Hinchcliffe dances into victory lane at Long Beach

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LONG BEACH, Calif. – James Hinchcliffe was second on Dancing with the Stars last fall.

He made his return to Los Angeles for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ annual trip to Long Beach one spot better.

The driver of the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda dominated today’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach en route to the fifth win of his career, his first since NOLA Motorsports Park in April 2015.

Hinchcliffe won his first Indy Lights race here in 2010 and now is back on the board to give Honda its second win of the season, thanks to a two-stop pit strategy.

St. Petersburg winner Sebastien Bourdais was second in the No. 18 Sonny’s BBQ Honda for Dale Coyne Racing, while Josef Newgarden took his No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet to third for his first podium with his new team. Bourdais was on a two-stop strategy but got a third added when he needed to pit for a rear wing assembly change following an opening lap caution, while Newgarden stuck to a three-stop strategy.

A three-stop strategy also occurred for Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud, both of whom were quick but unable to rise above fourth and fifth. Dixon’s was meant to be two stops but got changed to three earlier in the race.

A nightmare day saw all four Andretti Autosport Hondas have mechanical issues, costing potential wins or podiums for Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi, who qualified in the Firestone Fast Six.

A first-lap accident put pause to both Will Power’s and Charlie Kimball’s hopes. Kimball was also involved in a first-lap incident at St. Petersburg with Graham Rahal. Today, he was on the outside of turn 4 with Power trying to pass on the inside before they collided.

Meanwhile yellows were absent from the rest of the race until Rossi had a mechanical issue at the back of his No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda when he was running third on Lap 63.

That was the lap Hinchcliffe took the lead for the last time in the race. He gapped Hunter-Reay on the eventual restart, six laps later on Lap 69, with Hunter-Reay falling more than two seconds in arrears.

Things got worse for Hunter-Reay when he too suffered mechanical issues – as Rossi, Takuma Sato and Marco Andretti all retired from the race – when he ground to a halt on Lap 80. Hunter-Reay told NBCSN he believed it was the same issue that befell him at Pocono Raceway last August.

The race was able to get restarted before the end of the 85-lap distance, with Hinchcliffe again checking out for the finish. Further contact occurred between JR Hildebrand and Mikhail Aleshin in that period, Aleshin later docked a position for the contact.

Bourdais held off Newgarden for second while Dixon was unable to get around Newgarden. Pagenaud, who started 21st and last, completed the top five.

Ed Jones posted his second top-10 in as many starts in sixth place, continuing Dale Coyne Racing’s dream start, with Carlos Munoz, Spencer Pigot, Helio Castroneves and Graham Rahal rounding out the top 10.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: The top-10 finishers are the obvious, and beyond Hinchcliffe, Bourdais, Dixon and Pagenaud are the three drivers who have finished in the top-five in both races. Spencer Pigot got his first top-10 of the season as well.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Andretti Autosport: four cars, four mechanical DNFs in a very bizarre race for them after a solid qualifying effort. Polesitter Castroneves dropped five spots on the first lap and never was able to recover, ending ninth. He was also penalized during the race. Power’s nightmarish start to 2017 rolled on with a 13th place finish after the Lap 1 contact with Kimball. Conor Daly spun before the start of the race and never recovered, ending 16th. Contact between Tony Kanaan and Mikhail Aleshin left Kanaan with a flat left rear. They also collided at St. Petersburg. Aleshin was then docked a position post-race from 11th to 12th for contact with JR Hildebrand.

NOTABLE: This win is the first for both Hinchcliffe and SPM since NOLA 2015. It’s Hinchcliffe’s fifth and SPM’s sixth. Coyne’s four top-10s it has in two races this year is only two shy of its total from 2016, as Conor Daly had five and RC Enerson one.

QUOTABLE: Dixon, who finished fourth, was not happy about the loss of another potential win. He told NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt post-race:

“(Two stops) was always the plan. I’m not sure what changed. Maybe the team thought a caution would come out. You play with fire. We gave the race away at that point. It got a little bit tougher with the NTT Data car later in the race. No one passed unless there was slower lapped traffic. It’s hard to swallow that one. It was going to be an easy victory otherwise.”

RESULTS

LONG BEACH, California – Results Sunday of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 1.968-mile Long Beach street circuit, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (4) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 85, Running
2. (12) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 85, Running
3. (8) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 85, Running
4. (2) Scott Dixon, Honda, 85, Running
5. (21) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 85, Running
6. (13) Ed Jones, Honda, 85, Running
7. (14) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 85, Running
8. (19) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 85, Running
9. (1) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 85, Running
10. (6) Graham Rahal, Honda, 85, Running
11. (15) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 84, Contact
12. (16) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 84, Running
13. (9) Will Power, Chevrolet, 84, Running
14. (20) Max Chilton, Honda, 84, Running
15. (11) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 84, Running
16. (17) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 84, Running
17. (3) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 79, Off Course
18. (18) Takuma Sato, Honda, 78, Off Course
19. (5) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 62, Mechanical
20. (10) Marco Andretti, Honda, 14, Off-Course
21. (7) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 1, Contact

Race Statistics
Winners average speed: 90.845 mph
Time of Race: 1:50:28.9818
Margin of victory: 1.4940 seconds
Cautions: 3 for 11 laps
Lead changes: 6 among 3 drivers
Lap Leaders:
Dixon 1-15
Hunter-Reay 16-29
Dixon 30-41
Hunter-Reay 42-55
Hinchcliffe 56-57
Dixon 58-62
Hinchcliffe 63-85
Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Bourdais 93, Hinchcliffe 74, Pagenaud 71, Dixon 70, Newgarden 59, Castroneves 51, Jones 48, Hunter-Reay 46, Sato 43, Andretti 36.

