IndyCar » 18 April 2011
Conway surges to first series victory
Britain's Mike Conway stunned his rivals with perfect overtaking moves and a blast of raw speed that no one could match in the final third of the Long Beach street race.
Mike Conway won his maiden IndyCar series victory on the streets of Long Beach, after putting in an unbeatable display of overtaking and raw pace in the final third of the race, following a safety car period triggered by a crash between two Penske team mates at the front of the field.
Conway had started in third place, and like the rest of the drivers seemed content to circulate around the tricky 1.968-mile, 12-turn temporary street circuit in position for the first stint, following a shambolic start by the field that didn't come close to an ordered "double file rolling grid".
Polesitter Will Power was in front, with Ryan Hunter-Reay slotting into second as the race got underway with no accidents, collisions or changes to the leading positions at the green flag. Further down the running order, however, Ana Beatriz had fallen to the back of the field after spinning her car on one of the warm-up laps and stalled twice before finally getting away just metres before the safety car put her a full lap down.
The stasis was exactly what Ryan Briscoe had expected and planned for: after a disappointing qualifying that saw him line up in 12th, Briscoe opted to start on hard tyres where everyone else was on the faster reds, assuming that the early laps would be too packed together to give anyone a chance to make much of a move on him on a track where overtaking is notoriously difficult. He was right, and cleverly got rid of the slower rubber at a time when it made little difference, while everyone else would need to run the middle section of the race on the slower tyres instead.
Some of the backmarkers took the opportunity of the opening laps to gain a position or two: Graham Rahal saw Sebastian Saavedra struggling and getting a little loose, and duly made a move to take 14th place on lap 17; and Danica Patrick - never that happy with road courses - lost a couple of positions on lap 20 to Simona de Silvestro and Raphael Matos, but mostly the drivers were content to bide their time as the top three of Power, Hunter-Reay and Conway started to open out a gap at the front over Oriol Servia in fourth place.
Justin Wilson had been circulating in fifth until lap 24, when he was bumped into a spin at the hairpin turn 11 by Helio Castroneves. Several drivers saw this and reacted straight away, assuming that the course would go full-course yellow: Alex Tagliani, Ryan Briscoe and Tony Kanaan all immediately hit pit road, only to find that Wilson had kept the engine going and was able to recover under local waved yellows without triggering a full course yellow.
It could have been a costly gamble for them, but fortunately for them there was a copycat accident at the same place on the track the very next lap, with Simona de Silvestro this time the unlucky recipient of a tap from Paul Tracy. Tracy was handed a drive-thru penalty for causing an avoidable accident (although, strangely, Castroneves didn't receive any comparable penalty for the same blunder a lap before) and also received a penalty for speeding in pit lane - hardly the best way to mark his return to the IndyCar series.
Unlike Wilson, de Silvestro wasn't able to keep the car running and so the track went to caution and the rest of the field duly came into pit lane. Tagliani and Briscoe inherited the lead, but Kanaan wasn't as lucky due to a slower pit stop and a problem with a fuel sensor during his stop which meant a second appearance in the pits, and a drop to 21st position.
It was to say the least an eventful pit stop period - and a dreadful one for Mike Conway, who overshot his pit box and ended up plummeting down to 19th position, his chances of a good result seemingly dashed in one tiny error.
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