The gap became academic on lap 51 when Ryan Hunter-Reay pushed too hard while trying to get past Ana Beatriz and ended up into the tyres at turn 8. "I just started getting desperate," admitted the reigning series champion. "We couldn't go anywhere. We missed some of the grip today that we had in prior days. Some of the corners that were my strongest were my weakest today.
"I was definitely handcuffed, so we just started trying things," he continued. "We were in the back anyway, I had to move forward again and I just got in too hot, no grip on the inside there. Just trying things, trying anything to make a bad day go a little better, but it just went from bad to worse."
It was at least good timing as far as the rest of the field was concerned, as it was possible for everyone to pit under the ensuing caution and make it to the end albeit with some strict fuel conservation. That made pit lane a busy place - too busy as it turned out, with Tristan Vautier exiting his pit box only to find Will Power angling in to his own stall immediately ahead. The two made contact, costing Vautier a second drive-thru penalty for causing avoidable contact, but more seriously giving Power right rear suspension damage from the slow-speed collision that cost the Penske crew a lot of time to sort out.
"Unfortunately in the pits I got sent out and made contact with Will Power's car," Vautier explained. "We had some communication issues as a team, but we're all learning to work together and things happen. We win as a team and we lose as a team, and I had my mistakes as well. We had a great race going and it's too bad it ended this way, but we're going to get a good result soon because our speed is there."
"Frustrating day out there," added Power from his own perspective. "We had a car that we thought was good enough to win today [but] Sato was very strong and he really dominated."
With Hunter-Reay confirmed out and AJ Allmendinger parked on the roadside at turn 5 with a broken gearbox, it had been a costly few minutes for some of the series; biggest names. The top three were unchanged by all the incidents - Sato still led Rahal and Franchitti at the restart with Wilson now in fourth ahead of Kanaan and Servià. Kanaan was the only driver facing the final stint on the black tyres, making them harder-wearing but also less grippy in the early laps.
The green came out on lap 56 with Charlie Kimball making an astonishing play for the lead from deep in the pack, but predictably it ended up in the tyres at turn 1. Fortunately Kimball was able to reverse out and get back underway without forcing the race back under yellow, although a trip to pit lane was needed to sort out the damage to the #83.
There were pitched battles right through the field over the ensuing laps, with Simon Pagenaud's left rear damaged by Marco Andretti as the two tangled over seventh place, Sebastien Bourdais falling from 11th 18th at the back of the lead lap after needing to take to the run-off, while at the front Dario Franchitti lost another spot this time to Justin Wilson who took over third place on lap 59 making a gain of 21 places on his grid position at the start of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach after being unable to participate in qualifying while the team worked on replacing the rear wing following a practice accident.
"It was a little bit of luck, circumstances and the team did a great job on strategy," Wilson explained later. "We pitted on Lap 5 or 6. Came in and put the reds on. We had plenty of reds because we didn't qualify. We just went out there and pushed hard the entire race."
Sato's lead over Rahal ebbed and flowed during the ensuing laps but he looked solidly in control. Behind Wilson and Franchitti there was a huge 7.5s gap back to Kanaan, as it seemed that the black-wall 'prime tyres were no match for the reds in the concluding laps after all; instead, Kanaan was coming under pressure from Servià behind him in six place and on lap 78 the two tangled into turn 1 leaving Kanaan caught by the tyre wall.