LONDON — I’m still trying to take in the fact that we just won the 40th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
After Saturday’s disappointing qualifying run, I just didn’t know what to expect Sunday afternoon with our No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet. The Ed Carpenter Racing team established a game plan for the race and it worked out perfectly.
Plus we had a standing start for the first time here at Long Beach. Those starts are always a little sketchy and you have to find a spot to move around as you go down the straightway. But everyone made it off the starting line.
I banged into to someone on the first and second lap in the fountain turn as well as the hairpin and bent the right front wing, so I wasn’t too sure how the car would handle from that point forward. But the wing held together and I just fought as hard as possible.
When I won in 2011, I had to come back from 20th in the middle of the race to get up to the leaders. So I knew that starting 17th, it was possible to get up front.
But we had a game plan with our Firestone tires to use the black tires (primary and hard) first and then follow up with two sets of red (softer) sticker tires during our pit stops. I stayed pretty consistent with the black tires. But the car definitely improved with the red tires for our final two stints.
It says a lot for the ECR crew that I was able to win in my second race with them. Of course, I just love this circuit as well as the overall event. It’s a classic and I just can’t believe I have now won it twice in the last four years.
We did get some breaks in the race as a driver usually does when he wins. We were able to pass both on the track and in the pits Sunday. But the big crash (on lap 55) really changed the fortunes of many drivers. And I was one of the lucky ones to get through that mess. I never knew what caused the incident but my spotter Lee Bentham saw the whole thing and told me to move to avoid it.