“I can’t believe it. I can’t believe we’re actually here. It’s so cool to win a second time in Long Beach.” So said Mike Conway who came through to score his second win in three years in the streets of Long Beach after the leading five cars were eliminated in a multi-car crash with thirty-five laps to go.
It was a great win for Conway who is driving oval specialist Ed Carpenter’s car in this year’s IndyCar road and street races. Conway won in Long Beach in 2011 driving for Andretti Autosport but has been without a regular ride because he has no desire to race on ovals following a big accidents at Indianapolis in 2010. He drove for AJ Foyt in 2012 and ran half a dozen races last year for Dale Coyne’s team.
“I wasn’t sure at the end of 2012 if I would make it back,” Conway said. “But I managed to pick up some rides last year and show that we’ve still got the speed. We managed to win in Detroit but I still wasn’t sure at the end of last year what was going to happen. To be honest, to get this ride with Ed was a dream come true. I’m very thankful for the position I’m in.
“I’ve got to say a big thanks to Ed for making it happen and also the guys at (sponsor) Fuzzy’s (vodka). It’s a great combination and I think everybody’s quite excited about it. I think Ed is going to be awesome on all the ovals and it’s great to be part of this.”
Conway qualified a lowly 17th in Long Beach and spent most of the race in the midfield but an accident among the leaders on the 56th of 80 laps vaulted Conway into contention to win. Pole winner Ryan Hunter-Reay led most of the race but was beaten out of the pits from his last pitstop by Josef Newgarden. Young Newgarden qualified fourth and spent much of the race in third place close behind Andretti teammates Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe before taking the lead thanks to a superb stop.
Apparently Hunter-Reay was taken by surprise and he appeared to lose his composure, making a desperate attempt to dive inside Newgarden going into the right-hand turn onto the backstretch. Unfortunately, Hunter-Reay’s move was way too optimistic and he hit Newgarden’s right rear with his left front wheel.
The collision pushed Newgarden into the wall and then all hell broke loose as Hunter-Reay caroomed across the track into the path of teammate Hinchcliffe. Also eliminated were Tony Kanaan and last year’s Long Beach winner Takuma Sato leaving the wall-lined track jammed with wrecked cars. “I tried to give Hunter-Reay room but he hit me,” Newgarden said. “That shouldn’t happen when you’re running up front.”
Hinchcliffe sprained his left thumb in the accident and was very unhappy with his teammate. “Patience is a virtue,” Hinchcliffe remarked. “Someone didn’t show it today.”
Observed winner Conway: “I saw that something was happening as I was approaching the corner. My spotter told me there was in incident going into the corner. He said to be very careful and stay to the right. I’m thankful for that call because it kept me out of trouble. I had to dart around people and I was lucky that happened because it advanced us four positions.”
Early in the race one of Conway’s front wings was broken in the heat of battle. “We trimmed the car out for the race and I think we had better speed than some people down the straight,” he said. “The wing was flapping around and I think it did slow us down a little bit but we had good straightline speed.
“All the way through the race it was hard to know where we were going to end up because there were lots of cars around you and when you got within a second of any car you would lose half a second of pace. So it was hard to make your way by. But we did manage to pick some people off and made some good passes. We had to fight all day and we had the car to do it.”
After a long full-course yellow the restart came with twenty-one laps to go. Scott Dixon was leading from Conway, Will Power and Carlos Munoz. “I had Scott in front of me and Will behind me – two wily cats,” Conway remarked. “I knew I had to push hard and not make any mistakes. Will was very good through the last sector and the hairpin. I knew he didn’t have any push-to-passes left but I didn’t have any either so I had to be as good as could be through the last sector and clean down the straight.”
But Dixon was half a lap short of having enough fuel to go the distance and had to stop for a splash-and-go with two laps to go. Thus did Conway come through to win.
“Scott was really good through the last corner so it was tough to get close to him,” Conway said. “I didn’t know whether he had the fuel to finish or not. The guys were telling me he was saving fuel and they weren’t sure if he could make it. I was trying to make things happen and get by him but then he went to the pits and I just had to bring it home.
“The guys ran a good strategy and on most restarts we gained some positions,” Conway added. “It was a great job by all the team. I knew on that last restart I had to get by Will because he had more push to passes left and I knew that Munoz behind me had four. Munoz is very good so I knew it was going to be hard to keep him behind.
“I managed to get by Will and I thought about diving up the inside of Scott, but at the same time I knew he may not have enough fuel to get to the end. I wasn’t sure. I could see he wasn’t saving much fuel and I began to think we could make this two times winning at Long Beach. I can’t believe it really. It’s just a really special place. It’s so hard to win around here and to do it twice is really cool.”
Power finished 0.90 of a second behind, extending his championship lead with 93 points to Conway’s 66. Munoz was an impressive third ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya who drove a steady race from 16th on the grid.