Long Beach has been a great race for us in the past. At Wayne Taylor Racing, my brother Jordan and I had won there three years in a row.
The question going into this year’s race was, “which one can continue the streak?”
We have shown great speed to start the season with our brand-new Acura ARX-05, but without results so far. Long Beach was going to be a challenge because of the limited track time and the fact that everyone else had been there once already, yet we were learning the track with this car for the first time.
Right out of the box in practice, the car felt very good. We were immediately in the setup window and working on giving ourselves a good car for qualifying. From there we would decide the direction we wanted to take for the race.
The team elected Helio to qualify our No. 7 Acura and Juan Pablo to qualify the 6 car. Helio has roughly all of the Verizon IndyCar Series poles at Long Beach it seems so that decision was a simple one!
We knew we had good pace and that the first pole in the history of Acura Team Penske was a possibility.
Helio unfortunately got unlucky with traffic during qualifying and caught some cars during the peak of the tires. We would have to settle for P4 to start the race on Saturday.
Juan Pablo was not interrupted on track and put down an awesome lap that gave the team the first pole of the season and in our history! It was a great result and qualifying is such an important factor to winning at Long Beach.
The race started and Helio immediately jumped one of the Mazdas for P3 and settled into his rhythm. Everyone went into fuel-save mode to try and shorten the, potentially, only stop of the race, as well as stretch fuel because it was very close.
Making it on one stop was going to be tough. Helio did an awesome job of holding down the position and controlling the race from there.
At around the 40-minute mark we got a full course caution that really made this race interesting.
The team split strategies at this time and the 6 car stayed out as the 7 car pitted. Everyone behind us pitted with us and the top two stayed out.
Realistically any strategy could have won the race but there were a lot of things that had to go right for the cars who stayed out.
I took over from Helio on this stop. The guys did a great job on our stop but we had to push the car back in the pit lane because of traffic, which cost us the position to the Mazda. We would now restart in 4th and would only need a splash of fuel to go to the end.
This meant we needed to save tires as much as possible and try keep in touch with the leaders.
During the next stint we managed to get by the Mazda again and were effectively the leader until the final stop where the 5 car jumped us in the pits.
Another full-course caution came out and it would be the best chance to get by the 5 car. It seemed like both the 5 and the 31 cars had more pace than us most of the weekend.
The restart came and when it was time to go through Turn 10 the car did not turn. I had picked up lots of debris on the tires which gave Ryan Dalziel and the Mazda the opportunity to get by me by the time we even got to pit in.
From that point on we battled between Dalziel, me and my brother.
Having Jordan in the mix was great. We hadn’t battled each other like that in several years. We had an awesome battle and went back and forth a few times. However during this battle I had killed the rear tires and could not get out of the hairpin.
I was a sitting duck every lap and cars were shooting past. By the time it was over we had gone from 3rd to 6th in about 10 minutes. It was one of the worst endings to a race I’ve had.
Acura Team Penske had put in a winning level of performance and I think during the race we had a shot at the 3rd place finish.
If we could only have been better in the hairpin late in the race! Unfortunately there was nothing I could do to defend the position. It was extremely frustrating and I am very disappointed that we couldn’t cap the weekend off with another result for Acura after JPM’s pole Friday.
Next up is Mid-Ohio and everyone is highly motivated to get our first race win. I am confident a win is coming soon, we are so close to putting all of the pieces together.
It’s also a positive that we are only two weeks off and we get to redeem Long Beach at the Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid Ohio!