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IndyCar: Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach recap

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Sunday’s 44th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, the third race of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season, was also the middle weekend in a strong of three straight races for IndyCar in the month April.

Last week’s Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix kicked off the month of April with a bang, and that momentum continued in Long Beach, with the race winner adding yet another crown jewel to his still young IndyCar career, a slew of late-race dramatics creating a few surprises in the finishing order, and even a couple strong comeback drives.

Below if a recap of the major stories that surfaced exiting IndyCar’s weekend at “The Beach.”

Alexander Rossi Confirms Status as IndyCar Star

Alexander Rossi celebrates his victory at the 2018 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Photo: IndyCar

It’s hard to believe that Alexander Rossi is only 26 years old. The California native got his first taste of Formula 1 in 2009 with the old BMW Sauber F1 Team (now the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team) as a reward for winning the 2008 Formula BMW Americas championships.

Fast forward to 2015 and Rossi, a long-established race winner in what is now the FIA Formula 2 championship, got his crack at an F1 race seat with the Manor Marussia F1 Team.

In 2016, his first in the IndyCar ranks, he captured the sport’s biggest crown jewel, winning the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. In 2017, he followed that up with a victory at Watkins Glen International, another iconic racing venue in the U.S. that confirmed his status as a budding star.

And this past weekend, he confirmed that he has moved past the “budding star” moniker and is becoming as high-profile a driver in IndyCar as anyone currently on the grid.

Rossi’s weekend at Long Beach was one of absolute dominance. He was fastest in two of the first three practice sessions – the one he didn’t lead was opening practice on Friday, in which he ended up third – captured the pole for Sunday’s race, was fastest in the final warm-up, and led 71 of 85 laps on his way to victory.

Further, he only surrendered the lead during cycles of pit stops, and at times held a lead of over nine seconds, with the field only closing up during a string of late-race caution periods. Yet, despite losing his enormous lead multiple times due to the aforementioned yellows, Rossi always managed to power away on every restart, and made his charge to victory look seemingly easy.

And to win in California, his home state, made his triumph all the sweeter.

“It’s pretty hard to put into words honestly what it means,” Rossi revealed in the post-race press conference. “This one, even though it’s not my true home race, it really feels like one, and the crowds here and just the whole atmosphere is so welcoming and inviting that it’s no surprise that this race has been on the calendar for so long. It’s a pleasure to be able to come here and race, first of all, and to be able to win here is pretty special.”

What’s more, Rossi now leads the championship with 126 points, 22 ahead of second-place Josef Newgarden, doing so on the back of finishes of third, third, and first in the opening three races.

While the season is only three races old, Rossi has asserted himself as an early championship contender, and such competitors as second-place finisher Will Power have taken notice.

“I think (Rossi) is going to be tough to beat in the championship,” Power said. “He’s definitely what I’d call a standout of the field right now in every respect.”

There is still plenty of racing left in 2018 (14 more races), but Alexander Rossi has quickly asserted himself as a championship favorite.

Surprises and Comeback Drives Abound in the Top 10

It was hardly a surprise that Alexander Rossi and Will Power, two of the best drivers on the IndyCar grid, finished first and second in Long Beach.

Behind them, however, a number of surprises came to the surface, especially in the Top 10.

Ed Jones and Zach Veach had quiet but solid races that also saw strategy and cautions fall their way, resulting in finishes of third and fourth for the pair of IndyCar young guns.

Graham Rahal rebounded from an early-race, drive-through penalty – incurred after contact with Simon Pagenaud on Turn 1, Lap 1 – to finish fifth after going off strategy and demonstrating strong race pace, along with being on the receiving end of some timely cautions to help he and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s strategy.

Marco Andretti started a lowly 20th, but also capitalized on strong pace and timely cautions that helped his strategy to finish a strong sixth.

However, just as many drivers suffered misfortune that dropped them from contention.

Sebastien Bourdais had the speed to finish on the podium, and he may have had the pass of the car in getting by then second-place runner Scott Dixon and the lapped cars of Spencer Pigot and Matheus Leist in one move.

But Bourdais was ordered to give the spot back to Dixon after it was determined he crossed into the pit exit lane to complete the pass, and while he quickly regained the position, a Lap 60 caution for a crashed Zachary Claman DeMelo saw him fail to enter pit lane before it was closed, this after contenders like Rossi had already pitted, forcing him to drive through and complete his full-service stop under caution.

