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Alexander Rossi reels off second straight dominant Long Beach triumph

by racedaysaeditor | Posted on Sunday, April 14th, 2019

Courtesy of the NTT IndyCar Series

LONG BEACH, California – Al Unser Jr. may be “King of the Beach,” but Alexander Rossi is driving himself toward INDYCAR racing royalty at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Alexander Rossi. Photo by Joe Skibinski

For the second straight year on the iconic NTT IndyCar Series street course, Rossi dominated the competition. The Andretti Autosport driver led all but five of 85 laps from the pole position Sunday to become the first back-to-back winner at Long Beach since Sebastien Bourdais won three in a row from 2005-07.

“We were able to get a race car I was really happy with,” Rossi said. “Winning the pole is huge come Sunday because it allows you to hopefully be in front leaving Turn 1 and really just control the race from there.

“It’s awesome to be able to really kickstart our year.”

ACURA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH: Official results

Driving the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda, Rossi cruised across the finish line 20.2359 seconds ahead of Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden – the largest margin of victory at Long Beach since Unser Jr. won by more than 23 seconds in 1995. Rossi became the ninth multiple winner at Long Beach, joining the likes of his team owner Michael Andretti (two wins), Mario Andretti (three), Bourdais (three), Paul Tracy (four) and Alex Zanardi (two). Unser Jr. took home six victories at “the Beach.”

Alexander Rossi leads the field to the start of the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. Photo by Joe Skibinski

Four of Rossi’s six NTT IndyCar Series career victories have now come when the 27-year-old Californian started from the pole position. Sunday’s win also moved him into second place in the 2019 championship standings after four of 17 races, trailing Newgarden by 28 points, but he said it was no day at the beach.

“I think we got lucky that we were able to get through some traffic and Josef was held up for a bit,” Rossi said. “From that standpoint, we were able to build a gap. It’s never easy. We didn’t have a whole lot of pressure … but you still have to go quick, right? There are a bunch of really fast guys behind you, so you can’t relax at all.”

Rossi became the fourth NTT IndyCar Series driver, each from a different team, to win in as many races this season. He also delivered Andretti Autosport its 200th race victory in all disciplines in which the team has competed since its 2003 inception. Sixty-three of those wins have come in NTT IndyCar Series competition.

Alexander Rossi. Photo by Shawn Gritzmacher

“I’m so proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish in I think a short period of time, to get to 200,” Michael Andretti said. “We’ve had so many great people help get us there. I was just told we had 38 different drivers that won for us over the years to get us to this point.”

Andretti had high words of praise for Rossi, the driver who picked up win No. 200.

“I think he’s a great driver,” Andretti said. “I think we saw in him from the moment he sat in one of our cars, we knew we had someone special here. He’s been great to have as a part of the team.

“He drove flawlessly all weekend. That lap he did (in) qualifying, I think, was the difference as well. To be able to start on pole here is a big advantage.”

Alexander Rossi. Photo by Chris Owens

By finishing second in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, Newgarden scored his fourth top-four finish to start the season. Starting fourth, the 2017 NTT IndyCar Series champion leapfrogged to second place during the first round of pit stops and remained there the rest of the day.

“It’s tough when you’re not able to compete at the very, very front,” Newgarden said. “We were at the front, but you want to be competing for first (place). That’s disappointing, but we gave it our all today and thought we had a pretty good race for the most part. … We just were a little short.”

Scott Dixon. Photo by John Cote

Reigning NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon finished third in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. The five-time champion and 2015 Long Beach winner crossed the finish line in fourth place behind Graham Rahal, but the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver was penalized a position for blocking Dixon on the final lap.

“It was unfortunate with the Graham Rahal incident,” Dixon said. “I think he overshot Turn 8 and then quickly tried to turn in reaction. The rule is you can’t come back to defend if somebody’s already there, and that’s what happened.

“It was just one of those things. Had he not reacted there, we would have (passed him) anyway. But it’s racing, hard racing.”

Josef Newgarden and Graham Rahal. Photo by Stephen King

Rahal, driving the No. 15 TOTAL Honda, didn’t refute the decision. The INDYCAR rule for blocking states that a driver may be penalized for making a move in reaction to another driver’s effort to overtake.

“I’m not upset about it,” Rahal said. “We had a good day. … We haven’t had a lot of luck this season, so I’ll just take it as it is and move on.”

