Alexander Rossi races to second straight Long Beach win
LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Alexander Rossi weaved his scooter through a horde of pedestrians and deftly maneuvered around the sun-drenched fans still partying in the streets of Long Beach.
Then Rossi suddenly stopped, kicked his leg away from the bike, and fiddled with a switch. His scooter nearly ran out of gas.
It was the only wrong move Rossi made Sunday.
The American conquered Long Beach for the second consecutive year and added his name to a short list of motorsports stars as multiple winners of the second-most prestigious race on the IndyCar schedule. Rossi became just the eighth driver to win more than once on the temporary street course through the picturesque downtown.
The others? Mario Andretti, Al Unser Jr., Alex Zanardi, Paul Tracy, Sebastien Bourdais, Will Power and Mike Conway.
“This is a special one,” said Rossi, winner of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie in 2016.
His effort was nearly perfect and dedicated to his grandfather, Donald Russell, who died Saturday. Rossi only learned of his passing hours before the start of the race.
“He was someone I looked up to a lot and we had this thing called ‘The Straight Arrow Club’ which he taught me as a young kid not to do anything stupid, just keep the arrow straight,” Rossi said. “I guess I’m the head of that club now.”
Rossi won the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach from the pole, same as last year, and had the field covered very early. His margin of victory over Josef Newgarden was more than 20 seconds and the 200th victory for Andretti Autosport across all series.
Rossi was the first driver to win consecutive races at Long Beach since Bourdais won three straight from 2005 to 2007.
Seven drivers won the last seven years, which didn’t bode well for Rossi’s chances at a repeat. But his Honda-powered Andretti entry was far and above the class of the field and he only relinquished the lead while on pit road.
Newgarden for Team Penske finished 20.2359 seconds behind with a Chevrolet. Graham Rahal was third across the finish line —25.4589 seconds behind Rossi— but lost the podium finish because IndyCar accused him of blocking Scott Dixon on the final lap.
Dixon, of Chip Ganassi Racing, was moved to third and Rahal finished fourth for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
“I am not, like, upset about it,” Rahal said. “Did I block? Yes. I blocked. You are allowed to make a move in this series. That’s allowed. I played the rules as I see them fit.”
But after watching a replay, Rahal was convinced he did nothing wrong and IndyCar is inconsistent in how it calls blocking.
His father, team owner Bobby Rahal, went to lobby the case to IndyCar with no luck.
“I am just not a fan of officials getting in the way of a result,” Bobby Rahal said. “Like I said, ‘If that was a NASCAR race, and I touched the guy coming out of Turn 4 in the left rear on the last lap and passed him then, would you disqualify me?’ No.’”
IndyCar’s response to Rahal?
“Nothing — ‘We’re not NASCAR,’” said the team owner. “I think it was a bad decision, but that is my personal decision.”
Dixon said had Rahal not defended outside the rulebook, “we would have gotten (past) him, anyway.”
Dixon ran second to Rossi for a large portion of the event but dropped out of contention because of a fueling issue during a lengthy pit stop.
Colton Herta has had back-to-back bad races since his victory in Texas made him the youngest winner in IndyCar. He had a fuel problem in Alabama last week and crashed out Sunday at Long Beach. Herta finished last in the 23-driver field.
It was a flip from the start of the day when Herta, who turned 19 just six days after last month’s win, was fastest in the morning warm-up session for Harding Steinbrenner Racing. His crash canceled a promotion by local sponsor King Taco, which signed on for Long Beach after his victory because of Herta’s tradition of celebrating victories with tacos. If Herta had won Long Beach, King Taco offered free tacos to anyone with a ticket stub.
“The car was so good and I just threw it all away,” Herta said. “I feel terrible.”
IndyCar will begin preparations for the Indianapolis 500 with an April 24 test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The session will mark the debut of a deflector designed to offer new protection to the driver in the exposed cockpit. The deflector is scheduled to debut at the Indy 500, but could be ready earlier, when IndyCar races the road course at the speedway on May 11.