LONG BEACH, Calif. - Alexander Rossi sought redemption for the one he felt got away a year ago at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
The Andretti Autosport driver made up for it in dominant fashion on Sunday, completing a nearly flawless weekend with a flawless drive to score the victory.
Driving the No. 27 Honda, Rossi led all but 14 of the 85 laps on the renowned 1.986-mile, 11-turn temporary street course that’s hosted Indy car races for the last 35 years. The 26-year-old Californian crossed the finish line 1.2413 seconds ahead of Will Power at Rossi’s “second home race,” grabbing the championship lead in the process.
It was the third Verizon IndyCar Series win for Rossi, in his third season, and win No. 58 in the Indy car history of Andretti Autosport. Rossi is the third different driver to win in as many races this season and felt it made amends for last year, when he was running strong in the top three until a mechanical issue ended his race early.
“I can’t really put into words how good the car was all weekend,” Rossi said. “I think we proved that and I’m just so glad we were able to capitalize and nothing crazy happened.
“This one I’ll definitely remember for a very long time for a lot of different reasons.”
Rossi led three of the four practice sessions over the weekend and claimed the Verizon P1 Award in qualifying on Saturday. In the race, he zoomed to a lead of more than nine seconds by lap 34 and only surrendered first place during cycles of pit stops as he stuck to a two-stop strategy. Rossi became the first pole sitter to win at Long Beach since Sebastien Bourdais in 2007.
Rossi has totaled 126 points in the first three races, 22 more than second-place Josef Newgarden, the reigning series champion who won the April 7 race at ISM Raceway and finished seventh on Sunday in the No. 1 Team Penske Chevrolet.
“This one, even though it’s not my true home race, it really feels like one,” said Rossi, whose Nevada City, California, home is closer to Sonoma Raceway, site of the season finale. “The crowds here and just the whole atmosphere is so welcoming and inviting that it’s no surprise that this race has been on the calendar for so long. It’s a pleasure to be able to come here and race, first of all, and to be able to win here is pretty special.”
Power started and finished second in the No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet, leading six laps. It was the 63rd career podium finish for the 37-year-old Australian, ranking him 16th on the all-time Indy car list.
“That was absolutely driving just as hard as I could go,” Power said, “and I am sure he was driving as hard as he could go. I am sure he was using push-to-pass and the Hondas are just a little bit better out of the hairpin. On the restarts, I couldn’t get close. I think we had better top-end (speed) but their drive out of the hairpins was really good.”
Ed Jones of Chip Ganassi Racing finished a solid third in the No. 10 Honda, tying the career best that the second-year driver from Dubai accomplished at last year’s Indianapolis 500.
“It was tough out there today,” Jones said. “We had been struggling with the NTT DATA car on cold tires. Once we got heat in the tires, it was better. I’m really pleased with the result, though. It’s just my third race with the team and I was able to equal my best result in the Verizon IndyCar Series.”
Rookie Zach Veach placed a career-best fourth in the No. 26 Honda. Coupled with Rossi’s win and Marco Andretti’s charge from 20th on the starting grid to place sixth, it gave Andretti Autosport three of the first six finishers.
Graham Rahal, in the No. 15 Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, overcame a drive-through penalty for running into the back of Simon Pagenaud in turn 1 on the opening lap to place fifth. Rahal sits third in the championship, 33 points behind Rossi, making for an all-American top three in the standings.
The race was slowed by four full-course cautions. The last came on lap 72 when Ed Carpenter Racing rookie Jordan King ran into the back of Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan’s Bourdais, winner of the season opener at St. Petersburg, Florida, in the turn 11 hairpin.
Following a restart, Rossi kept Power at bay over the final 10 laps despite being at a disadvantage in push-to-pass time, which allows drivers to activate a boost of turbocharger pressure for additional horsepower.
“I needed to get close enough to him to make him use his,” Power said, “but I just stayed at that one-second gap, just kind of couldn’t make time on him enough to use (Rossi’s push-to-pass) up. But yeah, it was like qualifying every lap for both of us there at the end. At the end of the day, Rossi was just too fast all day.”
The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to action Sunday, April 22 with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at the scenic Barber Motorsports Park road course in Birmingham, Alabama.
Verizon IndyCar Series
Streets of Long Beach – Long Beach, CA
Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach – April 15, 2018
1. (1) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 85, Running
2. (2) Will Power, Chevrolet, 85, Running
3. (13) Ed Jones, Honda, 85, Running
4. (16) Zach Veach, Honda, 85, Running
5. (5) Graham Rahal, Honda, 85, Running
6. (20) Marco Andretti, Honda, 85, Running
7. (6) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 85, Running
8. (11) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 85, Running
9. (8) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 85, Running
10. (23) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 85, Running
11. (4) Scott Dixon, Honda, 85, Running
12. (17) Jack Harvey, Honda, 85, Running
13. (9) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 85, Running
14. (14) Matheus Leist, Chevrolet, 85, Running
15. (18) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 84, Running
16. (24) Kyle Kaiser, Chevrolet, 84, Running
17. (15) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 84, Running
18. (12) Jordan King, Chevrolet, 84, Running
19. (19) Gabby Chaves, Chevrolet, 83, Running
20. (7) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 81, Running
21. (22) Takuma Sato, Honda, 74, Running
22. (10) Robert Wickens, Honda, 73, Running
23. (21) Zachary Claman De Melo, Honda, 58, Contact
24. (3) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 0, Contact
Winner’s average speed: 88.622 mph
Time of Race: 1:53:15.2434
Margin of victory: 1.2413 seconds
Cautions: 4 for 17 laps
Lead changes: 6 among 5 drivers
Lap Leaders: Rossi 1-24, Power 25-30, Hunter-Reay 31, Rossi 32-55, Bourdais 56-59, Newgarden 60-62, Rossi 63-85
Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Rossi 126, Newgarden 104, Rahal 93, Bourdais 88, Hinchcliffe 83, Dixon 79, Hunter-Reay 73, Power 72, Jones 69, Andretti 68.