The race on the 11-turn, 1.968-mile temporary circuit saw one full-course caution when the cars of Marcus Ericsson, Jack Harvey and Spencer Pigot made contact in the fountain area of Turns 2 and 3 on the opening lap. Ericsson was penalized for avoidable contact over the incident.

Grand Prix Association of Long Beach officials announced that weekend attendance for the event increased approximately 1 percent from 2018, to approximately 187,000 fans.

The focus of the NTT IndyCar Series shifts now to Indianapolis Motor Speedway. An April 24 open test on the 2.5-mile oval will allow teams and drivers scheduled to compete in the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge valuable track time. IndyCar.com will provide livestream coverage of the test.

The race weekend for the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS road course is May 10-11, with the race airing live at 3 p.m. ET Saturday, May 11 on NBC. Indy 500 practice opens May 14, with qualifying on May 18-19. “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” takes place Sunday, May 26 and airs live at 11 a.m. ET on NBC.

‘What They’re Saying’ from Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet): “It’s tough when you’re not able to compete at the very, very front. We were at the front, but you want to be competing for first (place). That’s disappointing, but we gave it our all today and thought we had a pretty good race, for the most part. The Hitachi car was fast, it was just a touch off what other cars had. Alexander (Rossi) did a nice job; congrats to Andretti Autosport. We had good fuel mileage (and) Chevy did a good job for us. We just were a little short. It’s a good day, it’s just tough when you’re not competing for the win.”

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “One more race finished here at Long Beach. I think if you look through our weekend, our race result was not that bad compared to the practice sessions and our qualifying. Of course, not where we want to be. Definitely shouldn’t be happy and we are not happy with P15, but that’s maybe a way to go for the next couple races and I’m just looking forward to improving the car as much as we can, mainly for the road courses and the street courses – that’s where we’re struggling the most. I’m looking forward to the Month of May now, I’m more than excited. We all know we have a good car there. Bring it on.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “I think we did the most with the situation we were in today. Starting where we did (P15), we were going to need some help to get too far forward and it just didn’t come. There were no yellows (flags) that played into our favor; it was basically a caution-free race after that first one. The Arrow guys did a great job in the pits, the car was really quick, we made some moves on track – I think we might have made up more spots than anybody else. It’s so tough in a race that goes all green like that. Proud of the guys. We had good pace, I think we recovered well from qualifying. We’ll try and carry this momentum into the month of May.”

MARCUS ERICSSON (No. 7 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “Obviously, it didn’t go the way we wanted with the incident at the start. We got caught out there with everyone packing up in the fountain in Turn 3, so it wasn’t ideal and obviously hitting (teammate) Jack (Harvey) was very unfortunate. From then on, we were one lap down and we had a drive-through penalty, so it was just a very difficult afternoon from that point. Big thank you to the Arrow guys for always pushing and never giving up.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “It was unfortunate with the Graham Rahal incident. I think he overshot Turn 8 and then quickly tried to turn in reaction, and you know the rule is you can’t come back to defend if somebody’s already there, and that’s what happened. I was on (overtake) and hit his rear tire and had to lift off. I lost my momentum and that also turns the overtake off, as well. It was just one of those things. Had he not reacted there we would have (passed him) anyway. But it’s racing, hard racing. Definitely the last stint was strong for our PNC Bank car. It’s unfortunate we had that fuel problem issue (on the pit stop). I think we could have had a good race for second (place) there. Congrats to (Alexander) Rossi; that was a fantastic drive. We took a real gamble at the start of the race using used reds (Firestone alternate tires). We maybe didn’t do the right thing there.”

