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.

Notes:

  • 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.

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Final 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona results, stats

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona overall results were all streaks: two consecutive victories in the endurance classic for Meyer Shank Racing and three in a row for Acura.

And Helio Castroneves became the second driver to win three consecutive Rolex 24s and the first to win in three straight years (Peter Gregg won in 1973, ’75 and ’76; the race wasn’t held in ’74 because of a global oil crisis).

Starting from the pole position, Tom Blomqvist took the checkered flag in the No. 60 ARX-06 that led a race-high 365 of 783 laps with co-drivers Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Colin Braun.

RESULTS: Click here for the finishing order in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona l By class

Meyer Shank Racing now has two Rolex 24 victories and the 2022 championship since entering the premier prototype category of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2021.

“I think what’s so special about this team is we are a small team compared to some of our opponents, but the atmosphere, the way we work, enables people to get the best out of themselves, and I think that’s why we’re such high achievers,” Blomqvist said. “I think there’s no egos. It’s a very open book, and that just enables each and every one of us to reach our potential. I think that’s why we’ve achieved so much success in really a short time at this level of competition.”

It’s the 16th IMSA victory for MSR.

The 61st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona marked the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category that brought hybrid engine technology to IMSA’s top level.

In other categories:

LMP2: James Allen passed Ben Hanley on the final lap and delivered a victory in the No. 55 ORECA by 0.016 seconds. It’s the second IMSA victory for Proton Competition, which last won at Sebring in 2012. It was the first Rolex 24 victory for Allen and co-drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Fred Poordad and Francesco Pizzi.

GTD Pro: Cooper MacNeil won in the last start of his IMSA career as the No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3 scored the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for WeatherTech Racing and the team’s fourth career victory.

MacNeil, who co-drove with Maro Engel, Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella, earned his 12th career victory and first at the Rolex 24.

“Winning by last IMSA race is tremendous,” MacNeil said.

GTD: The No. 27 Heart of Racing Team delivered the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for Aston Martin, which has been competing in endurance races at Daytona International Speedway since 1964. Drivers Marco Sorensen, Roman De Angelis, Darren Turner and Ian James (also the team principal) earned the victory in the English brand’s 13th attempt.

It’s also the first Rolex 24 at Daytona win for Heart of Racing, which has seven IMSA wins.

LMP3: Anthony Mantella, Wayne Boyd, Nico Varrone and Thomas Merrill drove the No. 17 AWA Duqueine D08 to victory by 12 laps for the team’s first class win in IMSA.


STATS PACKAGE FOR ROLEX 24 HOURS OF DAYTONA:

Fastest laps by driver

Fastest laps by driver after race (over the weekend)

Fastest laps by driver and class after race

Fastest lap sequence

Lap chart

Leader sequence

Race analysis by lap

Stint analysis

Time cards

Pit stop time cards

Best sector times

Race distance and speed average

Flag analysis

Weather report

NEXT: The 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will resume with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 18 with coverage across NBC, USA and Peacock.