LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Scott Dixon, like nearly every IndyCar driver, loves racing the streets of downtown Long Beach.
But whether it was bad luck or an inability to close out a race, the New Zealander always found victory well beyond his reach.
That changed with a dominating Sunday under the warm California sun.
Dixon passed Helio Castroneves during a mid-race pit stop and stayed out front over the final 47 laps to win the Grand Prix of Long Beach for the first time.
“I guess I finally got it right,” Dixon said.
A three-time IndyCar Series champion, Dixon has not had much luck on the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit, finishing fourth in 2010 for his only previous top 10. He led 22 laps last season, but a longshot gamble on fuel came up short.
Dixon qualified third for this year’s race, his best starting position at Long Beach. Once the race started, he quickly passed series leader Juan Pablo Montoya for second and went to the lead when Castroneves nearly collided with another car in the pits on lap 33.
Castroneves had one big challenge, but Dixon turned it back and cruised the rest of the 80-lap race to give Chip Ganassi Racing its first victory this season. It was also the 36th of his career, passing Bobby Unser for fifth place on the victory list.
“Scott Dixon has talent and skill and will win races for years and years to come,” Unser said. “He is always really fun to watch, for sure.”
So have the Team Penske drivers.
Castroneves, who turns 40 next month, had his third straight top-5 finish with a second. Montoya made an impressive pass of teammate Simon Pagenaud to finish third. Pagenaud ended up fourth, giving Team Penske three top-five finishers for the second time in three races.
“We are all mature enough, we’ve done this long enough that it makes it easy,” Montoya said. “When you’re young, you’re greedy, you want to beat everybody and you don’t want to help anyone. At Team Penske, the No. 1 thing is the team and we understand that.”
It was almost all Penske the first two races.
Montoya won the opener at St. Petersburg, where Team Penske had four of the top five. James Hinchcliffe of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports won at Louisiana last week, but Penske had three of the top seven in that race.
Team Penske entered Long Beach with the top three in the series standings and had three of the top five qualifiers, including the front row with Castroneves and Montoya.
Castroneves set track record in qualifying, earning his first pole at Long Beach since winning the 2001 race.
The Brazilian driver was strong at the start of the race and led the first 29 laps — his first laps led at Long Beach since 2009 — before a near collision in the pits cost him the top spot.
Castroneves had a good stop and was in position to beat Dixon out of the pits, but had to brake after nearly hitting Tony Kanaan’s car while trying to pull out of his stall. The hesitation was just enough to allow Dixon.
In the lead for the first time this season, Dixon beat Castroneves out of the final pit stop and turned back his pass attempt with 24 laps left before widening his lead.
“Toward the end, I was really pushing hard, but with his experience, I knew he wasn’t going to make a mistake,” said Castroneves, who tied Robby Rahal for most all-time runner-up finishes with 37.
Montoya had lift coming out of the start because of slow start by Ryan Hunter-Reay and was passed by Dixon for second. The Colombian driver kept battling, though, and pulled off gutsy pass to get past Pagenaud, ducking under him just before going into a turn.
“I thought the move I made was pretty cool, I’ll be honest,” Montoya said.
The fragility of IndyCar’s new aero kits was a problem during the first two races, causing caution-filled race as the tracks littered with car pieces. A woman also suffered a fractured skull at St. Petersburg after a chunk of debris flew over the catch fence.
IndyCar clamped down on the aero kits, mandating Chevrolet and Honda to secure the parts better. Chevrolet didn’t have time to make changes, so removed the parts Team Penske driver Will Power has called “rabbit ears.”
The Long Beach had an early issue with a front wing, when a chunk of rookie Gabby Chaves’ front end broke off and caused a caution on the fifth lap. It turned out to be the only caution of the day, a rarity on the streets of Long Beach.
“I think Chevy and Honda did a good job of making their aero kits stronger,” Dixon said. “That said, we shouldn’t be hitting each other.”
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