Long Beach: race reportLong Beach: full results
Without a doubt, the pivotal moment of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach came on lap 55, when a final round of pit tops led to intense jockeying between Sarah Fisher Hartman driver Josef Newgarden, the two Andretti Audosport cars of Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe, and the Penskes of Will Power and Helio Castroneves.
Great work in pit lane by the SFHR team got Newgarden back out in front of Hunter-Reay but he was struggling on his outlap on cold tyres, and Hunter-Reay tried to pounce with a move down the inside of turn 4 that ended up in contact, putting both men into the wall.
"When you leave [pit lane] on cold tyres and you have guys coming up behind you on hots you're definitely a sitting duck," admitted Newgarden. "The problem is we just came out of the pits, we've got the lead, you're struggling to control the car because you're on cold tyres. It's too difficult to place the car.
"[But] an incident in turn 4 should never happen. You just can't pass in 4 no matter what, it's never happened before, it just doesn't work," he insisted. "I knew we were a sitting duck probably later on in the lap, but would have never expected something to happen in turn 4."
For his part, Hunter-Reay said he saw an opening and added that he wouldn't have been a racing driver if he hadn't gone for it.
"I had at least a half a car up alongside of him, so I went for it. If we had given each other a little bit of room, we both maybe would have gotten through there," he explained. "Newgarden came out of pit lane and I knew he was on cold tires. He was really struggling to get up to speed through Turn 1, and then through Turn 3 he had some wheel spin so I went for it.
"I made the decision at that split second, when he had some wheel spin, to go for it knowing that I was on hot tyres. That's the type of driver I am. I go for it ... I went for it because I want to win the race," he continued. "[But] I started to back out because he was closing the door.
"I feel bad for everybody involved. Obviously it was a bit of a bottle neck there, and it got others involved that didn't deserve to be involved and that's what I feel really bad about."
Initially Hunter-Reay stood by his move although adding that he would look at it again on the TV replays. But in the meantime team boss Michael Andretti made it clear that he thought the blame for the accident that went on to catch out seven cars was Hunter-Reay's fault.
“You need to be a little more patient," Andretti told TV pit lane reporters immediately afterwards.
“I could have waited a little later," Hunter-Reay agreed, later posting on twitter: "Had an opportunity & I went for it w/the win on the line. Split second decision that backfired. Hind sight is 20/20 and I take the blame."
Among the cars involved in the fallout was James Hinchcliffe, who had no time to react before running into the wrecked cars of Hunter-Reay and Newgarden against the wall on the exit of turn 4.
"I guess at the end of the day patience is a virtue, and someone wasn't virtuous today," the Canadian shrugged. "It was a rookie move and it cost both of us, and this team, a lot. I feel bad for everyone involved. I just sucks to throw away such a strong race. But we'll bounce back."
Hinchcliffe was sporting heavy strapping on his left wrist after the accident after the steering wheel was wrenched out of his hand in the crash, but he was hopeful there was no serious damage done.
"When I made contact, I was in full opposite lock and the wheel just snapped around and sprained it," he said. "Nothing is broken, so we'll be okay I think." He added that he would it X-rayed during the week to ensure there's nothing more serious.
Tony Kanaan also hurt his wrist after ending up the growing tangle of cars at the exit of the blind corner: "My wrist is a little sore from the accident," he said, adding that the Ganassi pit crew had just warned him about the accident when he turned through the corner. "They told me to take it easy on the radio when the accident happened but I guess I didn't take it easy enough.
"I didn't expect to have four cars there and when Sato hit, I couldn't avoid it," he said. "It's a shame overall but we were up there and what ever happened there in front of us today didn't look smart."
The unsighted Takuma Sato caught the right rear and side of Kanaan's car, showering the scene with additional debris while also wrecking the #14 AJ Foyt Racing car, putting an end to the Japanese driver's defence of his 2013 race win here.
"Unfortunately when I turned into Turn 4 there were 3 cars tangled together and I couldn't avoid it," he said. "I clipped it and that was the end of our race. Very disappointing. But we have to take the positives from this race to the next round."
As for Newgarden, it was another day of 'might have beens' for the 23-year-old from Tennessee, now in his third year in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
"It's a tough day. It's a difficult day when you have an incident, especially at the front. I never expected to leave here with a crashed race car," he said, before trying to find the brighter side. "There are positives to take away. We had an incredible car, the crew was solid all weekend."
Team boss Sarah Fisher was more succinct in her reaction on Twitter: "It was our race to win and we got robbed by immaturity. Period."Long Beach: race reportLong Beach: full results