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Verstappen: Late defence from Rosberg ‘the hardest 10 laps of my life’

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Max Verstappen called his late defence of fourth place from Nico Rosberg in Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix “the hardest 10 laps of my life”.

Verstappen ran fourth heading into the final few laps at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, but came under increasing pressure from Rosberg, who was on a fresher set of tires.

Rosberg tried time and time again to pass Verstappen, but was hindered by a fuel shortage caused by his charge through the field after losing places at the start.

Rosberg dropped back before trying one final pass on Verstappen with two laps to go, only to spin at the final chicane, easing the pressure on the Red Bull driver.

“We did what we could today and that was a great job,” Verstappen said.

“We wanted to finish on the podium in front of the Williams but soon realised we were suffering with a bit too much tire degradation. I think a little bit of rain could have helped us today.

“At the beginning I saved my tires and fuel as I knew I could not stay with the front two. When Daniel [Ricciardo] got close behind I then decided it was time to push.

“I am very satisfied with my performance but also with the new power unit, you could see it was hard for the Mercedes to try and pass on the long straight so we are making good progress.

“The last 10 laps I really enjoyed, I would actually say they were the hardest 10 laps of my life. I was in fourth for a very long time so didn’t want to give up that position.

“It was a very hard battle at the end of the race, his [Rosberg] pace was very strong but we managed to keep ahead and then the last lap was pretty spectacular.”

Verstappen felt pleased to bounce back from a difficult Monaco Grand Prix weekend that saw him crash out three times.

“After Monaco it’s nice to leave this race with a big smile on my face,” he said.

“Now looking ahead to Baku it’s a new experience for everyone so we have to wait and see how the grip levels are but today was definitely positive for us.”

April 9 in Motorsports History: Al Unser Jr. gets sixth Long Beach win

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The list of winners in the Grand Prix of Long Beach is a ‘who’s who’ of open-wheel racing.

Mario Andretti won at the famed street course four times. His son Michael won there twice.

Paul Tracy is also a four-time winner at the beach. Alex Zanardi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sebastien Bourdais, and Alexander Rossi also have won at the famed course multiple times.

But there is only one “King of the Beach”: Al Unser Jr.

The winningest driver in the race’s history, Unser won at Long Beach four consecutive times from 1988-91. He won again in 1994 and entered the 1995 edition as the race’s defending champion and the defending CART champion as well.

Starting fourth, Unser made slight contact with Gil de Ferran when he passed the Brazilian on Lap 3. He then continued to move up to the front, taking the race lead from Teo Fabi on Lap 30.

Once he had the lead, Unser ran away from the field, winning by more than 23 seconds over Scott Pruett.

Unser’s victory was such a familiar scene that after the race, CART news manager John Procida began the winner’s news conference with the following statement: “Well, we have a very familiar face on the top rung of the podium. As we listed on the prerace press release, this seems to be the Al Unser Invitational.”

Indeed it was. Unser’s victory was his sixth at Long Beach, and the 28th of his career. overall. While it would be his last win there, Unser continued to race at Long Beach through 1998 before missing 1999 with a broken leg and moving to the Indy Racing Leauge in 2000.

In 2009, Unser was inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame, which honors significant contributors to the race and California motorsports community.

“It truly is just an honor to be mentioned with the names and the legends that have already been put into the sidewalk,” Unser said during the induction ceremony. “To have Brian (Redman, the inaugural winner of the race) and Parnelli (Jones) is really an honor and just to be in their company is very, very special.”

Also on this date:

1971: Jacques Villeneuve was born in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Canada. The second-generation driver was one of the best in open-wheel racing during the 1990s, winning the Indianapolis 500 and CART championship in ’95 and becoming a Formula One champion two years later.

1989: Rick Mears dominated CART’s Checker Autoworks 200 at Phoenix International Raceway, leading every lap from the pole and lapping the field.

2011: Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas won the Porsche 250 at Barber Motorsports Park, their sixth consecutive victory in Grand Am competition. Their lengthy win streak, which started on Aug. 7, 2010 at Watkins Glen, prompted Grand Am to offer a $25,000 bounty for any Daytona Prototype team that could beat the dominant duo. The Action Express trio of Joao Barbosa, J.C. France, and Terry Borcheller finally unseated Pruett and Rojas in the series’ next round at Virginia International Raceway.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994