Long Beach Grand Prix

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This year’s 38th running of the Long Beach Grand Prix produced victories for Team Penske and Will Power in Sunday’s IndyCar race and for Greg Pickett’s HPD ARX-03a driven in Saturday’s ALMS race by Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf.

Power took IndyCar’s championship lead after beating simon Pagenaud by less than a second, while Luhr and Graf dominated the ALMS race, winning easily from Rob Dyson’s Lola-Mazda driven by chris Dyson and Guy Smith.

This was round three of the IndyCar series, and the ALMS’s second race of 2012. Power scored his second IndyCar win in a row following his victory in Alabama and took the lead of the IZOD IndyCar championship from Penske team-mate helio castroneves, winner of the season-opener in St Petersburg. Three races in and Team Penske was in dominant form as was the team’s Ilmor-Chevrolet 2.2-litre twin-turbo engine which seems to have the legs on the Honda and Lotus/Judd competition.

At Long Beach the 11 Chevrolet-powered entries in the field were all compelled to change engines following a failure in testing the previous week and therefore accept a penalty of 10 places on the grid from wherever they qualified. That meant all the Chevrolet teams started outside the top 10, with pole winner Power starting 12th, yet they were able to come through to take six of the top seven places.

“This was a very sweet victory because I’ve been on pole here in ’09, ’10 and ’11 and it frustrated me that every year something would happen and I couldn’t win,” Power said.

“Starting 12th I felt it was impossible, but I pushed hard all the time, made no mistakes and had great strategy. A great team effort. Compliments to Chevrolet on a great engine.”

Simon Pagenaud drove a fine race to finish second, leading 26 laps and closing fast on a fuel-conserving Power in the inal laps to finish on his tail. Driving for Sam Schmidt’s Honda-powered team Pagenaud has made a strong start to the season and was third in points after Long Beach.

Meanwhile, defending four-time IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti has not started the season well and had a terrible day at Long Beach. Starting from the pole he led the opening laps but his car looked terrible, struggling with understeer and generally poor handling. He fell deeply down the field as the race wore on, eventually finishing 15th, three laps down.

Round two of the ALMS series followed its traditional Sebring season-opener in March. Without any serious factory teams the ALMS is struggling these days with its prototype field and depends on a still-thriving GT category for much of its interest. Only three LMP1 and four LMP2 cars run regularly in the ALMS this year and the ield is made up of half a dozen LMPC cars, a dozen GT cars and another half-dozen GTC cars.

Fortunately, this season’s GT field is very competitive, with factory-backed teams from Corvette, Porsche, BMW, Ferrari and Aston Martin. At Long Beach the GT class was won after a fierce battle by oliver gavin in his Corvette C6-ZR1 with Joey hand taking second for Bobby Rahal’s championship-defending BMW team.

Gordon Kirby

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