Alexander Rossi, left, sprays champagne on third-place finisher Ed Jones Sunday on the podium at the Grand Prix of Long Beach.
With a chance to race an exceptionally fast Honda on the Long Beach streets in front of about 60 friends and relatives, Rossi showed everybody what they might have missed.
But with 13 races still to come, including double-points outings at Indy and Sonoma, Rossi was quick to shoot down any talk of title favoritism. "This is one I'll definitely remember for a very long time for a lot of different reasons".
Rossi topped the speed charts in Friday's practice then claimed the pole in the 24-car field by posting the fastest time in all three of Saturday's knockout qualifying sessions.
"We nailed the setup in each session this weekend", said Rossi. The 2016 Indianapolis 500 victor and veteran of five Formula One races hadn't won since Watkins Glen last year, but he had put his speedy Honda in position to win this year both in St. Petersburg - where he instead made late contact with rookie Robert Wickens - and again last weekend in Phoenix, where he finished third.
After clinching the Verizon P1 award on Saturday for putting the auto on pole position by almost 0.5secs, Rossi was able to run an inspired two-stop strategy in the race which not one of his rivals was able to replicate.
"I certainly hope I haven't peaked too early with those three, " Rossi said of his impressive array of conquered tracks.
Ed Jones finished third, and Zach Veach - who had never finished higher than 16th - was a career-best fourth.
Penske driver Will Power will start second followed by teammate Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon, Graham Rahal and Newgarden. "I mean, if you're going to hit the wish list, those are the three".
The result also was encouraging for Power, the former series champion and 32-time race victor.
Sixth through 10th were Andretti Autosport's Marco Andretti, Phoenix victor and Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden, Tony Kanaan of A.J. Foyt Racing, defending Long Beach victor James Hinchcliffe of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Charlie Kimball of Carlin Racing. And the common body kit was a really, really good idea. "That was pretty much all we had". Hunter-Reay came back into the pits on the following lap to change the front wing.
Rossi was losing ground when he pitted again on the 56th lap, but he got a break when Sebastien Bourdais and Dixon were penalised for entering a closed pit lane during a caution.
Scott Dixon had worked his way up to second place, but was forced to serve a drive-through penalty for stopping on pit road for service before he was allowed to do so under De Melo's caution. Other notable, more experienced drivers continued to make errors throughout the race, Sebastian Bourdais made a daring move into Turn 1 passing Scott Dixon, Spencer Pigot and then proceeded to dive up the inside of Mathius Leist.
Newgarden didn't have his best race of the season, but he still set a Long Beach race lap record midway through, turning a lap on the streets in 1:07.551 - no small feat in this venerable event. Rahal got a drive-through penalty.
Britain's Jordan King spoiled Bourdais' race in the latter stages after going into the back of the St.Petersberg victor at the final hairpin on lap 72 leading to a partial blockage of the track, this incident came after the rookie came into the pits to try and re-bleed the brakes after complaints of a long brake pedal.
Later, on Lap 47, Hunter-Reay suffered a flat left rear tie after touching tires with Jordan King.
The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to action Sunday, April 22 with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at the scenic Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama.
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