LONG BEACH, Calif. — Alexander Rossi spent his early racing career in Europe, and his extended family back home in California hardly ever saw him in person.
With a chance to race an exceptionally fast Honda on the Long Beach streets in front of about 60 friends and relatives Sunday, Rossi showed everybody what they might have missed. He also demonstrated what his Honda looks capable of doing in the rest of this very promising IndyCar season.
Rossi pulled away after a late restart to win the Grand Prix of Long Beach, completing a dominant weekend by holding off Will Power for his third career victory.
Rossi claimed his first win of the season from the pole, thriving amid the usual excitement on this beloved downtown road course just off the Pacific Ocean. Rossi led 71 of 85 laps in his Andretti Autosport Honda before taking charge on the restart with nine laps to go, pulling away from Power and moving into the IndyCar points lead after three races.
“Even though it’s not my true home race, it really feels like one,” said Rossi, who grew up around Sacramento. “The crowds here, and just the whole atmosphere is so welcoming and inviting. It’s no surprise that this race has been on the calendar for so long. It’s a pleasure to be able to come here and race. This is one I’ll definitely remember for a very long time for a lot of different reasons.”
Rossi comfortably earned the second pole of his three-year IndyCar career during qualifying, and his pace was still there in the race.
Rossi doesn’t have many victories yet, but they’re all monsters: The 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner and veteran of five Formula One races also won at Watkins Glen late last year.
“I certainly hope I haven’t peaked too early with those three,” Rossi said of his impressive array of conquered tracks. “I mean, if you’re going to hit the wish list, those are the three.”
Ed Jones finished third, and Zach Veach — who had never finished higher than 16th — was a career-best fourth. Graham Rahal was fifth after an opening-lap collision with Simon Pagenaud, who was knocked out of the 44th edition of the Long Beach race.
Rossi was a contestant on the most recent season of the CBS reality show “The Amazing Race” alongside fellow driver Conor Daly, who attended the race in Long Beach despite not currently having an IndyCar ride.
Rossi has hit the track at full speed this season after his TV break, reaching the podium twice already in St. Petersburg and again last weekend in Phoenix.
The result also was encouraging for Power, the former series champion and 32-time race winner. He had been off to a discouraging start to the season, with his Team Penske Chevrolet back in 14th in the points standings before his standout drive in Long Beach.
“Rossi was just too fast all day,” Power said. “He was just really, really good. That was pretty much all we had.”
Defending series champion Josef Newgarden finished seventh, and defending Long Beach champion James Hinchcliffe was ninth.
Rossi opened a nine-second lead after the first cycle of pit stops, and he stayed in front after a full-course caution erased the lead with 40 laps to go.
Rossi was losing ground when he pitted again on the 56th lap, but he got a break when Sebastien Bourdais and Dixon were penalized for entering a closed pit lane during a caution. Bourdais drove through and lost position, while Dixon later had to serve a drive-through penalty for taking a full pit stop.
START TO FINISH
Rossi is the fifth driver to win at Long Beach from the pole, but the first since 2007.
WHAT A MOVE
The Long Beach street course is popular both for its friendly California atmosphere and the opportunities for remarkable racing created by its dimensions. Those opportunities were seized by many drivers — particularly Bourdais, who executed a jaw-dropping move to pass diagonally through three drivers.
Bourdais was ordered to give back the position to Dixon because he apparently used the pit lane to make his move, but Bourdais then caught and passed Dixon for second place again anyway. But Jordan King then spun Bourdais while curiously trying to pass on the hairpin turn, and the former champion finished 14th.
Newgarden didn’t have his best race of the season, but he still set a Long Beach race lap record midway through, turning a lap on the streets in 1:07.551 — no small feat in this venerable event.
Pagenaud started third, but the Frenchman was spun and knocked out of the race on the first turn of the opening lap by Rahal, who braked far too late and tapped Pagenaud from the rear. Rahal got a drive-through penalty, but still rallied back for a strong finish.
Ryan Hunter-Reay also had to come in early for a new nose after opening-lap contact with Scott Dixon. Hunter-Reay fought his way back up to fifth, but got a puncture on contact with King.
Grand Prix of Alabama on April 22.
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