LONG BEACH, Calif. – For a good portion of Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach it looked like a near certainty that a Ryan Hunter-Reay was going to win the most prestigious street course race in the series for the second time in his career.
In end, a driver did become a two-time winner of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, but it was Mike Conway, the road and street course specialist for Ed Carpenter Racing. And the driver that appeared in control of winning the race when he was out front two times for 51 laps was in the Paddock area waiting for his damaged Dallara/Chevrolet to be brought back to the team transporter.
Hunter-Reay triggered a seven-car crash in turn four after a pit stop exchange where both drivers pitted for four tires. First, Hunter-Reay pitted on lap 54 for Firestone “black” tires (the harder primary tire that has more durability) and Newgarden pitted one lap later for four Firestone “red” tires (the alternate tire that is softer and allows more speed but less durability). Newgarden was able to get off pit road before Hunter-Reay came down the frontstretch and by being ahead of the Andretti Autosport driver he was the leader.
Hunter-Reay pushed the issue, however, in turn four as he attempted to retake the lead but instead the two cars collided into each other. Hunter-Reay’s teammate, James Hinchcliffe, had nowhere to go and was sucked into the crash.
But more cars would be involved when drivers claimed IndyCar officials did not the yellow flags waving by the corner marshals in that area of the race course. By the time it was over, Tony Kanaan, Takuma Sato, Helio Castroneves and Jack Hawksworth would pile into each other and block that part of the race course.
Drivers who were able get through the crash included Will Power, Carlos Munoz and Conway.
Green-flag racing did not resume for another 10 laps and Scott Dixon was in front of the field but attempting to stretch his fuel mileage to the end. He needed one more yellow flag lap to make that work and when he had to drive down pit road two laps from the finish, Conway was in front of the field and never looked back. The 2011 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach winner for Andretti Autosport defeated Power by .6208-seconds.
It was the third win of Conway’s career and the second in this prestigious race. Carlos Munoz finished third for Andretti Autosport in a Honda after that company was set to score a sweep of all the top positions in the 80-lap race before most of the leading contenders were involved in the crash that changed the course of this race.
Juan Pablo Montoya finished fourth after starting 16th and showed signs that he still knows how to drive an IndyCar while Simon Pagenaud rounded out the top five in a Honda.
It was a big victory team owner Ed Carpenter, who made the decision to step out of his race car for the street and road course races in order to get a more experienced road racer in the seat while Carpenter will be the driver in the oval races.
“We felt really good about our team and won a race and won a pole at Indy and I thought the car was better than me on these tracks,” Carpenter said on pit road after the victory. “I wish I could have been in a position to help our team win every race but we are trying to grow the business and wanted to put someone in to help us get more wins and Mike did that today.”
While Carpenter and Conway celebrated the victory Hunter-Reay tried to reflect on what happened to turned his ride to an apparent second win in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to seeing his car brought back on a flat-bed truck in the garage area.
“Newgarden came out of the pits on Red Tires and I was on Blacks and I knew my opportunity to get him would have to be in the next corner or two or he would be at the advantage,” Hunter-Reay said. “I went for it when I had the opportunity and he was on cold tires but in hindsight I could have waited a couple corners more. You never know. As a racing driver you make decisions in split seconds and you go for it.
“It’s always hindsight. I feel bad for everybody that I took out today including two Andretti cars – myself and James Hinchcliffe – and three Honda drivers with Newgarden. It’s a hard one to swallow at the moment. He came out of pits on Reds and I was on Blacks and I had to go for it.
“It’s horribly frustrating. The tire strategy was going to be interesting but it never played out.”