In what was the hottest day of the year so far in Southern California, a full field took to to the streets for the 35th running of the Grand Prix of Long Beach. This was the first time the event has been run with the combined teams from IRL and Champ car since the two joined forces early last year. In qualifying on Saturday, Will Power had captured pole just ahead of Dario Franchitti followed by rookie Raphael Matos and E.J. Viso. Just a day after being acquited on six accounts of tax evasion, Helio Castroneves arrived at the track to qualify in eighth place after just one practice session. Hit the jump for a recap and results from the race, and be sure to check out plenty of high-res photos in the gallery below.
Related Gallery2009 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach
Photos copyright ©2009 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc
LONG BEACH, Calif. - The Indianapolis 500, 24 Hours At Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring. Adding a victory in the 35th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach had special significance to Dario Franchitti, a student of motorsports history.
Franchitti, who started second in the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car, held off pole sitter Will Power by 3.3182 seconds in the 85-lap race on the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit. It was Franchitti's first road/street victory in the IndyCar Series and his ninth overall.
"I got lots of Champ Car street and road course wins, but I haven't had one in the IndyCar Series so to finally get one feels good for all kinds of reasons," said Franchitti, who gave TCGR its 25th victory in the series, his wife a special birthday present and one to himself (takes over the championship points race).
"After everything we went through last year (in a truncated NASCAR program) and then Chip (Ganassi) coming up and saying, 'Hey, do you want to drive my Indy car?' And now we're back here winning together. Having finished second to his cars here twice I said to him last night, 'If you can't beat 'em, join 'em' and here we are. Thanks to my crew and the whole Target team."
Franchitti was the beneficiary of two full-course cautions just after he made pit stops on Laps 16 and 53.While nine cars had to pit under caution on Lap 55, Franchitti inherited the lead and retained it for the remaining laps. There were six lead changes among six drivers.
"That last restart (Lap 78) we were able to get on it again, pull away," he said. "The pace was great all day from the car. It allowed me to drive exactly as I wanted to. It really feels good to win here back in IndyCar Series in the unified series in front of a great crowd that was loving the race and loving the whole weekend. To race in this series -- and the competition level has gone up even since 2007 -- it felt good. Great to finally win here in Long Beach."
Andretti Green Racing teammates Tony Kanaan and Danica Patrick followed, with teammate Marco Andretti placing sixth. Dan Wheldon, driving the No. 4 National Guard Panther car, was fifth. Kanaan posted his 11th consecutive top-10 finish, the longest active streak in the IndyCar Series, in his 100th start.
Patrick, who a year earlier became the first female to win a closed-course auto race, made the biggest move in the race - from 22nd. Her No. 7 Motorola crew, with Michael Andretti as her race strategist, followed similar pit strategy (and fortune) as Franchitti (Laps 16 and 51).
"It was a much better result, obviously, for us and I'm real proud of how we all kept our heads down and made a result out of it instead of getting down," she said in reference to her qualifying effort. "The Motorola guys did a great job and got me out quickly."
Power, whose weekend included switching to a different car for qualifying after the return of Helio Castroneves to the series, recorded his best IndyCar Series finish.
"We had no radio and no telemetry, so I was doing it off the steering wheel and off the pit board," said Power, driving the No. 12 Verizon Wireless car for Penske Racing. "I'm very happy; second is very good. I feel happy for all the guys. They put a lot of effort in. I really want to thank Roger Penske and Tim Cindric for bringing this car here for me. They've given me a fantastic ride and I can't thank them enough."
Castroneves, who had two 30-minute sessions of practice and two rounds of qualifying under his belt before taking the green flag, finished seventh in his season debut in the No. 3 car. Rookie Raphael Matos, who started third in the No. 2 US Air Force Luczo Dragon Racing car, led his first laps and finished eighth.
Robert Doornbox, in his second race with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, improved six positions to ninth. Alex Tagliani, driving the No. 34 Conquest Racing car, tracked down Ryan Hunter-Reay's No. 21 Vision Racing car on the final lap to finish 10th. Ryan Briscoe, who won the season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, finished 13th.