James Hinchcliffe scored the fifth IndyCar win of his career in the 43rd Toyota GP of Long Beach, as a two-stop fuel strategy kept his Schmidt Peterson-Honda prominent, and Ryan Hunter-Reay’s car died with apparent electrical issues.
Polesitter Helio Castroneves’ Team Penske-Chevrolet lost five positions at the start, allowing Scott Dixon (Ganasssi), Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autosport), Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing), Alexander Rossi (Andretti) to get in front. Meanwhile Conor Daly spun as he gassed it out of the hairpin.
Then Penske’s Will Power and Ganassi’s Charlie Kimball collided at Turn 5. Kimball’s car was damaged beyond repair, but Power got going again once he had stopped to repair a broken front wing. Having dropped to the rear of the field, he would never figure in the race thereafter.
Under the full-course caution that followed, Tony Kanaan (who had wing damage from bouncing off Kimball down the straight), Takuma Sato (Andretti), Conor Daly (AJ Foyt Racing), Sebastien Bourdais (Dale Coyne Racing) grabbed the opportunity to pit and top up with fuel.
Following the restart, Hinchcliffe pressured Dixon, but in fact it was Hunter-Reay who had the greatest momentum and made a move on Hinchcliffe on Lap 6. Further back, Simon Pagenaud who’d started from the very back, started making good progress, already up to 12th by Lap 7, 11th two laps later. Not too far ahead, Rossi had moved past Graham Rahal to grab fourth while Penske’s Josef Newgarden passed teammate Castroneves for sixth and Rahal for fifth.
Up front Dixon led Hunter-Reay by little more than half a second, with Hinchcliffe, Rossi, Newgarden, Rahal, Castroneves, Ed Jones, Carlos Munoz all within 10sec
Aleshin, Kanaan, Power, Hildebrand, Daly pitted on Lap 10, and Sato and Andretti followed suit, but Andretti was soon lapping very off the pace, and would eventually trickle to a standstill down an escape road.
Castroneves pitted from seventh on Lap 15 and emerged in 10th but had to relinquish the spot to the charging Pagenaud. A lap later Dixon pitted from the lead and Newgarden also stopped.
Thus Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe, Rossi, Rahal, Pigot and Bourdais held the top six (although Bourdais would soon blast by Pigot) while Dixon emerged ahead of Pagenaud who had yet to stop, Newgarden, Castroneves, Aleshin and Munoz.
Committed to a two-stop strategy, Hinchcliffe and Rossi pitted on Lap 28, but Hunter-Reay stayed out. Hinchcliffe and Rossi emerged into the path of Pagenaud and Newgarden, both of whom deposed Rossi. Hinchcliffe, however, stayed ahead of Pagenaud, who then chose to pit on Lap 31.
Hunter-Reay went just one lap longer than Hinch and Rossi, and emerged in second, as a charging drive from Dixon on his three-stop strategy jumped him into the lead.
At lap 32, Dixon led Hunter-Reay by 7.2sec, Hinchcliffe was filling RHR’s mirrors, all three cars on harder black-walled tires. Behind, Castroneves ran fourth ahead of Rossi having passed the reigning Indy 500 champ while his tires were still cold, with Aleshin, Munoz, Kanaan, Bourdais, Jones, Sato and Rahal in 12th.
Aleshin and Kanaan ducked out of this chain to grab new sets of tires – blacks for TK, reds for Aleshin – and on Lap 37, Castroneves switched from reds to blacks, and dropped to 10th, with Sato and Jones also stopping.
Dixon was brought in on Lap 41, and emerged just ahead of Rahal to claim fifth. Hunter-Reay’s advantage over Hinchcliffe, having retaken the lead, was 0.75sec, with Rossi a further 2sec adrift. At half distance, their margin over Bourdais was 11sec, with Dixon 9sec behind the Frenchman, having left Rahal behind at one second per lap. Rahal was then passed by Newgarden on Lap 44 and started to come under pressure from his temporary 2016 teammate, Pigot.