Title contenders stumble on the streets of Toronto

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The championship picture of the Verizon IndyCar Series saw a massive shakeup after Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto. While points leader Scott Dixon ended up in victory lane, his third win on the streets of Toronto and his third win of the 2018 season, all of his championship rivals stumbled.

Josef Newgarden, the pole sitter and second-place man in championship – he trailed Dixon by 33 points entering Sunday – led from the pole and looked to be a contender for the win, but a Lap 34 restart saw his day come apart.

Newgarden ran wide exiting the final corner coming to the green flag and smacked the outside wall. He plummeted through the field and pitted under caution – for a Turn 1 pileup involving Graham Rahal, Max Chilton, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power, and Sebastien Bourdais – to allow the No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet Team Penske group to examine the car for damage.

Newgarden continued on, but was never a contender the rest of the day, ultimately finishing ninth.

“I knew it would be low grip, but not zero grip. I just lost the front end completely,” Newgarden said in describing how the wall contact happened. “I feel terrible, it’s not fun to make a mistake.”

Alexander Rossi, who sits third in the championship, ran a steady sixth in the first stint until Lap 27, when contact with Will Power damaged his front wing. Rossi was then caught up in the melee on the Lap 34 restart, getting airborne over the left-front of his Andretti Autosport teammate Hunter-Reay.

Rossi again pitted for a new front wing – he had six stops in total – and ended up eighth on a day when he felt like a podium beckoned.

“It’s a pretty disappointing result. I don’t think we had the car to beat Scott (Dixon), but for sure with the problems that everyone had, we could’ve finished second. It’s been a difficult string of races,” Rossi said afterward.

Hunter-Reay, too, had a day forget. After going from sixth to third on the start, he spun his No. 28 DHL Honda into the Turn 3 Barrier on Lap 27. And like Rossi, he was caught up in the Lap 34 pileup, falling off the lead lap in the process.

Hunter-Reay languished in 16th at the checkered flag.

“It was a very unfortunate day and a big loss for us in points,” Hunter-Reay lamented. “The DHL Honda was running comfortable in third and pushing hard, but I had too much front brake lock and found the tire barrier – that’s my fault. Then after that, we got caught up in a wreck, which put us a lap down. From there we just fought to stay in front of the leader.”

Power, too, hit his struggles after the first stint, when contact with the Turn 11 wall, an incident similar to the one that his Team Penske teammate Newgarden had, bent the right-rear suspension of his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet. He also had contact with Rossi later that lap.

Power lost two laps in the pits as the team made repairs, and he took the checkered flag in 18th.

“In the last corner, I brushed the wall and bent a rear toe link, so the car was a little bit out of whack. I didn’t even know that (Alexander) Rossi and I touched. I was just kind of trying to hang on until we got a yellow and could pit,” Power explained. “I’ve never had so many DNFs; not DNF for this race, but like a DNF in a season. Still, it’s kind of how this sport can go.”

All told, their struggles mean that Dixon leads the championship by 62 points over Newgarden. Rossi sits third, 70 points of the lead, followed by Hunter-Reay and Power, who sit 91 and 93 points out of the lead respectively.

And the next race, the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (July 29 on NBCSN) won’t make it easy for them to make up ground, as Dixon’s record there is astoundingly strong. The four-time IndyCar champion has five wins at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, his most recent triumph coming in 2014, a race in which he famously came from last on the grid (22nd) to win.

Conversely, Newgarden, Rossi, Hunter-Reay, and Power have a combined one win at Mid-Ohio (Newgarden, last year).

However, the likes of Newgarden and Rossi still appear confident that they can make up for their Toronto struggles.

“We have to move on now and try to pick it back up. With the championship battle, we’ve got a long way to go. This doesn’t help but look, we have plenty of racing (left),” said Newgarden. “We need to keep our head up here. We’re going to be just fine, we’ve got fast cars and the best in the business. If we get our mistakes sorted out, we’re going to be just fine.”

Rossi, who finished sixth at Mid-Ohio last year, echoed similar sentiment, and thinks Mid-Ohio presents an opportunity to get back on track.

“We’re very good at Mid-Ohio, we’re kind of circling Toronto and Mid-Ohio as two races we were going to be pretty good at, so we got to reset, man, and just execute,” Rossi explained afterward. “We’re fast. We’re there every weekend. That’s the important thing. It’s a lot harder to be outside the top 10 and looking for answers. We’re fighting for pole every weekend. We’re in the Fast Six virtually every weekend, so you’re putting yourself in position to have a good result, it hasn’t come really since Texas.”

The 2018 championship is far from over – the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma being a double-points event helps ensure as much. But, if Dixon does claim the 2018 title, Toronto may be the race that serves as the turning point.

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