again, to the serene and familiar surroundings of Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama in two weeks time.
2014 IndyCar Series Grand Prix of Long Beach – Race Result (80 laps):
|Driver||Team / Entry||Result|
|1.||Mike Conway||Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet||1:54:41.6418|
|2.||Will Power||Team Penske Chevrolet||+ 0.9005|
|3.||Carlos Muñoz||Andretti Autosport Honda||+ 1.5591|
|4.||Juan Pablo Montoya||Team Penske Chevrolet||+ 2.0226|
|5.||Simon Pagenaud||Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda||+ 2.8169|
|6.||Mikhail Aleshin||Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda||+ 3.8574|
|7.||Oriol Servià||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda||+ 4.9621|
|8.||Marco Andretti||Andretti Autosport Honda||+ 9.1948|
|9.||Sebastián Saavedra||KV Racing Technology / AFS Racing Honda||+ 8.9029|
|10.||Carlos Huertas||Dale Coyne Racing Honda||+ 24.2295|
|11.||Hélio Castroneves||Team Penske Chevrolet||+ 30.0552|
|12.||Scott Dixon||Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet||+ 30.7310|
|13.||Graham Rahal||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda||+ 1 lap|
|14.||Sébastien Bourdais||KV Racing Technology Honda||+ 3 laps|
|15.||Jack Hawksworth||Bryan Herta Autosport Honda||+ 3 laps|
|DNF.||Justin Wilson||Dale Coyne Racing Honda||64 laps|
|DNF.||Ryan Briscoe||Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet||60 laps|
|DNF.||Tony Kanaan||Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet||55 laps|
|DNF.||Josef Newgarden||Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda||55 laps|
|DNF.||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Andretti Autosport Honda||55 laps|
|DNF.||James Hinchcliffe||Andretti Autosport Honda||55 laps|
|DNF.||Takuma Sato||A.J. Foyt Enterprises Honda||55 laps|
|DNF.||Charlie Kimball||Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet||41 laps|
Image via Motorsport.com