Bourdais restarted in 11th, and ended up getting spun off the nose of Jordan King in the Turn 11 hairpin with 14 laps remaining, and he dropped to 13th at the end.

Dixon, too, was bitten by the Lap 60 caution, and a miscommunication saw his No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing team complete a pit stop under a closed pit lane, netting them a penalty when racing resumed. Dixon ultimately finished 11th.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, meanwhile, had a day to forget. Despite showing speed that could have seen him battle for a podium finish, Hunter-Reay was saddled with a string of misfortune. He clipped the left-rear of Dixon entering Turn 1 after the race start, damaging his front wing and forcing a nose change.

He climbed all the way back into the Top 5 before suffering a cut right-rear tire after a Lap 47 restart, and his day finally came to an end with four laps remaining after he made contact with the wall.

All told, Long Beach as its typical chaotic self, which resulted some new names finishing near the front, while expected contenders were left wanting for more.


  • After a stellar opening two races, Robert Wickens came back to Earth somewhat in Long Beach. He qualified a somewhat disappointing tenth, suffered gearbox problems on Lap 25, and the No. 6 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson motorsports team spent a total of six laps in the pits repairing the problem. He finished 22nd.
  • Jack Harvey finished a solid 12th in the second race for the newly renamed Meyer Shank Racing effort in partnership with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Their next event will be the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500 in May.
  • While IndyCar is famous for its international driver flare, three American drivers currently lead the championship in Alexander Rossi, Josef Newgarden, and Graham Rahal.

IndyCar’s busy month of April continues this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park, with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.



Tequila Patron to end ESM and IMSA partnerships after 2018 season

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Earlier on Monday, Tequila Patron, a long-time sponsor in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, both at the team level – they have a long standing partnership with Tequila Patron ESM – and the series level, announced that they will be ending their sponsorships at the end of the 2018 season.

After sponsoring Highcroft Racing in 2008 and 2009 in the American Le Mans Series, Tequila Patron and ESM formed a partnership in 2010 to launch their own team. Since then, they have scored overall wins in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, and the Petit Le Mans. They have also competed internationally, in both Prototype and GT categories.

“On behalf of the entire Extreme Speed Motorsports organization, it has been an honor to represent such an amazing brand for the past 13 years,” said team co-owner Scott Sharp via a team release.

“I have the deepest gratitude for all of (Patron CEO and ESM co-founder) Ed Brown’s support. Together we have tackled various challenges, won races at each step, and built ESM into such an incredible team. Simultaneously, it has been thrilling to watch Ed and his team build the Patrón brand in a meteoric fashion and along the way become an icon in the motorsports world! We will miss not carrying the now infamous green and black livery, but the same passion for excellence will remain!”

IMSA President Scott Atherton also expressed gratitude toward Patron for their long-time involvement.

“IMSA and Patron Spirits have enjoyed a fantastic partnership for more than a decade. Tequila Patron rose through the IMSA ranks, from a high-profile team sponsor with Patron Highcroft Racing beginning in 2008, through its entitlement sponsorship of the Patron GT3 Challenge starting in 2009, and its presenting sponsorship of the American Le Mans Series beginning in 2010,” Atherton detailed.

He continued, “Tequila Patron continued in a prominent position as the American Le Mans Series merged with GRAND-AM to create the new IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and has been our entitlement partner for the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup since 2014 in addition to its longstanding support of the Tequila Patron ESM race team and its pair of Nissan DPi race cars.

“All associated with IMSA – competitors, promoter partners, series officials and fans – will miss the iconic Tequila Patrón brand next year. On behalf of IMSA, we thank CEO Ed Brown and Tequila Patron for all they have done over the many years to help us grow IMSA and the sport as a whole. We’re more proud than words can express to have counted Tequila Patron among our family of premium brand partners.”

Team co-owner Scott Sharp, in a story posted on SportsCar365, asserted that the ESM team has every intention of continuing in 2019.

“We’re working on a number of options,” Sharp said. “Obviously I think we’ve singly got the best team we’ve ever had, personnel-wise. Having been refining over the years and making selected additions, we’ve gotten ourselves to be super strong. The goal is keeping everyone together. We’re working through a few different options that will hopefully allow us to do that.”