Displays of complete and total dominance are relatively rare in the current IndyCar era. Sunday’s contest on the streets of Long Beach served up little in the way of thrills, but it might be quite some time before someone puts on a display like the one Alexander Rossi did.
The defending race winner started from pole, quashed a brief challenge from Scott Dixon, stamped out another one on a restart a few laps later, and that was more or less the last that any of his rivals saw of him.
Within a couple of laps of the restart, Rossi had gapped Dixon to the tune of 1.3s. Nine laps later, that cushion had bloated to 4.1s. It didn’t really stabilize until the final stint, and by that point Rossi’s rivals had long lost any say in the outcome. He crossed the line 20.2s clear, giving Andretti Autosport its 200th win in all forms of racing. It was the largest victory margin at Long Beach since Al Unser Jr. crossed the line more than 23s clear of Scott Pruett in 1995.
“It’s an amazing day,” said Rossi. “This is a special one. I just found out that my grandfather died yesterday, so I want to dedicate this to him, and to Michael Andretti for his 200th win.”
It was also relatively processional behind him for most of the afternoon, but Scott Dixon injected a little life into the final few laps, first with a pass on a fuel-starved Ryan Hunter-Reay for fourth, and then a contentious battle with Graham Rahal for third.
Rahal, on cooked tires and out of push-to-pass, was making his car as wide as he could in the final lap to keep the obviously quicker No. 9 at bay and on the track, at least, he was successful — Dixon tried to draft past him on the run to the finish, but fell two-thirds of a car short.
However Rahal’s defending had caught the attention of race control, who called him for blocking before he’d even climbed out of the car. Dixon was accordingly promoted to third.
“It was unfortunate,” Dixon said. “I think he overshot Turn 8 and tried to turn in reaction, and the rule is that you can’t go back to defend if someone is already there. I was on OT [push-to-pass] and hit his rear tire and lost momentum and had to lift, and that turns OT off was well.”
Rahal, for his part, took his penalty stoically.
“Well, it’s not that tough to swallow,” he said. “We were going to lose the spot anyway. My fronts were absolutely gone. I had no braking grip whatsoever. I moved exiting the corner and gave him a lane.
“I’m not upset about it. We had a good day. The car wasn’t great, but it was decent. Did I block? Yes, I blocked. You’re allowed to block in this series — you can make a move, and I made a move. There’s a lane. He had overtake, I didn’t, so if he wanted to go, he could go. We’ll discuss it with the officials later. If they don’t want blocks, they need to say you can’t do it at all and change the rules. At the end of the day, P4. Did we deserve P3? Probably, but it was still a good day.”
Dixon wouldn’t have been in the position of needing to get past Rahal — or Hunter-Reay — had it not been for a problem during his second stop when the fuel probe refused to connect. He’d already been in recovery mode during his second stint after being leapfrogged by both Will Power and Josef Newgarden during the first round of stops.
A good battle with Power was settled in Dixon’s favor when Power overshot the first corner and skidded into the escape road, and with a pair of stickered reds waiting for his last stint, he hauled his way back toward the front, ultimately finishing one position short of the second place that he thought the car was worthy of.
By contrast, Newgarden’s cruise to the runner-up spot was relatively uneventful.
“We had a good strategy,” he said. “We leapfrogged Will and Dixon. I was giving my all — that was all we had today. This is a good day, but it’s also tough. [Coming up] a little short is always disappointing. Every weekend is about maximizing what you’ve got, and today, second felt like the maximum. Now we need to figure out how to get a first-place car and maximize that.”
Hunter-Reay rounded out the top five. “It was a bit of a shock at the end, [the team] said we had to go to full emergency mode fuel saving,” he said. “It definitely caught us by surprise. Today came down to qualifying — there were not a lot of yellows, so it came down to qualifying and clean air. Clean air was a big deal today, and we didn’t have any.”
Simon Pagenaud had a brief scrape with Hunter-Reay at the first corner but then enjoyed a relatively trouble-free run to sixth ahead of Power, who’d had to overcome an overboost problem in addition to his mistake.
“I guess it was my mistake to go into the marbles,” said Power. “Went to the wrong side to defend Dixon. Probably a podium finish there, and threw it away. And unfortunately I had an overboost. For whatever reason… I had a new engine in last night and you need to get all the little tolerances right — and they weren’t quite right.”
Elsewhere, Colton Herta endured a frustrating afternoon, starting with a pit stop in which he was almost ran over a wheel gun that had been left in front of the car, stopped just in time, and then stalled. Worse followed few laps later when he caught too much of the curb at Turn 9 and hit the outside wall, causing enough damage to his front-left to put him out of the race.
“I just feel terrible,” said Herta, who had run inside the top 10 during the first stint. “The car was so quick, and I kind of threw it all away. I feel really bad for the guys. We were going to be able to go a few laps longer than the other guys, and had such good pace.”
The only caution period came right at the start, when Marcus Ericsson and Jack Harvey made contact near the fountain, and Spencer Pigot tagged Zach Veach just ahead of them. The yellows came out to allow Harvey’s car to be retrieved from the flowerbed, and Ericsson was issued a drive-through for causing avoidable contact.