LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) — What seemed to be a Ryan Hunter-Reay runaway took a strange and sudden turn on the streets of Long Beach, where tempers flared long after Mike Conway took a surprising win.
Conway, hired this year by Ed Carpenter when the oval specialist decided to get out of the car on road and street courses, started 17th and overcame an early broken wing to win the Toyota Grand Prix for the second time in his career.
The British driver was chasing Scott Dixon over the final few laps on Sunday, then got the lead when Dixon stopped for fuel two laps from the finish. Both Conway and Dixon were only in position to race for the win because Hunter-Reay triggered an earlier seven-car accident that took out the front three cars.
“I didn’t know whether he had the fuel to finish or not,” Conway said of Dixon “The guys were telling me he was saving fuel and they weren’t sure that he could make it, but at the same time, you don’t want to rely on that. I was kind of trying to make things happen and maybe get by him. But when I saw him pull in I was like, `OK, the guys are right and just have to bring it home.’
“Second would have been good, but this is awesome.”
The race took its turn 24 laps from the finish. Hunter-Reay started from the pole and led 51 laps, and had Andretti Autosport teammate Hinchcliffe right behind him when the race took a bizarre turn.
Josef Newgarden had raced off pit road in a successful bid to get back on the track in front of Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe, who had swept the front row in qualifying for Andretti.
But on cold tires, Newgarden wasn’t going to be able to hold off Hunter-Reay for long. Only Hunter-Reay decided not to wait and tried to pass Newgarden as they entered a tight Turn 4. The two cars collided, Newgarden was sent into the wall and Hunter-Reay bounced into Castroneves’ path.
Hinchcliffe ran into the back of Newgarden – Will Power and Conway successfully squeezed through the wreckage – but three more cars were collected as they all ran into the crashed cars long after the accident began.
Newgarden was polite when he returned to his pit stand.
“I was on cold tires, it’s very hard to control the car, I knew Hunter-Reay was on hot, and at some point he was probably going to get me,” Newgarden said. “But I didn’t expect anyone to come up on the inside of four. There’s so little room there, you normally can’t make a pass, even if something like that is going on … the next thing I knew I was in the wall and I was just getting plowed into by everyone.
“That shouldn’t happen up front. It really shouldn’t. You shouldn’t have incidents like that when you are running up front.”
Team owner Sarah Fisher was composed when asked about the incident on television, but let her true feelings be known on Twitter shortly after: “It was our race to win and we got robbed by immaturity. Period,” she posted.
Michael Andretti seemed shell-shocked at two of his cars being wrecked, “you need to be a little more patient,” he said, and Hinchcliffe didn’t mince words for his teammate.
“At the end of the day, patience is a virtue and someone wasn’t very virtuous today. It was a rookie move,” said Hinchcliffe, who suffered a sprained left thumb and will need to be re-examined before he’s cleared to drive again.
Hunter-Reay didn’t exactly accept responsibility.
“I went for it. I could have waited a little bit later, maybe that’s my fault,” he said. “It’s down to me to make the pass, I guess, I’m not sure. A lot of people say it’s my fault. I made the decision at that split second when he had some wheel spin to go for it, that’s the type of driver I am. I go for it.
“You don’t know how down I am. Just very, very disappointed. I’ll look at it again, but a racing driver, when he’s in the moment and he sees a chance to go for it, I went for it because I want to win the race.”
The accident opened the door for Dixon to score his first career win at Long Beach, until he stopped for fuel as a precaution.
“The last thing I wanted to do was run out of gas in front of the whole field and cause a big accident,” Dixon said.
Five things that happened Sunday at Long Beach:
TEMPER, TEMPER: Half the paddock was angry after the race over on-track incidents. Justin Wilson claimed he was taken out by Scott Dixon in a move “that is so deliberate and blatant,” and Wilson was furious IndyCar did not penalize Dixon for the contact.
Simon Pagenaud also was furious with second-place finisher Will Power, refusing to accept his apology for contact that ruined Pagenaud’s chance to race for a win.
“I think we had a car to win and he pretty much ruined our race, our chance,” said Pagenaud. “We were friends until now. We won’t be going on vacation together, I guess.”
Power insisted he thought Pagenaud had an issue with his car.
“I honestly thought he had a problem because he went back really slowly and so I went up his inside and then realized he was just going to turn and try to back out. I got him. My bad,” Power said. “I feel bad. I don’t like to be raced like that and I’m surprised I didn’t get a penalty. But I honestly thought he had a flat tire or something because he was really slow and I didn’t understand why.”
Pagenaud, who rallied to finish fifth, dismissed Power’s claim.
“Racing, green flag, and I slowed down? Good for him,” Pagenaud said.
JPM’S BIG GAIN: Juan Pablo Montoya finished fourth on Sunday in his best showing – in a test, practice or qualifying session – in his return after seven seasons in NASCAR. Montoya climbed to fourth early in the race, but a penalty for pitting when pit lane was closed dropped him to 20th and he had to drive his way back.
“I could have been a little more aggressive at the end, but I really wanted to make sure we didn’t get in any trouble and got a decent finish,” Montoya said.
BOURDAIS’ BAD DAY: Sebastien Bourdais had high hopes for Sunday after a strong qualifying run and fast practice sessions. But Bourdais had a terrible race, twice crashing into tire barriers. His KVSH Racing team made repairs both times while pit road was closed, which drew a pair of penalties from IndyCar. After starting third, Bourdais finished 14th.
“This one really hurts,” Bourdais said. “I had a great car and I just made a mistake. I didn’t brake late, but was nowhere near making the corner. It was a very bad judgment call.”
TOUGH DAY FOR GANASSI: It was a rough day for three of Chip Ganassi Racing’s drivers. Ryan Briscoe had an early engine issue and the team had him briefly park to avoid further damage. Then thick, white smoke began billowing out of Charlie Kimball’s car while he was running sixth.
Tony Kanaan was collected in Hunter-Reay’s seven-car accident when he was one of three drivers to crash in the wreckage. Dixon almost salvaged the race with a win until he had to stop for fuel.
“They told me to take it easy on the radio when the accident happened, but I guess I didn’t take it easy enough,” said Kanaan.
HELIO’S TWEET: It briefly appeared that Helio Castroneves was on the list of angry drivers when a tweet from his official account criticized race control for not penalizing drivers during the race. The tweet included an image of IndyCar’s official logo with a `thumbs down’ symbol photo-shopped in the center.
But the tweet was deleted not long after it appeared, and Castroneves later posted that his sister had sent the missive from his account without his permission.
“I apologize and the steward were correct with the call made,” Castroneves posted.
Castroneves was fined $30,000 in 2011 for calling the race director “a circus clown” on Twitter.