18 April 2011
Conway surges to first series victory
It wasn't Tagliani, who wobbled as he went through turn 1 and left himself wide open for a nice move by Mike Conway who threaded through the gap it presented to move up to fourth. Somehow, Conway had managed to preserve the heat and grip in his tyres to such an extent that he made everyone around him look like they had accidentally wandered into an episode of dancing with ice, and he immediately used that advantage to make a move on Dario Franchitti for third place going into turn 6 - not usually a place you'd expect anyone to be able to pull off an overtaking move, but here there was no question as Conway simply blasted past the #10 with stunning ease.
Then Conway's third became second, as his Andretti Autosport team mate Ryan Hunter-Reay suddenly slowed coming out of the corner. The decision had come on with such speed that the team back in the pits were completely caught out and had no prior warning: it appeared that the gearbox had spontaneously decided to quit for the day.
Could Conway possibly carry his restart advantage though long enough to make a run on Ryan Briscoe for the lead? The answer was an unequivocal yes, and next time through the same turn where he'd dispatched Franchitti a lap previously, Conway once again breezed past the car in front and claimed the top spot. And once he did, he was gone - before anyone could blink his lead was out to 2.5s. As the Andretti team said, their only threat now was an incident, full course caution and the unpredictability of a late double file restart.
None came: the race carried on caution-free to the chequered flag, and Mike Conway was by this time a comfortable 6s in front to claim his first ever IZOD IndyCar series victory in fine style.
"It feels awesome. As soon as I got in the lead, I was thinking of winning already," Conway said after the finish. "I knew I had to forget about it and get with the job at hand. The car was great. I could push all the time and control the gap. I can't thank everybody at the team Andretti Autosport [enough] for this result
"My guys hung in there all day. I made a mistake on a pit stop when I locked up. I thought our day might be done, but we had to hang in there and push all the way. On the restarts the car was awesome and it just came to life," he said, adding: "It was like [the other drivers] were struggling to get temperature in the tires. My car was good to go. I just took my time and picked my point, and was able to pull away."
This success marks the climax of a triumphant return for the boy from Bromley in Kent, who almost a year ago was involved in one of IndyCar's most chillingly spectacular accidents in the final moments of the 2010 Indianapolis 500 that left him seriously injured and sidelined from motor sport for the rest of the season. The victory was vindication also for team owner Michael Andretti, who had decided to pick up Conway as a driver for 2011 despite having to let better known, more experienced drivers like Tony Kanaan go over the winter.
"[Mike's] comeback is now complete," said Andretti. "The first time we put him in a race car, I could tell he had potential. I'm just so happy he was able to [win] this early and win one of the greatest races here in Long Beach. I'm just so proud of him." Long Beach has special memories for Andretti himself, whose first and last IndyCar victories were both at this venue.
"Mike Conway was in a class of his own today and there was nothing I could do," admitted Ryan Briscoe. "He was so much faster when he made that move on me." Nonetheless, Briscoe was happy to have moved up from 12th on the grid to finish 2nd to get some momentum into a season that's been rather lacklustre so far.
Dario admitted that his team had made some errors in set-up: "The car was really quick everywhere except for turn into the straight and down the straight. I think with the gear ratio and setting up for the wrong parts of the track made it hard for me to pass anyone because of the gap they would get coming out of the hairpin." However, he was not able to do anything about the situation as his pit radio gave out after the first pit stop, preventing the team from discussing any further adjustments to compensate.
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