Rossi dominates, continues storybook season opening with win at Long Beach

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By: Christian Ryan

On a day where it seemed like no one could catch a break, nothing could go wrong for Alexander Rossi.

The driver of the No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda lead all but 14 of the race’s 85 laps, en route to a dominant victory in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday. His victory marks the third different winner in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season’s first three races, with Rossi standing on the podium in all three races. This weekend in particular saw Rossi dominate practice and qualifying sessions to start on the pole with an already proven strong pace, bolstered by the familiarity of the setting for 26-year old Californian.

“This one, even though it’s not my true home race, it really feels like one,” he said. “It’s a pleasure to be able to come here and race, first of all, and to be able to win here is pretty special.”

With the breakthrough first win of the season that had eluded him in previous weeks, early championship talks have begun to circle the Andretti Autosport driver.

 “I think he’s going to be tough to beat in the championship,” runner up Will Power said, post-race. “He’s definitely what I’d call a stand-out of the field right now in every respect… You’ll have to beat him, I think.”

Rossi, however, was quick to dispel this praise and pressure.

“You’re only as good as your last time on the track,” he responded. “Until we hopefully are in the fight for a championship at Sonoma and we can come away with that, then everyone else is the person to beat, as well.”

Rossi’s dominance was certainly the outlier at Long Beach, as several contenders fell victim to incidents throughout the race. Simon Pagenaud, a strong contender jumping into a position to challenge for the lead straight off of his third place start, was shunted by Graham Rahal heading into turn one. The 2016 series champion’s race was over before a single turn. Rossi’s Andretti teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, after suffering a frustrating penalty in qualifying, he would face multiple front wing replacements and resign to a P20 finish.

Perhaps the strongest contenders to dethrone Rossi, Sebastien Bourdais and Scott Dixon, nearly tangled in a sensational overtake into the first corner in the later stages of the race. Bourdais went to the outside of Dixon and Spencer Pigot, going three-wide before braking late and diving to the inside of Matheus Leist, miraculously coming through the corner unscathed and without losing pace. Despite the breathtaking maneuver, Bourdais was issued a penalty and made to return the position to Dixon - before reclaiming P2 with another daredevil pass on Dixon into turn 1. While the two drivers’ hard charging performances dazzled fans and threatened Rossi, both would be caught on a closed pit road under yellow and be forced back in the field. Later, an incident that saw Bourdais turned by Jordan King would see his day completely unwound with he and Dixon finishing mid-pack.

It wasn’t all misfortune for the field, as 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series rookie of the year Ed Jones impressed with a third place finish after qualifying P13 - scoring his first podium in his new ride.

“It’s been an up-and-down start to the season for me with Chip Ganassi Racing,” Jones admitted. “It’s good to be on the podium, and hopefully this will give us some momentum for the upcoming races.”

Andretti Autosport was well represented by some comeback performances, as rookie Zach Veach posted a career best P4 finish in his fifth IndyCar start, only his third as a full-timer. Having to fight from a P16 start to fight for a shot at the podium, he was joined by teammate Marco Andretti. Starting P20, Andretti quietly fought his way through the pack to finish P6, his second top ten of the season and best finish since the 2017 Honda Indy Toronto.

The Verizon IndyCar Series now turns its attention to Barber Motorsports Park and the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.