Conway survives carnage to win again in Long Beach
14 April 2014 – The 40th running of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach proved to be a memorable one for the sport's premier road course event, seeing two leaders lose their chances at winning before Mike Conway emerged victorious. A carnage-filled 80 lap race included a large pileup with leader Ryan Hunter-Reay, and with just two laps to go, new leader Scott Dixon was forced to pit for fuel, handing a charging Conway his second Long Beach title.
One lap was essentially removed from the race distance when former Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk spun the Indy two-seater while leading the pace laps. The field circulated one more time before lining up for the first standing start of the 2014 season – something that has proved quite treacherous in the past.
Pole-sitter Ryan Hunter-Reay led the field when the lights went out, with Sebastien Bourdais getting by James Hinchcliffe. The Canadian bogged down on the start and promptly lost four spots, but he would go on to drive a steady race and eventually work his way back up to P3.
With Bourdais chasing Hunter-Reay, the American's lead ballooned out to 2.5s by lap 15. Both of these men have won in Long Beach, as have five others in the field today. Behind them, rookies Jack Hawksworth and Carlos Munoz had continued their consistent runs in the top ten.
Bourdais was the first of the leaders to pit, followed by Hinchcliffe. Some quick work by the Andretti Autosport crew allowed Hinchcliffe to close right up to the Frenchman on pit exit. A few corners later while adjusting his brake bias, Bourdais understeered with cold tyres into the turn 8 wall, bringing out the first caution of the race. He would be able to make it back to the pits and continue, though.
On the restart – now single-file for 2014 – Justin Wilson was punted from behind by Graham Rahal at the final hairpin, eventually stalling his engine and bringing out the race's second caution. Rahal would be penalised a few laps later for avoidable contact.
Almost simultaneously, Simon Pagenaud had turned into a corner only to find Will Power's nose already there. The Frenchman bounced into the tyre wall but was able to continue, albeit with an advertising banner trailing from his left front suspension. With a new nose and black tyres back in the pits, his race would be far from over.
Bourdais was then handed a drive-through penalty for entering the pits under caution, seemingly ending his chances at a solid finish. He would put the period on it a few laps later when he again locked up and buried his car into the turn 11 tyre wall, bringing out the third caution of the race.
Moments later, Charlie Kimball's Chevrolet engine puffed a solid cloud of white smoke, ending a top ten run that saw the Ganassi driver pick up 13 spots.
The next single-file restart was much tidier with Hunter-Reay leading Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden, Power, Castroneves, Hawksworth, Conway and Munoz. Conway slipped by Hawksworth to take P6, but the final round of pit stops would nullify that in a few laps. Power, Newgarden and several others pitted on lap 54, with the leaders following suit the next time around.
On the out-lap, though, the entire complexion of the race changed. Hunter-Reay found himself directly behind Newgarden, who had just come out of the pits on cold tyres. The 2012 series champion took an opportunistic look on the inside just as the leading driver turned into the corner. The two came together on the exit of the turn – directly in the path of the rest of the field. Hinchcliffe hit his team-mate, Sato hit Newgarden, and in an instant several cars sat in pieces on the track. Hunter-Reay's day would be done, as would Newgarden, Hinchcliffe and Sato's. Hawksworth limped back to the pits along with Castroneves, and just like that, Scott Dixon had inherited the race lead.
On the ensuing restart, Justin Wilson was sent into the T1 wall after a hip check from Dixon, but there were no penalties assessed (much to Wilson's dismay). The track stayed green for a few moments longer until Rahal was spun from behind by Aleshin. That meant there would be just ten laps to go on the final restart of the day.
Dixon had been told over the radio to save fuel, but the quiet march of Mike Conway (who started P17) had placed the Brit directly on the Ganassi driver's wheel guards. Also high up in the jumbled top ten were Montoya (P5), Pagenaud (P7) and three of the four rookies.
Another clean restart saw Dixon gain a few lengths on Conway, but his fuel saving efforts would not be enough. The Kiwi pitted with just two laps to go, handing the victory to Conway and Ed Carpenter Racing. Conway won the Long Beach event with Andretti back in 2011 before winning for the second time in his career in Detroit last year. He now sits second in the standings after two events.
Coming in behind him were two-time Long Beach winner Power and rookie Munoz, who denied his childhood hero Montoya a podium spot.
The field now travels to Barber Motorsports Park in two weeks for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.