Dixon, on the softer reds, was on a charge, the only driver ducking into the 1min07sec territory and was 19sec behind Hunter-Reay. By Lap 53, it was down to 15sec, and RHR, Hinch and Rossi were closing on Power and Chilton, who were disputing 17th place.
Rahal ducked into the pits from seventh place, unhappy with the handling of his car, and suffering a vibration from his front tires.
Hunter-Reay and Rossi, the latter of whom had hit his push-to-pass boost to get around Hinchcliffe, then pitted at the end of Lap 55. This time it was Hinchcliffe who stayed out one extra lap and it was enough to put him ahead of both the AA cars, which soon switched order, as Rossi had got the grippier reds, and Hunter-Reay was on blacks.
Pigot, Bourdais, Pagenaud, hit pit road a lap after that, but all eyes were on the front of the field, as Newgarden was pressuring Dixon for the lead, before the Penske driver and teammate Castroneves shot into the pits at the end of Lap 60. Dixon was in on lap 62, elevating Hinchcliffe into the lead, but behind him, his nearest pursuer was not Rossi but Hunter-Reay, as Rossi’s #98 car ground to a halt on course. That brought out the full course yellow, with 21 laps to go.
For the restart, Hinchcliffe led Hunter-Reay, Bourdais, Newgarden, Dixon, Rahal, Pagenaud, Pigot (who had been jumped by the reigning champion in the previous round of pitstops), Castroneves who would need to serve a drive-through penalty under green flag conditions for speeding in pitlane, Jones, Munoz, Aleshin, Kanaan, Sato, Hildebrand, Power and Daly. Castroneves was then sent to the rear of the field for a second pit-speed violation.
The restart was further delayed by IndyCar taking the opportunity to clear the track, so the restart would come on Lap 69. Hunter-Reay was weaving back and forth desperately trying to get some heat in his black tires, knowing that Hinchcliffe on reds would be tough to pass. At least he could focus on what was ahead though, as temporarily he’d be protected from Bourdais, Newgarden and Dixon by the lapped cars of Power, Chilton and Daly.
But Hinchcliffe got a good jump on the field at the restart, and stretched it so that by lap 72, the Schmidt Peterson driver had his lead out to 2.5sec. Then Hunter-Reay started whittling it back down again, halving it by Lap 78. We looked set for a true shootout between this pair.
Further back Aleshin clashed with Kanaan, as he had in St. Petersburg, puncturing the #10 Ganassi car’s left-rear tire, Pigot was demoted by Jones and Munoz, and Takuma Sato ground to a halt out on course
But even more dramatic, Hunter-Reay’s car died with five laps to go, with what he thought was an electrical issue.
Under yellow once more, the lapped cars were ordered to the pit, so that behind Hinchcliffe, new second-place driver Bourdais would have to contend with Newgarden, Dixon and Pagenaud on fresher tires. Yet peculiarly Bourdais appeared to lag on the restart and Hinchcliffe was almost a second ahead pulling that gap just from the hairpin to the start/finish line.
He held on easily to finish 1.5sec ahead of Bourdais after 85 laps, with Newgarden scoring his first podium finish for Team Penske.
Dixon, Pagenaud and Jones filled the next three places, with Munoz, Pigot, Castroneves and Rahal completing the Top 10.
A scruffy race by Hinchcliffe’s teammate Aleshin ended in suitable style as he collided with Hildebrand at the end of the front straight, both of them finishing their race in the runoff area, but classified 11th and 12th. Race Control assessed Aleshin was to blame for blocking Hildebrand’s attempted pass, and they swapped their positions post-race.
By finishing second, Bourdais has maintained his lead in the championship, but the biggest story was Hinchcliffe and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports scoring their second win together, two years after their first. It is the Canadian driver’s fifth career win.