With everything that happened in the few days before Sunday’s race at Long Beach, we were preparing for a very interesting and intense race. Perhaps we should have expected chaos, because that is what we got on Sunday.
With all of the Chevys starting in the back of the field, it looked like Honda had the edge. Dario Franchitti started in first but quickly faded. Before he did that though, he and rookie Josef Newgarden made slight contact on the first lap of the race. Josef had a run on the outside of Dario heading into the turn, but there wasn’t room for both of them and Newgarden’s day came to an abrupt end in the tires.
As Dario faded in the opening laps, Justin Wilson took over the lead and ran with it. He had a seven-second lead over second place before he came into pit lane.
Things got crazy on lap 22, when multiple cars had problems. Katherine Legge, Alex Tagliani, and EJ Viso all had issues, but it was Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal that really made some noise. Going into the turn, Marco had a run and was looking to the outside of Rahal. Graham appeared to chop him a little, catching Marco off-guard. He slammed into the right-rear of Rahal, and was sent flying into the air.
Marco was interviewed after the incident and said: “I was lucky I didn’t get upside down. I could have been killed.” Twitter began blowing up with comments about the new rear wheel guard preventing cars from being launched.
While I understand those points, it would be foolish to think that two cars slamming into each other at a high rate of speed could be prevented by a piece of carbon fiber. This was a perfect example, unfortunately for Marco. As the two made contact, the bodywork shredded off, leaving just the tires to make contact, which sent Marco airborne.
Other problems early on included Scott Dixon having engine trouble that ended his day, Sebastien Bourdais finding the tire barriers, and Franchitti needing a nose replacement after making contact with Ryan Briscoe’s right rear tire.
Who could forget Helio Castroneves taking out teammate Will Power in last year’s race? This year he decided to focus his attention on his other teammate. He nearly put Briscoe into the wall after cutting him off as he tried to get around Viso.
So after winning the first two races, Chevrolet does it again in race number three. They did it in improbably fashion too, as none of them started the race in the top ten, given the engine change rule penalties. Add to that the fact that Dario Franchitti started the race from pole position, and you have a very impressive victory.
What does this mean for Honda and Lotus? As Bourdais said about their chances at Indianapolis; “We’re going to get killed (on horsepower)”. As Hinchcliffe blew by Silvestro on the front straight in a drag race, it was very apparent that Lotus has some work to do. The Hondas and Chevys were seven miles per hour faster at the end of the straights than the Lotus machines.
Power took over the lead with 15 laps to go as Pagenaud came in for fuel. Simon quickly made up ground afterwards, moving into third with eight laps to go, then to second with six to go. He then made up five seconds on Power, getting to his rear in the final turn, but Power held him off for his 17th career IndyCar win.
It’s been a great year for Team Penske, having won all three races so far. It’s also been a great year for Pagenaud, who is beginning to turn heads. His second place finish today was impressive, but he also finished fifth at Barber, and Sixth at St Pete.
It was a tough day for Chip Ganassi. He had the defending series champion starting first, only to see him finish 15th. Kimball was 18th, Dixon 23rd, and Rahal 24th.
Takuma Sato had a great run all day, and made contact with Hunter-Reay on the final lap. Ryan was given a 30 second penalty, giving teammate James Hinchcliffe his first career podium finish. It was a questionable penalty, especially considering that Rahal wasn’t given a penalty for his chop on Marco that sent him flying through the air.
Eight of the top ten finishers were Chevrolets, including four of the top five. After being spotted ten positions on the grid, only two Hondas scored a top ten finish.
So after all of that, what does this mean for Honda and Lotus? They clearly have some serious work to do before the next race. Perhaps more importantly, two weeks from now when the Indy 500 will be the next race on the schedule.
The win gives Power his second of the young season, and also puts him on top of the points standings heading to Sao Paulo. The Sao Paulo Indy 300 in Brazil is in two weeks (4/29) and can be seen on NBC Sports Network at Noon EST.