Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Andretti Impact On Long Beach Grows With Conway IndyCar Win

Mike Conway gets first IndyCar Series win while giving Andretti Autosport its second win in a row at the Toyota Grand Prix Of Long Beach. Image Credit: Jeff Lewis/Grand Prix Association of Long Beach (2011)

Andretti Impact On Long Beach Grows With Conway IndyCar Win

The Andretti family and the Toyota Grand Prix Of Long Beach almost have a charge of destiny about them when spring comes around here in the Los Angeles basin. Mario Andretti showed an American face during the Formula 1 years and in 1977, at Long Beach, when he became the only American to win the United States Grand Prix West. He went on to win four times while driving for Newman/Haas in 1984, 1985, 1987, and 1988. Michael Andretti won at Long Beach as a driver for Kraco Racing in 1986, Newman/Haas in 2002, further owned/fielded the winning cars in 2010 (Hunter-Raey) and now ... 2011 (with Conway).

Take for example this latest round of the 37th edition of a temporary street race that set the standard of bringing the track to the people as opposed to having the people travel to a dedicated track. Last year, Andretti Autosport, and Michael Andretti specifically, were very confident that they would have the car and driver to win the event. Ryan Hunter-Raey delivered on the pre-event near prediction at the Long Beach Motorsports Walk-Of-Fame by Michael that Ryan would win the race.

Ryan Hunter-Raey as he negotiates his way to position 2 and feels poised to win the race. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2011)

This year looked as though the Andretti Autosport driver would repeat as Hunter-Raey had strong practice, qualifying sessions throughout the weekend, and running at the top of the order in second late in the race, behind Penske Racing's Ryan Briscoe ... only to have to retire with transmission problems with 13 laps left.

Enter Mike Conway ... Conway claimed his first IndyCar Series race victory with a late charge despite tumbling down the order with an ugly first pitstop. Conway worked his way back through the field and on what turned out to be the last Yellow Flag restart of the race, he was sixth behind Briscoe leading fellow teammate Hunter-Reay, Franchitti, Alex Tagliani (Sam Schmidt), Hinchcliffe (Newman/Haas) as the green came out. Conway quickly passed Hinchcliff and Tagliani on Shoreline Drive at the restart, picked up another place when Hunter-Reay's car slowed with its gearbox problem, then was able to dispatch Franchitti and Briscoe in quick succession to take the lead. It turns out that Conway was able to keep his tires cleaner during the Yellow Flag caution period making the dirty tires of Franchitti and Briscoe open for clean and easy overtakes. Once ahead, Conway, on his clean tires, decisively stormed away from the field, going on to win by 6 seconds as Briscoe held off Franchitti for second.

Ryan Briscoe ends up in P2 after being passed by Mike Conway on the last Yellow Flag restart. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2011)

Audio Of Post Race Podium Press Conference For The 37th Toyota Grand Prix Of Long Beach

(P2 - Ryan Briscoe & P3 - Dario Franchitti - Begin to 12:58 | Michael Andretti & P1 - Mike Conway - 13:00 to End at 24:13 ... file is launchable & downloadable)

At the post race press conference, Michael Andretti, team owner of Andretti Autosport, expressed his confidence in not only adding Conway to his team but the future prospects of Mike Conway for the season.

"I think Mike showed a lot of signs of brilliance last year at the beginning of the season and then unfortunately had his accident," Michael Andretti said. "Coming back, I had no question in my mind. I personally felt like he was going to be hungrier than ever, and that's exactly the way it came about."
"I never felt like it was taking a chance. I was so happy that we were able to put a deal together with Mike because I wanted him all the way from the end of last year."
"I was very happy because I felt like he was going to be a great addition to the team - not only as a great talent, but he just fits in with the other three drivers, which is quite important to have that chemistry."

And I think we have a great chemistry right now between the drivers, and because of that, I feel really good about the rest of this year. I think we're going to be strong."

Andretti did admit he wasn't expecting Conway to win the race, conceding that he was happy with the prospect of the Brit at being poised to finish in the top six on the last restart.

"It was crazy and I've got to admit unexpected," Andretti said. "It's so difficult to pass here, so I was really happy to see Mike up in the top six, and I thought that's not bad. At that point we were feeling good about where Ryan was and then all of a sudden Ryan has this (gearbox) problem. I was thinking, 'Oh, man, this is over.'

"And then, all of a sudden, everybody starts cheering, and I'm thinking, 'What are they cheering about?' Mike is like, boom, going past Dario (Franchitti), and next thing you know he's past (Ryan) Briscoe. Unbelievable."

Audio Of Question Asked Of Michael Andretti About Prospects At Long Beach 2012

At the end of the press conference one felt that that this Andretti charge of destiny with Long Beach just might end up as a Three-Peat for Michael and his team come 2012 when the 38th Toyota Grand Prix Of Long Beach will be held once again when spring comes back around here in the Los Angeles basin.

... notes from The EDJE

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