17 April 2011

Conway Shoots Through Field for Surprise Long Beach Win

(Note: this recap also runs at SBNation Indiana)
After qualifying third, Mike Conway was buried in 22nd place after a mistake on pit road 30 laps into the 37th Annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.  However, the second-year driver methodically moved through the field, picking off Ryan Briscoe with 13 laps to go and cruising to his first career IZOD IndyCar Series win.

After passing Briscoe, who led the majority of the second stint of the race, Conway dominated the closing laps, eventually winning by 6.32 seconds.  
Conway had been fast since joining Andretti Autosport in the offseason, but had not had the result to show, finishing 23rd and 22nd in his first two races with the team as a result of contact.
Just 11 months after a horrific accident in the 2010 Indianapolis 500 left him with a broken leg and back, Conway became the first driver to pick up his first career victory since Briscoe did so in 2008 at Milwaukee.  The driver was unsigned for most of the offseason before locking up a deal with Andretti Autosport, surprising many in the paddock.
In the post-race press conference, Conway reflected upon his last 11 months and the chance Michael Andretti took on him, saying:
I mean, initially I saw the injuries I had, and I just wasn't sure when I'd get back.  Yeah, things like that can definitely stop your career.  But I was just determined to not let it, determined to get back, back to fitness and back in a car. 
As soon as we were kind of talking to Michael [Andretti], it was really exciting times knowing that we could possibly be with such a good team like Andretti Autosport.  Yeah, for it to finally come together was awesome. 
Yeah, this year just full of energy and just all ready for the fight ahead.  A long season.  To get a win in the third race in, third race back, is awesome, and I can't think Michael enough for believing in me and the team for doing such a great job.
Conway's drive to his first checkered flag came just after a wild sequence saw Helio Castroneves take out teammate Will Power on Lap 66 after the field restarted following Justin Wilson's foray into the Turn 8 tire barrier.  Power was outside Ryan Hunter-Reay in a battle for second and tried to duck behind the No. 28; however, his teammate Helio Castroneves ran into the back of Power, putting both drivers out of contention for the win.
While Castroneves was punting Power, Conway shot through the space vacated by the two and Oriol Servia, eventually setting up a pass of Dario Franchitti.  Conway put the same move on Briscoe just a few laps later in Turn 6 and drove away for the victory.
Of cutting through the field, Conway remarked: 
As soon as we came out on the reds [tires] and kind of jumped a few people in the pits, [the] car kind of came to life again, and yeah, on the restarts the car was awesome.  Everyone else was kind of struggling for grip and we were just kind of charging through. 
Yeah, great we won, and Dario and Ryan I passed later, so it was nice to really fight for the lead there and a nice clean pass, and from there it was kind of just head down and try and pull away.
After the Turn 1 incident, it looked as if Hunter-Reay was poised to battle Briscoe for the win, but the defending champion at Long Beach suddenly lost power when his actuator broke down the front stretch, costing him a chance at a second straight win at Long Beach.  Hunter-Reay finished 23rd.
Briscoe rebounded from a sluggish start to the season with the runner-up result, while Franchitti picked up needed points to reassume the points lead from Power. James Hinchcliffe, after a fire in his car on Friday, used Servia's backup to take fourth and tighten the Rookie of the Year battle with JR Hildebrand, who was 17th.  Alex Tagliani briefly led en route to a season-best fifth-place finish.  
Servia, after spinning in the Power-Castroneves incident, took sixth, with Danica Patrick behind in seventh.  Tony Kanaan, who suffered a fuel pump problem in his first pit stop, came back for an eighth-place result, while Vitor Meira and Power rounded out the top 10. 
Five different teams were represented in the top five and seven of the top 10 drivers came from various teams.
Franchitti retook the points lead from Power and now leads by seven points.  Kanaan remains in third, 35 points in arrears.
After a week off, the IZOD IndyCar Series will resume on Sunday, May 1, hitting the streets of Brazil for the second consecutive year.  Coverage on Versus starts at 12 p.m. ET.
Finishing Order (starting position-driver-laps completed-reason for exiting race), courtesy of IndyCar PR:
1. (3) Mike Conway, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
2. (12) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
3. (7) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
4. (11) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
5. (9) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
6. (4) Oriol Servia, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
7. (20) Danica Patrick, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
8. (10) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
9. (13) Vitor Meira, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
10. (1) Will Power, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
11. (19) Raphael Matos, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
12. (6) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
13. (16) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
14. (15) Sebastian Saavedra, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
15. (23) James Jakes, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
16. (25) Paul Tracy, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
17. (27) JR Hildebrand, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
18. (8) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 84, Running
19. (26) Ana Beatriz, Dallara-Honda, 83, Running
20. (18) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara-Honda, 82, Running
21. (22) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 81, Running
22. (5) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 78, Running
23. (2) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Honda, 72, Mechanical                 
24. (24) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Honda, 66, Mechanical
25. (17) EJ Viso, Dallara-Honda, 59, Contact
26. (14) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 37, Mechanical                  
27. (21) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara-Honda, 27, Contact
Race Statistics
Winners average speed: 88.676
Time of Race: 1:53:11.1000
Margin of victory: 6.3203 seconds.
Cautions: 3 for 12 laps
Lead changes: 7 among 6 drivers
Lap Leaders: Power 1-27, Tagliani 28-31, Briscoe 32-55, Hunter-Reay 56-57, Power 58-59, Dixon 60, Briscoe 61-71, Conway 72-85.
Point Standings: Franchitti 122, Power 115, Kanaan 87, Servia 80, Conway 74, Tagliani 73, Dixon 66, Briscoe 66, De Silvesto 66, Meira 64.

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