BY JIM MILLER VERIZON INDYCAR WRITER
James Hinchcliffe (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda) ended his two year drought by capturing the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
This second race of the season showed again that smaller teams have as much of chance of winning as the powerhouses of Penske, Ganassi and Andretti. It’s also apparent that Honda had a good offseason as they have narrowed the competitive gap with Chevrolet.
Polesitter Helio Castroneves (Team Penske Chevrolet) led the field to the green flag but quickly slipped to sixth position within the first several hundred yards as Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) took over the front position.
Turn 4 on the opening lap caused problems for Will Power (Team Penske Chevrolet) and Charlie Kimball (Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) when they made contact causing the first full-field caution of the day. Kimball’s day was done and Power dropped to the rear of the field after a nose section replacement.
Dixon remained out front during the restart until pitting on Lap 16 allowing Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autosport Honda) to take the lead as the field took routine pit stops. Marco Andretti (Andretti Autosport Honda) was next for bad luck when he experienced mechanical issues that significantly slowed him but he stayed on the track until being black-flagged on Lap 16.
On the second round of pit stops Hinchcliffe stretched one lap more than Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi (Andretti Herta Autosport Curb Honda), putting himself to the front of the group. After Dixon and Newgarden (Team Penske Chevrolet) pitted on Lap 62, Hinchcliffe was in front for the duration of the race.
The second caution of the day came on Lap 63 when Rossi’s Honda suffered a mechanical problem slowing to a stop on the track. His hopes for a top 3 finish was towed away.
Still in front, Hinchcliffe extended his lead on the restart and looked completely in control with only 15 laps to manage. But with six laps remaining Hunter-Reay, who was in second place and strong all day, suffered electrical problems and stopped dead on the track causing the third caution of the day. With Takumo Sato (Andretti Autosport Honda) already retired on Lap 78 due to an oil leak, RHR, the last of the Andretti cars, was done resulting in none of the four Andretti cars finishing the race.
Restarting with only three laps to go, Hinchcliffe pulled away from the field and extended his comfortable lead to 1.4 seconds on Sebastien Bourdais (Dale Coyne Racing Honda) to the finish. Rounding out the top five positions were Josef Newgarden (Team Penske Chevrolet) in third, Scott Dixon climbed back to take fourth, and Simon Pagenaud (Team Penske Chevrolet), last year’s Long Beach winner, came in fifth.
The victory is Hinchcliffe’s fifth career win and the sixth win for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
The Verizon IndyCar Series continues on April 23 with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park.