LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Tempers flared all around the streets of Long Beach, where drivers declared friendships over after a surprisingly physical race.
Simon Pagenaud refused to accept a post-race apology from Will Power, and Justin Wilson was furious with Scott Dixon. James Hinchcliffe tried to be diplomatic but failed to hide his displeasure with teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay.
The one team smiling at the end of Sunday’s race? Ed Carpenter Racing, which got an unexpected victory from Mike Conway.
Conway, hired this year when team owner and oval specialist Carpenter decided to get out of the car on road and street courses, started 17th and overcame an early broken wing to win the Toyota Grand Prix for the second time in his career. The British driver was chasing Dixon over the final few laps, then got the lead when Dixon stopped for fuel two laps from the finish.
“I didn’t know whether he had the fuel to finish or not,” Conway said. “The guys were telling me he was saving fuel and they weren’t sure that he could make it, but at the same time, you don’t want to rely on that. I was kind of trying to make things happen and maybe get by him. But when I saw him pull in I was like, ‘OK, the guys are right and just have to bring it home.‘
“Second would have been good, but this is awesome.”
The race was shaping up to be a Hunter-Reay rout until he triggered a seven-car accident 24 laps from the finish.
Hunter-Reay started from the pole and led 51 laps, and had Andretti Autosport teammate Hinchcliffe right behind him when the race took a bizarre turn.
Josef Newgarden had raced off pit road in a successful bid to get back on the track in front of Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe, who had swept the front row in qualifying for Andretti.
But on cold tires, Newgarden wasn’t going to be able to hold off Hunter-Reay for long. Only Hunter-Reay decided not to wait and tried to pass Newgarden as they entered a tight Turn 4. The two cars collided, Newgarden was sent into the wall and Hunter-Reay bounced into Castroneves’ path.
Hinchcliffe ran into the back of Newgarden — Will Power and Conway successfully squeezed through the wreckage — but three more cars were collected as they all ran into the crashed cars long after the accident began.
Newgarden was polite when he returned to his pit stand.
“I was on cold tires, it’s very hard to control the car, I knew Hunter-Reay was on hot, and at some point he was probably going to get me,” Newgarden said. “But I didn’t expect anyone to come up on the inside of four. There’s so little room there, you normally can’t make a pass, even if something like that is going on ... the next thing I knew I was in the wall and I was just getting plowed into by everyone.
“That shouldn’t happen up front. It really shouldn’t. You shouldn’t have incidents like that when you are running up front.”
Team owner Sarah Fisher was composed when asked about the incident on television, but let her true feelings be known on Twitter shortly after: “It was our race to win and we got robbed by immaturity. Period,” she posted.
Michael Andretti seemed shell-shocked at two of his cars being wrecked, “you need to be a little more patient,” he said, and Hinchcliffe didn’t mince words for his teammate.
“At the end of the day, patience is a virtue and someone wasn’t very virtuous today. It was a rookie move,” said Hinchcliffe, who suffered a sprained left thumb and will need to be re-examined before he’s cleared to drive again.
Hunter-Reay didn’t exactly accept responsibility.
“I went for it. I could have waited a little bit later, maybe that’s my fault,” he said. “It’s down to me to make the pass, I guess, I’m not sure. A lot of people say it’s my fault. I made the decision at that split second when he had some wheel spin to go for it, that’s the type of driver I am. I go for it.
“You don’t know how down I am. Just very, very disappointed. I’ll look at it again, but a racing driver, when he’s in the moment and he sees a chance to go for it, I went for it because I want to win the race.”
The accident opened the door for Dixon to score his first career win at Long Beach, until he stopped for fuel as a precaution.
“The last thing I wanted to do was run out of gas in front of the whole field and cause a big accident,” Dixon said.
He had to mend fences with Wilson, who was enraged over contact with Dixon “that is so deliberate and blatant,” and angry IndyCar did not penalize Dixon.
Pagenaud also was furious with Power, refusing to accept his apology, and angry that IndyCar did not penalize Power for contact between the two.
“I think we had a car to win and he pretty much ruined our race, our chance,” said Pagenaud, who did not accept an apology from Power. “We were friends until now. We won’t be going on vacation together, I guess.”
Power insisted he thought Pagenaud had an issue with his car.
“I honestly thought he had a problem because he went back really slowly and so I went up his inside and then realized he was just going to turn and try to back out. I got him. My bad,” Power said. “I feel bad. I don’t like to be raced like that and I’m surprised I didn’t get a penalty. But I honestly thought he had a flat tire or something because he was really slow and I didn’t understand why.”
Pagenaud, who rallied to finish fifth, dismissed Power’s claim.
“Racing, green flag, and I slowed down? Good for him,” Pagenaud said.
Power finished second — his fourth consecutive race dating to last season that he’s finished either first or second. Rookie Carlos Munoz finished third and Juan Pablo Montoya was fourth for his best showing — in a test, practice or qualifying session — in his return after seven seasons in NASCAR.
Montoya climbed to fourth early in the race, but a penalty for pitting when pit lane was closed dropped him to 20th and he had to drive his way back.
“I could have been a little more aggressive at the end, but I really wanted to make sure we didn’t get in any trouble and got a decent finish,” Montoya said.