Alexander Rossi’s coming out party was in full swing Sunday on the downtown street course of the Toyota Grand Prix Of Long Beach. The young Northern California native won the 44th running of the historic race in dominant fashion after a impressive weekend as the fastest car on the track.
Please visit The562.org to subscribe and support Long Beach sports coverage.
“This one I’ll definitely remember for a very long time for a lot of different reasons,” Rossi said. “I can’t really put into words how good the car was all weekend. I think we proved that, and I’m just so glad we were able to capitalize.”
Rossi led a career-high 71 of the 85 laps on the challenging 11-turn, 1.986-mile temporary Long Beach street course, and he moves into the IndyCar points lead with the win. He finished 1.2 seconds ahead of second place Will Power, and 9.2 seconds ahead of third place Ed Jones. The victory is also a bit of redemption for Rossi after he his car suffered a mechanical issue in this race last year while he was running second.
“Look at what Rossi did this weekend, he’s really strong,” said Power, a two-time winner at Long Beach for Team Penske. It is his 63rd career IndyCar podium finish, which ranks 16th all time.
“He’s going to be tough to beat in the championship,” Power added. “He’s definitely the standout of the field right now, in every respect. You’re going to have to beat him, I think.”
Rossi, 26, won the 2016 Indianapolis 500 as a rookie, and last year he resigned with Andretti Autosport the day before he won the famous Watkins Glen International. The TGPLB is his third career win.
“I certainly hope I haven’t peaked too early with those three,” Rossi said. “I mean, if you’re going to hit the wish list, those are the three.”
Rossi was the fastest in practice and qualifying, and the last time a pole sitter won the TGPLB was in 2007 when Sebastien Bourdais won his third consecutive CART/Champ Car race.
Bourdais, who stared ninth, was involved in multiple cautions and penalties. He also made the maneuver of the day after a restart on lap 48. The veteran driver passed three cars with a diagonal move into turn one, but he had to give back his position to Scott Dixon because it was ruled that he veered into pit lane to make the passes. Borudais ended up finishing 13th after a couple more incidents.
Those caution flags allowed drivers like Jones to move up from 13th to third with a good pit strategy. He matched the best finish of his career, which came at the Indianapolis 500 last year.
“The turnout this year was incredible,” Jones said of the TGPLB crowd. “I can see the amount of people and interest in IndyCar has grown.”
Graham Rahal started the race with a bang as he broke too late on turn one of the opening lap and rear-ended Simon Pagenaud. The spin out ended Pagenaud’s day, and forced Rahal to drive though the pits as a penalty. Rahal rallied and finished fifth, where he started the race.
On Saturday after qualifying, Rahal and Power discussed the difficulties of navigating the tight streets of Long Beach.
“I brushed (the wall) a couple of times,” Power said. “You have to push unbelievably hard. It’s like no other. I was on the limit.”
“There were several times I thought I was going to hit the fence,” Rahal said. “You’re giving everything you have, you’re hanging on for dear life, and obviously around here there isn’t a whole lot of space.”
That is most true on the hairpin turn 11 that opens up into the straight away on Shoreline Drive, and that is where Rossi built his lead.
“Turn 11 is the most important corner on the track,” Rossi said. “We put a lot of focus on that through the whole weekend, even on the qualifying lap, to be able to get good drive out of there. And the Honda engines have pretty amazing drivability.”
Power, who was in his Penske Chevrolet with plenty of push-to-pass speed saved up late in the race, admitted after that the hairpin turn was the difference.
“Our top end was better, but they were really good in the hairpin,” Power said.
New common aero kits on all of the IndyCars has pulled the field closer together, and both Power and Rossi discussed the improvement of the series after the race.
“Right now this is the most competitive and talented group of drivers this series has ever seen,” Power said. “It keeps getting harder and harder. To win and be on the poll these days, you just have to get it so right.”
Rossi had more than 50 members of his family and friends on hand to see the victory.
“Even though it’s not my true home race, it really feels like one,” said Rossi. “The crowds here, and just the whole atmosphere is so welcoming and inviting. 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.”
“This is a cool historic race,” Power said. “It’s second to (the Indianapolis 500) as far as wanting to win.”