Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

Mike Conway pulls the IndyCar upset in Long Beach (VIDEO)


Ed Carpenter wanted his Verizon IndyCar Series team to contend everywhere besides ovals. So, over the off-season, he went to ovals-only duty as a driver and brought in Mike Conway to race his car on the road and street courses.

It took just two events for the decision to pay off.

After a major multi-car incident on Lap 54 effectively reset the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Scott Dixon emerged as the leader but still had to try and stretch out his fuel to the finish with Conway and the rest of the field chasing after him.

As Conway increased his pressure, a radio transmission from Dixon’s Target Chip Ganassi Racing team disclosed that the defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion would be half a lap short on fuel.

Instead, Dixon came to the pits with two laps remaining, and Conway did the rest by holding back Will Power to claim his second career win at the Beach.

And after being considered an afterthought on the twisty tracks despite its namesake’s recent improvement in road racing acumen, Ed Carpenter Racing has its first victory on a street course.

“I can’t believe it, I can’t believe I’m actually here,” said Conway, who’s primarily a quiet guy but actually sounded somewhere close to shock in Victory Lane.

“Just an awesome job by the team. We weren’t sure what we had, but we hung in there all the way to the end and it just seemed to come to us…I can’t believe it – two times a Long Beach winner. Unbelievable.”

Conway was one of multiple drivers that was forced to work his way around the aforementioned crash, which started when pole sitter Ryan Hunter-Reay went to the inside of Josef Newgarden after the latter had just emerged with the lead following a pit stop.

Going into Turn 4, Hunter-Reay made contact with Newgarden and both of them went into the wall. By the time the melee was over, James Hinchcliffe, Takuma Sato, and Tony Kanaan had also been collected and eliminated from the race.

Conway credited team member Lee Bentham for helping him navigate through the chaos to ensure he’d have a shot at the win.

“Luckily, he told me to stay right [over the radio] and I stayed right through the corner,” he added to NBCSN. “I saw the two on the left and then another two came together and speared right, so I managed to get in between and that was it.”

The race restarted with 16 laps to go and Conway was in fourth behind leader Dixon, Justin Wilson and Power. But off the restart, Dixon and Wilson came together going into Turn 8, and the latter went into the runoff with terminal damage.

Another caution brought about what would be the final restart of the race with 10 to go, and this time, Conway was on the rear wing of Dixon, who had emerged unscathed from the run-in with Wilson.

Dixon, known as perhaps the best fuel conservation man in all of IndyCar, had last pitted on Lap 44 and was trying desperately to not only save fuel but keep Conway in his rear view mirror.

Unfortunately for him, it was not to be.

“We were only about half a lap short, but the last thing I wanted to do was run out of gas in front of the whole field and cause a big accident,” Dixon said.

The New Zealander was also remorseful for the contact with Wilson, whom he wasn’t expecting to be on the outside of him.

“You’re looking to the right [at Turn 8] and I obviously got into him,” he said. “I felt a little tap there but I apologize to him and his whole team.”

Power’s run to second wasn’t a clean one either, as he made contact with Simon Pagenaud going into Turn 6 and sent him into the tires there on a Lap 32 restart.

Afterwards, the IndyCar points leader admitted he was surprised that he didn’t get a penalty for the contact and apologized to Pagenaud, who recovered to finish fifth.

However, the Frenchman’s in-car camera spotted him wagging a finger at the Australian on the cool-down lap – and he indicated that he wasn’t in the mood to accept Power’s mea culpa either.

“Did I want to hear his apology? I thought it was a little late for that,” he said.

With Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe sidelined after the big crash, Carlos Munoz picked up the Andretti Autosport banner and took it to the podium with a third-place finish in his Long Beach debut.

“My teammates had some bad luck, but it’s racing – it’s happened to me a long time ago,” Munoz said. “But I’m really happy for the third place. Those were some great last laps…I have to thank my crew, who did an awesome job on pit stops.”

Also doing well was Juan Pablo Montoya, who finished fourth and came away with the first Top-5 finish in his return to open-wheel racing after a seven-year run in NASCAR.

VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES – Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach
Unofficial Results
1. 20-Mike Conway
2. 12-Will Power
3. 34-Carlos Munoz (rookie)
4. 2- Juan Pablo Montoya
5. 77-Simon Pagenaud
6. 7-Mikhail Aleshin (rookie)
7. 16-Oriol Servia
8. 25-Marco Andretti
9. 17-Sebastian Saavedra
10. 18-Carlos Huertas (rookie)
11. 3-Helio Castroneves
12. 9-Scott Dixon
13. 15-Graham Rahal
14. 11-Sebastien Bourdais
15. 98-Jack Hawksworth (rookie)

16. 19-Justin Wilson, Lap 64, Contact
17. 8-Ryan Briscoe, Lap 60, Running
18. 10-Tony Kanaan, Lap 55, Contact
19. 67-Josef Newgarden, Lap 55, Contact
20. 28-Ryan Hunter-Reay, Lap 55, Contact
21. 27-James Hinchcliffe, Lap 55, Contact
22. 14-Takuma Sato, Lap 55, Contact
23. 83-Charlie Kimball, Lap 41, Off-Course

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Helio Castroneves

Helio Castroneves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series field with fifth-placed Helio Castroneves.

