Race Report: Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

LONG BEACH, Calif. April 19–Lessons learned. After the carnage and the multiple yellow flags that flew in the first two races in the Verizon IndyCar Series, the drivers showed today that they can race fast and furious–and keep the bumping and debris to a minimum. Just one caution period (laps 5-8) slowed the 80-lap race around the 1.9-mile downtown Long Beach street course.

That was the good news. The bad news was that the ABC Supply Hondas could have used a couple more caution periods to make their alternate fuel strategy work since they were starting deep in the field for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

With Jack Hawksworth starting 16th in the No. 41 ABC Supply Honda and Takuma Sato two rows behind in the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda, the team used an alternate pit strategy but needed a race with a few cautions periods to make it work. Both drivers pitted during the first caution to shed the primary compound tires and put on the faster alternate compound (aka red-rimmed) Firestones.

When the pace setters ducked into the pits on lap 29, Hawksworth took the lead and Sato was in pursuit until they pitted on laps 33 and 32 respectively. When the pit stops cycled out, they were in 14th and 15th position–which were their positions before they pitted. Pitting again on laps 52 (Sato) and 54, they ran nose to tail for nearly the rest of the race.

Hawksworth, who finished 14th said, “It was a tricky race, and we thought there were going to be more yellows than there were. The strategy was good but we just didn’t quite have the speed today so we’ll come back at Barber next week and have another go at it.”

Unfortunately for Sato, there was a miscalculation on fuel and his car sputtered on the final corner of the race. He coasted to the checkered, losing three spots, and finished 18th.

“Our tough weekend continues,” Sato said with a smile, noting, “but we finally had a good feeling of the car in the morning warmup today. The car’s potential was there before qualifying but we weren’t able to show the performance then due to the red flag which cut short qualifications. We were in the top 10 in this morning’s practice and had a positive feeling about the speed. I was optimistic for the race even though we had to start at the back. We had a good plan but there weren’t many yellows today, so not many chances to gain a lot of positions. At the end, we had a calculation problem on the fuel. I had to give up some positions as well as try to bring the car home. On the very last corner when I accelerated, it started coughing so I coasted to the checkered in neutral. The boys worked hard on the car all weekend and it’s just a shame we couldn’t produce a good result today.”

Scott Dixon won the race after taking the lead from pole winner and eventual runner-up Helio Castroneves during that first round of pit stops. Juan Pablo Montoya took third place from Simon Pagenaud during the second round of pit stops and fought off Pagenaud for the rest of the race, providing the most entertaining battle of the afternoon. Tony Kanaan, Dixon’s teammate, rounded out the top five.

The Verizon IndyCar Series heads to the picturesque and park-like Barber Motorsports Park outside of Birmingham, Ala. for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama April 26. The race will be televised live on NBC Sports Network starting at 3 p.m. ET.