Justin Wilson looked good to hand Dale Coyne Racing another promising result to go with the podium earned in St Petersburg two weeks ago before being the only victim of a multi-car shunt in the first half of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Starting from fifth on the grid, the Briton passed two cars into the first turn and was running comfortably in fourth before pitting under a full course caution on lap 19. As a number of drivers stayed out on alternative strategies, Wilson emerged a long way down the order, in 17th, but was confident that the reliveried Z-Line Designs car had the potential to regain the ground as the race played out.
However, before he could start moving forward again, he found himself caught up in a typical Long Beach hairpin melee on lap 24, ending his race on the spot.
“There was a lot of traffic in close quarters going into the hairpin and someone tried to pass about three cars ahead of me, which caused everyone to check-up,” Wilson explained, “I got hit pretty hard in the rear, which caused me to hit [Mario] Moraes in front of me. I'm very disappointed for the team and for Z-Line Designs...”
The impact caused rear suspension damage to the #18 machine, ending the Briton's hopes of redressing the balance for his early exit, with engine trouble, while running at the front of the Champ Car finale on the same streets in 2008. To make matters worse, Dario Franchitti and Will Power, with whom he had been battling in the early stages, finished first and second, while Tony Kanaan - who began the race in the Briton's wake - came through to round out the podium.
It was a similar story for Wilson's countryman, Darren Manning. The 33-year old had had a clean first lap and was driving a steady race when he too found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, and was collected in the five-car pile-up, running into the back of AGR's Hideki Mutoh. Although escaping the sort of damage that sidelined Wilson, the Dreyer & Reinbold driver needed to pit for a new nose and tyres, taking on fuel as he did so, but the incident put him a lap down, leaving him 16th overall at the chequered flag.
“It's a bit of shame that we got caught up in that mess in the hairpin," Manning reflected, "I had nowhere to go and ended up underneath the rear wheels of Hideki Mutoh. We were definitely quick enough, so it was unfortunate to be a lap down, because we had the speed and could have definitely been in the top ten.”
Wilson, Manning, Mutoh and Moraes were joined in the morass by a third Briton, Dan Wheldon, but the Panther Racing driver - the last to arrive on the scene - was able to evade serious involvement and went on to claim fifth place. Mutoh, requiring attention to the Formula Dream car, finished 25 laps down but still running, while Moraes fell foul of a later off to end his race in the tyre wall after 71 of 85 laps.