Helio Castroneves, No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet

  • 2014: 2nd Place, 1 Win, 3 Poles, 6 Podiums, 7 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 282 Laps Led, 5.7 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 5th Place, Best Finish 2nd, 4 Poles, 5 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 198 Laps Led, 4.9 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish

Much as you’d write about his fellow countryman and longtime friend and rival Tony Kanaan, age hasn’t slowed Helio Castroneves, but it’s instead fueled continued success. And while Castroneves went winless for only the second time (2011) in his illustrious 16-year career with Team Penske, he wasn’t down on performance.

Now 40, Castroneves continued to have several shining moments in 2015, which was particularly important to do to stand out against defending champion Will Power, this year’s primary title contender Juan Pablo Montoya and new driver Simon Pagenaud.

Castroneves scored four pole positions and boasted a 4.9 averaging starting position, second in the field to Power, which was very impressive to note. His run of form from Texas through Milwaukee, capturing three podiums in four races, was his best race stretch this season. Additional highlights included back-to-back runner-up results in the NOLA lottery and then on pure pace at Long Beach.

The month of May must though be viewed as a disappointment. Castroneves played a role in the first corner mess at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and got a points penalty (although the number was dropped) as a result. Then he endured another Indianapolis 500 where he was not the out-and-out fastest car in the Penske brigade. While Montoya and Power were dueling for the win and Pagenaud had speed to burn all month, Castroneves’ lone moment of note came with his accident in practice, which mercifully he emerged unscathed from.

As ever though, fifth in this field owed to his consistency and dogged determination to succeed. Castroneves has ended top-five in seven of the last eight seasons since the IRL/Champ Car merger in 2008 and if it wasn’t for Dixon’s top-three run hogging the headlines, we’d probably appreciate Castroneves even more so. As long as he’s continually competitive, he’s still worthy at Team Penske.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Graham Rahal

Graham Rahal
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MotorSportsTalk continues its driver-by-driver review of the field in the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series.

Next up is fourth-placed Graham Rahal, who had a career year.

Graham Rahal, No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

  • 2014: 19th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 4th, 1 Podium, 2 Top-5, 4 Top-10s, 28 Laps Led, 14.4 Avg. Start, 15.0 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 4th Place, 2 Wins, Best Start 5th, 6 Podiums, 8 Top-5, 10 Top-10s, 76 Laps Led, 11.0 Avg Start, 8.5 Avg. Finish

Formula 1 fans will remember the miraculous, shock rise of Brawn GP, which didn’t even exist as a team until mere weeks before the 2009 Australian Grand Prix having risen from the demise of the former Honda factory team, and then promptly proceeded to stomp the field en route to winning both the Driver’s and Constructor’s World Championships that season.

It’s the best racing comparison in recent years – or perhaps any year – for what was done at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in 2015, courtesy of a career year from Graham Rahal, an instant chemistry renewal with the people father Bobby put in place, and the fact Bobby himself stepped back this year to allow his team’s key players to shine through.

Because quite simply, after finishes of 18th and 19th the last two seasons, no one in their right mind had Rahal winning races and contending for a championship this season.

It’s hard to say specifically which point was most important, because all played dividends. Bobby Rahal moved off the pit box, and actually missed a fair number of races this year, which allowed Graham and team manager Ricardo Nault to gel with Nault on the radio and pretty much running the team on the whole. Then there were the three key crewmember additions: Eddie Jones moving over to be lead engineer on the No. 15 car was clutch, as was Rahal getting the opportunity to reunite with Martin Pare and work for the first time with Mike Talbott. The addition of damper ace Stuart Kenworthy was not covered much this year, but undoubtedly a big help. Sponsor Steak ‘n Shake’s arrival also brought a wealth of attention.

And then there were the drives in the races themselves. Perhaps strangely, Rahal had a tough qualifying average – only 11th – but it was the best for a Honda driver this year. The strategy calls from RLL were damn near perfect all year and Rahal seized every opportunity at his disposal, be it his wins at Fontana and Mid-Ohio, his recovery at Iowa, and his numerous other podiums throughout the year. His charge to second at Barber stands out as one of the drives of the year.

Call Fontana lucky if you will, and he was fortunate to avoid a penalty for leaving with the fuel buckeye, but even so he still could have come back given where the race was at that point. And being on the receiving end of two ill-advised taps from Tristan Vautier and Sebastien Bourdais at Pocono and Sonoma, respectively, cost him huge results and huge points – the net effect of three races.

The single-car title charge was one of the stories of the year, even beyond Scott Dixon’s championship comeback and Juan Pablo Montoya’s consistent-until-Sonoma season. Rahal re-established his credentials on track if people had forgotten what he was capable of; additionally, he reaffirmed his status as one of racing’s best people with his work in the Justin Wilson memorial auction after that tragedy. It was truly a ’15 to remember for the driver of the No. 15 car.