FELIX ROSENQVIST (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “It was a kind of static race and we were looking for opportunities, but they didn’t really come. I’d say we sort of lost our race a little bit after the first stop, when we had clear track and then came out just behind (Marcus) Ericsson. He was actually a lap down. In INDYCAR, you’re racing even if you’re a lap down and that was probably his instructions, but we lost a lot of lap time behind him. With that, we lost (James) Hinchcliffe as well. After that, it was sort of just following the others and trying to make a difference. Trying to save the tires and make an attack. Then, save the tires again and make an attack. It was hard and the pace was strong through the field, and it felt like all the guys in top 10 really drove with really strong pace all the time. It’s hard to do anything from there, unfortunately. I’m happy with my drive. I don’t think I could have done much better today, I guess that’s the positive to take out of this. Let’s keep digging for the next one in the NTT DATA car.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “I guess it’s my mistake for going down there. I kind of went in the marbles. Probably went to the wrong side to defend from (Scott) Dixon. That was it, man. It was probably a podium finish there, but threw it away, unfortunately. I was debating whether to make the corner and I thought nah, it’s better to be seventh than in the tires. I was close. I may have made it, but I didn’t want to take the risk.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “I’m OK (physically), but I feel bad because we don’t have it. We have to figure something out. Very disappointing, very disappointing.” (About how tough it was physically today): “It was alright. My injuries were the least of my problems, for sure.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 TOTAL Honda): 
“It’s not that tough (of a pill) to swallow; we were going to lose the spot anyway. My front (tires) were absolutely gone. Those were used reds (Firestone alternate tires). We should have gone to new blacks (Firestone primary tires) there at the end. My tires were absolutely shot. I had no braking grip whatsoever, but I moved right as quick as I could out of the corner and then I gave him a lane. By the rules you’re allowed to make your move, which I did on the exit of the corner. That was it. We’re just going to have to discuss it (with the officials). Look, I’m not like upset about it. We had a good day. Our car wasn’t great today, but it was decent and the TOTAL Oil team pushed hard. That’s all we can say. Did I block? Yes, I blocked; you’re allowed to block in this series. You’re allowed to make a move, (and) I made a move. That’s allowed, I mean that’s allowed. I didn’t go back to the left; there’s a lane to the left. He had overtake (remaining), I didn’t. If he wanted to go (there) he could go. But, I don’t know, we’ll discuss it with the officials.” (About how he would feel if he was in Scott Dixon’s position): “You would try the exact same, there’s no doubt. I think I played the rules as I see them fit. Did I block? Yeah, I take full (credit). Yeah, I blocked, but you’re allowed to in this series, and if they don’t want blocks, they should say you can’t make a move at all and just change the rule. The problem is, we see such large discrepancies in what is a block (and) what is not a block. It’s fine; we just need to go further and understand (the rule) a little better. At the end of the day, P4. Do we deserve P3? Probably, but you know what, it was a good day and good points for us. We haven’t had a lot of luck this season, so I’ll just take it as it is and move on.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 SealMaster Honda): “The No. 18 SealMaster Honda car seemed pretty solid early in the race and I was able to make a couple of moves. As the race went on, the balance got away from us and I picked up more and more understeer. I tried and tried to pass (Felix) Rosenqvist, but he defended and I could never get by. At the end, I just tried to save the car and made sure I didn’t make any mistakes. We’ll just take our 11th place finish and move on.”

SANTINO FERRUCCI (No. 19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Honda): “We had a clean start. Sebastien (Bourdais) seemed pretty quick, so when he got close to me, I didn’t fight him. I’m happy I didn’t because he passed a couple of cars and I watched and followed suit, so it was a good learning experience for me. We seemed pretty quick, as well, and wanted to run his strategy. But when I came out of the pits with a heavy fuel load, I just bottomed too hard coming into Turn 1, locked the fronts and went into the runoff. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the car spun with the heavy fuel load, I spun halfway and that caught me off guard and I stalled it. There was nothing we could do from that point on but to turn it into a learning race.”

ED JONES (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Scuderia Corsa Chevrolet):
 “It was one of those situations today where we needed to try something a bit different to make things work. We needed a bit of luck on our side as well. Unfortunately, things didn’t play out that way. On the upside, we made progress with the car every session this weekend and ended in a better spot than where we started. That’s a positive. Going into the two races at Indianapolis, ECR has solid cars there, so we should have two solid races headed our way.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet): “It was a very unfortunate start to the race. We got caught up in the mess that was going on in front of me and stalled the car after some contact. We went a lap down and from there, just had to try and claw our way back as much as we could. It’s frustrating because it seemed like we were actually going pretty quick and had a good race car. If we had been able to stay on the lead lap at the beginning, it would have been a lot better, but that’s not the way it went. We’ll come back stronger next time.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet): “Yeah, it was a solid day. I think that was the best we could have done today. I think we did everything we were supposed to do. Execution was there. We just lacked a little bit of pace, overall. So, we’ve got to keep working on it. That’s all you can do. (Alexander) Rossi had a great race. I think (Josef) Newgarden did a fantastic job and putting a Penske car up there is great. We’ve just got to keep working. I’m really excited about the INDYCAR Grand Prix coming up. I’m looking forward to the Month of May.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda): “Difficult day overall, but that is what to expect after starting 22nd. We charged all the way up to 14th, but we had a fuel miscalculation somehow. I was hitting the (fuel) number they were saying and the team thought we were going to make it to the end. Here and there, it must have got lost in translation because we were about a lap and half short causing us to give up our 14th place — which still isn’t good enough — for 17th. At Barber and here, we passed eight to 12 cars, so if that is starting 12th, then we would be leading the race. We’ve got to look into why qualifying has been such a struggle this year for us. Once we have a good starting place, I think we can prove to people that we know how to race then we can carry it forward from there. Looking ahead, I am excited to get to be back in Indianapolis and be back on an oval where I feel we have a chance to win.” 

