• Honda drivers dominate first half of race
• Multi-car crash eliminates lead trio of Newgarden, Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe
• Pagenaud recovers from contact to finish fifth
A dominating Verizon IndyCar Series performance by Honda during the first half of Sunday’s Grand Prix of Long Beach came to naught, as no fewer than a half-dozen Honda-powered potential winners saw their races either ended early or significantly delayed by contact on the concrete-lined Southern California street circuit.
Despite the high attrition, star rookie Carlos Munoz claimed his first Indy car podium of 2014 for Honda and Andretti Autosport with a well-judged run to third, while Simon Pagenaud finished fifth, despite a Lap 30 incident that saw the Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports driver knocked off course, resuming at the rear of the field.
Starting from the pole – after Honda drivers claimed five of the top six starting positions in qualifying – Ryan Hunter-Reay led the first 26 laps, until his first scheduled pit stop. After out-of-sequence drivers cycled through their second round of stops, Hunter-Reay returned to the lead until the second round of stops took place just after the 50-lap mark.
The exchange of second-round stops saw Josef Newgarden – who had spent much of the first half of the race running a very competitive third for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing – emerge from pit lane with a narrow lead over Hunter-Reay at the start of Lap 56.
After closely following Newgarden for several corners, Hunter-Reay attempted a pass, only to see the two Honda-powered Dallaras make contact, sending both into the wall and out of the race. In addition to the leaders, third-place James Hinchcliffe’s Andretti Autosport Honda and the Hondas of Jack Hawksworth and Takuma Sato were also collected in the incident.
Only Hawksworth was able to resume, after a long pit stop for repairs to his Bryan Herta Autosport Honda. He finished three laps down, in 15th, after running solidly in the top six prior to the incident.
Before the multi-car Lap 56 crash, a tap from Will Power sent Pagenaud’s Honda into the Turn 9 tire wall, while another Honda front-runner, Justin Wilson, was tapped into a spin in the Turn 11 hairpin after contact from Graham Rahal. Pagenaud recovered, posting some of the fastest laps of the race to finish fifth. But Wilson’s attempt at a similar move through the field ended after a second incident of contact – this time with Scott Dixon – sent Wilson’s Dale Coyne Racing Honda into the wall and out of the race.
Pagenaud’s IndyCar rookie teammate, Mikhail Aleshin, finished sixth, followed by veterans Oriol Servia and Marco Andretti as, despite the crashes, Honda-powered drivers claimed five of the top eight finishing positions.
In recognition of his efforts on behalf of Teen Cancer America, rock and roll legend Roger Daltrey paired up with a racing legend – Mario Andretti – to lead the field in the two-seat Honda Indy car just prior to the start of Sunday’s race. Daltrey and “The Who” bandmate Pete Townshend are the founders of Teen Cancer America, intended to ensure that teenagers and young adults with cancer get access to special facilities and treatments designed for them, in every cancer hospital in the U.S.
Honda-powered drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay and Justin Wilson, along with fellow Verizon IndyCar Series driver Scott Dixon, have ambassadorial roles with TCA and met with Daltrey on Sunday.
The Verizon IndyCar Series now heads east to the scenic Barber Motorsports Park for the April 27 Honda Grand Prix of Alabama, to be televised live on the NBC Sports Network.
Carlos Munoz (#34 Cinsay Andretti Autosport Honda) started 11th, finished 3rd: "It’s not the way I’d like to earn my third place, with so many accidents, but this is racing. Anything can happen, especially at this track. But I’m really happy, it was a nice race. I pushed hard on the last two laps trying to overtake Will [Power], but it was really difficult, even though I had some ‘push-to-pass’ remaining. But I’m happy, so I’m going to keep pushing.”
Simon Pagenaud (#77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Racing Honda Dallara) started 6th, finished 5th: “Our day was ruined by Will Power, and it’s unfortunate because it was dirty driving on his part. We’ll move on, and I’m satisfied with fifth considering the spin and everything else we had to deal with today. We’re off to a great start in the championship but the next time we have a car this good we’re going to win. I’m very proud of our team for giving me a car to race with the fastest cars out there. We’re showing that we’re becoming one of the strongest teams in the series and that we can run up front every race weekend.”
Art St. Cyr (President, Honda Performance Development) on today’s race: "I do believe it was obvious to everyone that the Honda engine was extremely competitive here at Long Beach. Dominating qualifying, with five of the top six positions on the starting grid, was a good early indication of our performance. And halfway through today’s race, we were running 1-2-3 and held down eight of the top 12 positions. Unfortunately, that’s when the wheels came off the wagon. Certainly, the multi-car accident that eliminated several of our top-running cars – including the top three – was a big blow, as were several other incidents that eliminated or delayed some of our best-placed entries. But we’re confident in our performance, and that of our teams, and we remain optimistic for the next race at Barber Motorsports Park and the rest of the 2014 season.”