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

3 Comments

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
ONE LAP DOWN
13. 15-Graham Rahal
THREE LAPS DOWN
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

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

Follow@KyleMLavigne