By Amy Konrath
Today’s IZOD IndyCar Series, Firestone Indy Lights and Mazda Road to Indy headlines:
1. Long Beach win changes Power’s outlook
2. Inside the box score – Streets of Long Beach
3. Firestone Indy Lights drivers prepare for ovals with Fontana test
1. Long Beach win changes Power’s outlook: For the second time this month, Will Power came into an IZOD IndyCar Series race expecting nothing more than a top-five finish to secure valuable points in the championship.
But with two victories in the young season – from starting ninth at Barber and 12th at Long Beach – the hard-charging Aussie might be changing his outlook. Pole starts – of which he has 10 over the past 20 races, including one this year – might not be the automatic ticket to Victory Circle.
Power, who started 12th in the 38th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 15 because of a 10-grid position penalty assessed to all Chevrolet teams for unapproved engine changes, squeezed 31 laps from 18.5 gallons of fuel on the 1.968-mile street circuit while being chased down by Simon Pagenaud the final 15 laps. He won by 0.8675 of a second.
“I could not believe it,” said Power, who notched his 17th Indy car victory. “You always believe that it is possible to win or get on the podium, but it was very unlikely, the fact that it was going to be a two‑stop race. But it was just amazing that Simon did three stops and I did two stops, like two different strategies and the result was similar. There was hardly any time between us as we crossed the finish line.
“It’s just always a surprise in IndyCar, I think. You can never predict; you can never assume going into a race. You just have to be smart as it plays out.
“This was a very sweet victory because I’ve been on pole here in 2009, ’10 and ’11, and it just frustrated me that every year something would happen and I couldn’t win. Once again this weekend, I’m starting 12th and I felt as though, ‘That’s impossible to win. I’ve got another bad year at Long Beach.’
“But it was just a good race. I pushed hard all the time, no mistakes, great strategy, and just a great team effort again.”
The team effort has led Power to the top of the IZOD IndyCar Series championship standings by 24 points over Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves heading to Sao Paulo, Brazil, where he’s won the past two years.
Last year after not converting the Long Beach pole into a podium (he finished 10th) in the third race of the season, Power was seven points to the rear of Dario Franchitti. He wound up second in the standings – by 18 points, which included eight bonus points for a corresponding numbers of pole wins — for the second consecutive year.
Power added that the team effort is spread across the organization, which has swept the three races (Castroneves winning the season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg). The Long Beach Indy car win was Team Penske’s first since 2001, when Castroneves prevailed.
“I think it’s just that they’ve been probably one of the best prepared with the new car,” Power said. “We did a lot of miles (since manufacturer testing began in November). Chevy has worked very hard, and obviously our first hit of the year ‑‑ obviously the 10‑spot grid penalty was a precautionary thing and didn’t affect us too badly.
“To me, it has been hard work. I think my guys feel very confident no matter where we start now that it’s always possible.”
2. Inside the box score – Streets of Long Beach: Some numbers to note following the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, the third of 16 events of the 2012 IZOD Indy Car Series season.
3 – Drivers who have finished in the top 10 in each of the first three IZOD IndyCar Series events: Will Power, James Hinchcliffe and Simon Pagenaud…Points separating the top-three drivers in Firestone Indy Lights standings.
5 – Different teams represented in the top five in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
7 – Different teams represented in the top 10 in the IZOD IndyCar Series standings.
9 – Lead changes in each of the first three race of the season.
11 – Consecutive races led by Will Power dating to 2011.
11.5 – Average starting position for Will Power in his two wins in 2012.
15 – Positions gained by Tony Kanaan and JR Hildebrand in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, most of any drivers… Positions gained by Kanaan in IZOD IndyCar Series standings by finishing fourth at Long Beach as he advanced from 26th to 11th.
17 – Consecutive top-five starts in Firestone Indy Lights for Esteban Guerrieri, a series record. Guerrieri has never started outside the top five in his Firestone Indy Lights.
24 – Points separating Will Power (127) and Helio Castroneves in the IZOD IndyCar Series standings.
26 – Laps led by Simon Pagenaud — nine more laps than he had led in his previous 20 Indy car starts.
184 – Consecutive Indy car starts for Tony Kanaan dating to the 2001 CART race in Portland.
170,000+ – Fans who attended the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach event weekend, according to information released by the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, the event promoter.
3. Firestone Indy Lights drivers prepare for ovals with Fontana test: With more than month before racing again, Firestone Indy Lights drivers and teams have turned their attention to ovals, which make up the next three races on the schedule.
With that in mind, as many as 14 cars are expected to attend an Open Test at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., on April 17.
“I know we have to focus on the ovals,” said rookie Tristan Vautier, who stands second in the series standings, just one point behind Sebastian Saavedra. “I have a lot to learn and it starts at Fontana on Tuesday. It’s going to be my first laps in Indy Lights (car) on an oval. It’s going to be very interesting. And it’s going to be a lot of work.”
The object of the test is to allow rookies, such as Vautier, to gain valuable miles on a high-speed oval before to the Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May. But it’s also a chance for veterans to reacclimatize themselves to ovals as well.
“Next up will be ovals, and I hope my experience on the ovals will pay off,” Saavedra said. “We’ll try to bring the car home and try to continue working on a good year.”
The next IZOD IndyCar Series race is the Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300 presented by Nestle on April 29 on the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil. The race will be televised by NBC Sports Network at 11:30 a.m. (ET) and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network on SiriusXM (XM 94 and Sirius 212). The next Firestone Indy Lights race is the Freedom 100 on May 25 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race will be televised live by NBC Sports Network at noon (ET). NBC Sports Network coverage of the Grand Prix of Long Beach will be televised at 5 p.m. (ET) on April 19.