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “You never think (you’ll dominate the race). We knew it was going to be a really hard-fought battle. The NAPA AUTO PARTS crew gave me such a great race car. This is the 200th win for Andretti Autosport, so what better way to do it than in that type of fashion here at Long Beach (and) here in California. It’s an amazing day. I have a great car and a great crew behind me. I couldn’t do it without them, so hats off to them. This is a special one. I just found out my grandfather died yesterday, so I wanted to dedicate this (win) to him and obviously Michael (Andretti) for 200th win.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “We had a fuel problem late in the race, and we’re not really sure what happened. (The car) was in emergency mode at the end of the race, just trying to make it home. All in all, it was a disappointing weekend considering the speed we had earlier, but congrats to Alexander (Rossi) on the win and good job to the No. 27 team. We gained a few points and are looking on to Indy.” 

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Honda): “It was a tough race, no moves really. I got off the line P8 and had a good battle with Simon (Pagenaud) in the first two stints. We tried to undercut on the second stop but unfortunately instead we lost a place to Will (Power) and that was it. There were no yellows (flags) and I tried everything I could, but it was difficult to get the balance. We had to go to the black (Firestone primary) tire in the end (stint) because we knew the reds (Firestone alternate) were faster, but we just couldn’t get the balance. We will have a road course and speedway test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Month of May is always exciting. We are carrying good momentum now, so hopefully we have a good, strong test that we can transfer to good results.”

PATRICIO O’WARD (No. 31 Carlin Chevrolet): “Obviously, it wasn’t the result we wanted for the No. 31 GESS Carlin Chevrolet; we always want to at least move forward from where we qualified. We were really strong towards the end, but for some reason I was just sinking like a rock at the beginning of the race. The car just wasn’t behaving how it should’ve been with those used red (Firestone alternate) tires that we started on. We need to look back and see what really went wrong at the beginning of the race and compare it to the end of the race where we doing so much better. It’s unfortunate, but our race was just decided early on when we lost so many spots right out of the gate.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet): “To be honest, I thought it was quite an enjoyable race today here in Long Beach. It actually went pretty quick. I had the challenge of getting good fuel mileage and I think we did the best out of anyone fuel saving, which is why we were able to pit three laps later than everyone else on that final stint. It allowed me to really push and close the gap to (Zach) Veach. We had a few things in the race not go our way, like (Ed) Jones pulling a bold move on the last corner on a restart costing me a few spots. There just weren’t a lot of opportunities to overtake today, so it was more about hitting your numbers.”

JACK HARVEY (No. 60 AutoNation/Sirius XM Honda): “We were lacking some substantial pace, as I think we had some pretty significant damage from that shunt. I was just trying to get to the end of the race to just try and collect as much data for the team as possible. This weekend has been kind of a struggle for us. But even in a race like I had, I was still pushing as hard as I normally would and there was no difference in mentality. We’ll have a take a look at the data tonight and see where we can improve for the (INDYCAR Grand Prix).” 

COLTON HERTA (No. 88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda): “I’m super bummed for everyone on the No. 88 King Taco team and everyone who came out to show support and cheer me on. I’m really appreciative because I had a lot of family, friends and fans here with it being a hometown crowd. Everyone was awesome. We can take positives from here because we were so damn fast all weekend and I was really happy with the car. The guys did an incredible job, everyone has done so well working together. We’ll move forward. We have some testing planned later this week and we have the Month of May coming up, which will be awesome.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Honda): “We started the day really strong in warmup and we didn’t change anything on the car from warmup to the race, and the car was nothing like this morning. I knew that once it was a fuel saving race that it was going to be hard to make up ground. It was a long day — I can’t wait for May.”

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