RECAP: TOYOTA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH
Saturday's qualifying saw Ryan Hunter-Reay as the lone Andretti driver in Group 1, while Marco Andretti, Alexander Rossi and Zach Veach were all left to battle in Group 2.
With ease, Hunter-Reay placed the DHL Honda into the Top 12, advancing on to Round 2. Rossi's NAPA Racing machine showed the same easy speed as Hunter-Reay, also securing a place in the top 12. Unfortunately, both Andretti and Veach did not advance after suffering qualifying mishaps. After recovering from mechanical issues Friday, Andretti spun in Turn 1 during the first round of qualifying resulting in a penalty and the loss of the 98's fastest lap. For Veach, it was a brush with the wall during his first stint that led to the rookie driver showing too much caution during his second run.
Hunter-Reay and Rossi took to the track with the top 12, but a questionable penalty to Hunter-Reay played a part in the No. 28 not advancing to the Firestone Fast Six.
In the end it was Rossi representing the team in the Firestone Fast Six and leading the way to the checkered flag. Rossi captured his second career pole position and placed the Verizon P1 Award decal on the No. 27.
CHASING THE CHECKERS.
Alexander Rossi entered Sunday's race with an unobstructed view as he paced the field of 23 cars to the green flag. Rossi executed a flawless two-stop strategy race, leading 71 of the 85 laps. The 2016 Indy 500 winner became the first driver to win from the pole position at the Grand Prix of Long Beach since 2007 and scored the third victory for Andretti Autosport in the southern California city. When the 26 year-old saw the twin checkers fly, he took the lead of the Verizon IndyCar Series championship.
Rookie Zach Veach came to Long Beach with two 16th-place finishes in as many starts, and had his eyes set on earning a first career top 10 in Southern California. Veach did that, and then some. After starting from the 16th position, it was just 10 laps before he worked his way to the top seven. Veach took the fourth position on Lap 68 and spent the remainder of the race pressuring Ed Jones in a battle for third. He came home fourth, earring his first top-five finish in just the third race of his full-time rookie season.
After taking the green flag from the 20th position, Marco Andretti was a man on a mission, driving his way to P11 by just Lap 18. By Lap 63, skilled driving, quick pit work from the U.S. Concrete / Curb team and smart strategy placed the No. 98 into the sixth position, where Andretti would remain through the checkered flag. Andretti now sits first in the Tag Heuer "Don't Crack Under Pressure" standings with a total of 31 positions gained this season.
Starting from the seventh position, Ryan Hunter-Reay was primed to be a race contender when the No. 28 was caught up in an incident in Turn 1 on the opening lap. With front wing damage, Hunter-Reay was forced to an early pit stop on Lap 3 for a wing change, and returned to the field in 21st. By Lap 28, Hunter-Reay worked his way back to his starting position equal, and continued to climb into the top three just laps later. Misfortune struck again when the right rear tire of the DHL car was punctured during a brush with Takuma Sato, forcing another unplanned pit stop for Hunter-Reay. After returning to the track on Lap 48 in 19th, Hunter-Reay again battled his was back just to be caught up in another incident when the No. 18 of Sebastien Bourdais was spun. Damaged tow-links needed repaired and Hunter-Reay was forced to settle for a 20th-place result.
From the west coast, the Verizon IndyCar Series now heads to Birmingham for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. The 90-lap race at the scenic Barber Motorsports Park can be seen on NBC Sports Network Sunday, April 22, at 3 p.m. ET.