IndyCar Flashback: 2011 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

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Sunday marks the 35th IndyCar race on the streets of Long Beach. Throughout that time, the venue has played host to several memorable moments. This week on IndyCar Flashback, we take a look at a race that gave a rising star his breakthrough first win for a legendary car owner.

Conway Outruns Briscoe for First Win

As had been the case on road and street courses over the previous few seasons, Will Power dominated the early portion of the weekend. The Australian driver, who won the final ChampCar event in 2008 at the track, earned pole for the 2011 race with a lap of 1:09.0649. Alongside Power on the front row would be 2010 Long Beach winner Ryan Hunter-Reay.

The race got off to a clean start, with Power pacing the field in his Team Penske Dallara-Honda for the first 27 laps. After Simona de Silvestro’s spin in Turn 11 on Lap 24, the first caution of the day would fly. On pit road, Marco Andretti and Sebastien Bourdais collided, knocking Bourdais out of the race and effectively ending Andretti’s day.

Following a brief stint at the front by Sam Schmidt Motorsports’ Alex Tagliani, Penske again took the top spot.

This time, Ryan Briscoe would be the one to lead the field. The Australian racer dominated the middle portion of the race, leading 26 laps before making his final pit stop of the day. Hunter-Reay and Power would each lead two laps, with Chip Ganssi Racing’s Scott Dixon leading another.

A caution for Justin Wilson’s spin in Turn 8  on Lap 63 and a multi-car crash in the same spot four laps later bunched up the field. The final restart of the day would come with 16 laps to go in the 85-lap event.

Hunter-Reay would be doomed by gearbox issues less than a lap after the restart. Meanwhile his Andretti Autosport teammate Mike Conway charged from sixth to first in two laps to gain the lead. It was the fourth race with the team for Conway, who suffered multiple injuries in a last-lap crash at Indianapolis the prior May and missed the remainder of the 2010 season.

Conway would not look back the rest of the day, stretching his lead over Briscoe to 6.320 seconds and taking the win.

The win at Long Beach was the first IndyCar victory for Conway in his 26th start and the first for Andretti Autosport since Hunter-Reay’s win at Long Beach the year before. Dario Franchitti would finish third, with rookie James Hinchcliffe and Tagliani in fourth and fifth.

Analysis

The 2011 Toyota Grand Prix represented a turning point in not only the career trajectory of the winning driver, but that of the winning team. Here’s a look at what became of the race’s key players since the checkered flag flew that day.

Mike Conway would win again at Long Beach in 2014

Mike Conway

After earning his first career IndyCar Series victory, Conway would not record a finish better than eighth the rest of the season, and failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500.

In 2012, he moved on to A.J. Foyt Racing. After another violent crash at Indianapolis that May, Conway chose to step away from oval racing before the season finale at Fontana.

In 2013, the British driver would run part-time for Dale Coyne Racing and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. In seven events, Conway earned five top tens, including a win at the first race of the Belle Isle doubleheader with Coyne.

The following year, he joined Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing as the No. 20 team’s road and street course driver,  while team co-owner Ed Carpenter ran the ovals. A second Long Beach win and a victory at Toronto highlighted what proved to be Conway’s last in the Verizon IndyCar Series. He has since moved on to a successful career sports car racing.

Ryan Hunter-Reay

Like his Andretti Autosport teammate, Hunter-Reay did overcome his share of troubles in 2011. Hunter-Reay would fail to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, but an agreement between Andretti Autosport and A.J. Foyt Racing but the American back into the field.

He did go on to win at New Hampshire later that season. 2012 would prove to be a change of fate for Hunter-Reay. Four wins propelled him to his first championship. In 2014, he pulled off a thrilling victory in the Indianapolis 500.

Andretti Autosport

After not seeing the success of Penske and Ganassi the previous few years, the tide began to turn for Andretti Autosport in 2011. Marco Andretti would also win for the first time in nearly five years at Iowa that summer.

The team would win the championship with hunter-Reay the next season, their first since 2007 (Dario Franchitti). Andretti Autosport’s main dominance as of late has come at the Indianapolis 500.

The Dallara DW12 chassis would prove to be a boon for the team’s performance in the race. They have won three of the six Indianapolis 500s since the chassis’ debut in 2012, most among all teams in that span.

Historic race tracks like the street circuit in Long Beach have helped grow some of the biggest names in the sport. For Mike Conway, Long Beach meant putting his name alongside the likes of Michael Andretti, Paul Tracy and Juan Pablo Montoya as first-time IndyCar winners at the track.

Images courtesy of INDYCAR Media

Spencer Neff

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