April 13, 2014, LONG BEACH, Calif. (ISN) – Tempers flared in almost every corner of the IndyCar paddock Sunday at Long Beach, where Mike Conway was the unexpected winner of a surprisingly physical race.
Ryan Hunter-Reay dominated most of the race but triggered a seven-car accident 24 laps from the finish when he tried to make an aggressive pass of Josef Newgarden. It left team owner Michael Andretti shaking his head in disgust because the accident wiped out both Hunter-Reay and Andretti Autosport driver James Hinchcliffe, and Sarah Fisher fumed on Twitter over Newgarden’s day being ruined.
The accident opened the door for Scott Dixon to win the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach for the first time. But he was short on fuel by roughly half a lap and stopped for gas with two laps to go. That gave Conway the lead, and the British driver cruised to his second career win on the temporary street course through the streets of Long Beach.
Conway, who also won at Long Beach in 2011, scored the win for Ed Carpenter Racing, a team that specializes in oval races. But Carpenter decided this year to get out of the car on road and street courses, and handed the wheel over to Conway, a driver who at the end of 2012 decided he no longer wanted to race on ovals.
“I can’t believe it. I can’t believe I’m actually here,” Conway said in Victory Lane. “I wasn’t sure Scott was going to pull in there. I couldn’t see he was saving fuel where he should have been saving. Second would have been good, but this is awesome.”
Dixon said he pitted when he did to avoid potentially running out of gas on the track.
“The last thing I wanted to do was run out of gas in front of the whole field and cause a big accident,” Dixon said.
One big accident had already occurred — when Hunter-Reay picked the wrong time to try to pass Newgarden.
Newgarden had raced off of pit road in a successful bid to get back onto the track in front of Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe, the two Andretti drivers who had started on the front row.
But on cold tires, he wasn’t going to be able to hold off Hunter-Reay for long. Only Hunter-Reay decided not to wait and tried to pass Newgarden as they entered a tight Turn 4. The two cars collided, Newgarden was sent into the wall and Hunter-Reay bounced into Helio Castroneves’ path.
Hinchcliffe ran into the back of Newgarden — Will Power and Conway successfully squeezed through the wreckage — but three more cars were collected as Takuma Sato, Tony Kanaan and Jack Hawksworth all ran into the crashed cars long after the accident began.
Newgarden was polite when he returned to his pit stand.
“I was on cold tires, it’s very hard to control the car, I knew Hunter-Reay was on hot, and at some point he was probably going to get me,” Newgarden said. “But I didn’t expect anyone to come up on the inside of four. There’s so little room there, you normally can’t make a pass, even if something like that is going on … the next thing I knew I was in the wall and I was just getting plowed into by everyone.
“That shouldn’t happen up front. It really shouldn’t. You shouldn’t have incidents like that when you are running up front.”
Team owner Fisher was composed when asked about the incident on television, but let her true feelings be known on Twitter shortly after: “It was our race to win and we got robbed by immaturity. Period,” she posted.
Andretti seemed shell-shocked at two of his cars being wrecked, “you need to be a little more patient,” he said, and Hinchcliffe didn’t mince words for his teammate.
“At the end of the day, patience is a virtue and someone wasn’t very virtuous day. It was a rookie move,” said Hinchcliffe, who suffered a sprained left thumb and will need to be re-examined before he’s cleared to drive again.
Hunter-Reay didn’t exactly accept responsibility.
“I went for it. I could have waited a little bit later, maybe that’s my fault,” he said. “It’s down to me to make the pass, I guess, I’m not sure. A lot of people say it’s my fault. I made the decision at that split second when he had some wheel spin to go for it, that’s the type of driver I am. I go for it.
“You don’t know how down I am. Just very, very disappointed. I’ll look at it again, but a racing driver, when he’s in the moment and he sees a chance to go for it, I went for it because I want to win the race.”
Power finished second — his fourth consecutive race dating to last season that he’s finished either first or second — but had little time to enjoy the result. Contact with Simon Pagenaud earlier in the race sent Pagenaud into a tire barrier, and the Frenchmen was furious at Power. IndyCar reviewed the incident but did not penalize Power.
“I think we had a car to win and he pretty much ruined our race, our chance,” said Pagenaud, who did not accept an apology from Power. “We were friends until now. We won’t be going on vacation together, I guess.”
Power insisted he thought Pagenaud had an issue with his car.
“I honestly thought he had a problem because he went back really slowly and so I went up his inside and then realized he was just going to turn and try to back out. I got him. My bad,” Power said. “I feel bad. I don’t like to be raced like that and I’m surprised I didn’t get a penalty. But I honestly thought he had a flat tire or something because he was really slow and I didn’t understand why.”
Pagenaud, who rallied to finish fifth, dismissed Power’s claim.
“Racing, green flag, and I slowed down? Good for him,” Pagenaud said.
Rookie Carlos Munoz finished third and Juan Pablo Montoya was fourth for his best showing — in a test, practice or qualifying session — since spending the last seven seasons in NASCAR. Montoya climbed to fourth early in the race, but a penalty for pitting when pit lane was closed dropped him to 20th and he had to drive his way back.
“I could have been a little more aggressive at the end, but I really wanted to make sure we didn’t get in any trouble and got a decent finish,” Montoya said.
(Logo photo: Alex Gallardo , AP)