LONG BEACH, Calif – Pit sequences can make or break race strategies. Sometimes, cautions could fly in the middle of a pit sequence, making the race change completely. That happened on Sunday in Long Beach.
See, Alexander Rossi wasn’t going to allow pit strategy to cost him a win. He pit early on in each pit window. Sebastien Bourdais and Scott Dixon tried to stretch their fuel too long.
Zachary Claman DeMelo crashed on the 1.968-mile street circuit on Lap 59, bringing out the third caution in Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of St. Pete. Rossi and others had pitted already, Bourdais and Dixon hadn’t.
Unfortunately, both tried to sneak down pit road once the caution flew, but it was too late. Bourdais came straight through, Dixon pitted. They were penalized.
That move there cost them the win. If they had pitted one lap earlier, they likely would have been in a position to challenge Rossi for the win. Worst case, they were destined for a podium.
Instead, they’d finish 11th (Dixon) and 14th (Bourdais) respectively.
It was a tough break.
Bourdais, won the season opening race in St. Pete and if not for pit road last weekend in Phoenix, could have won too. He finished 13th.
“It was such a frustrating day,” Bourdais said of his race. “Full attack, really good car, the SealMaster Honda No. 18 was really hooked up. I had a pretty good feeling in the warm up and the conditions stayed the same for the race. It was a tough call to start on Firestone blacks (primary tire), but I was confident it was the right thing to do as long as I could hold my position at the start and that is exactly what happened. Thankfully, the start was stretched, so I wasn’t under attack until I was up to speed. Then I really started to push hard because I could tell the guys on red tires (alternative tires) were in conservation mode. So, I started to think this could be a pretty good day.
“I passed a bunch of cars, and when I got to (Scott) Dixon that is when I held station. He was driving really well. He had the pace because he had saved his tires. We got to the first pit sequence and Dixon, I am sure, short filled and jumped (Will) Power. We stayed on schedule and put on red tires, and at that point, it looked like the race was coming our way. Clearly, (Alexander) Rossi was on a different planet, but other than him we were right there.
“I got Dixon on the restart and Race Control deemed that a violation. I thought that was interesting because I am not quite sure what I was supposed to do. I was committed. There was room and he didn’t see me, so he came down on me and pushed me into the pit lane. If you get forced into the pit lane, I am not sure it is your responsibility. So, I got rather upset, so I passed him right back. I was pretty happy about that. Then we were just cruising. Unfortunately, as a group, we took a chance to stay out too long and then it went yellow. Race Control could have waited a couple seconds before closing the pits, but they didn’t and we went to the back where we had to race idiots. I was racing (Charlie) Kimball side-by-side and he gives me no room, and he bent both of my toe links on the right side. It was pretty much game over from there. I made a mistake because of it trying to pass him again later into Turn 9. The car wouldn’t turn anymore. Then, in the next corner, Jordan King felt like a hero and took us out. After that, I had to deal with another idiot, Matheus Leist, who tried to crash both of us a couple of times. There really wasn’t much to salvage after that. It’s really disappointing. The car was good. I drove the wheels off it. Passed a bunch of guys and we have nothing to show for it.”
Dixon, was sixth and fourth respectively through the first two races of the season, but the unlucky break forced him to an 11th place finish on Sunday.
“There’s not much to say really,” said a disappointed Dixon. “We got a penalty for entering the pits when it went yellow. It’s really tough to recover from that so late in the race, and when it drops you so far down the order. We had a really strong PNC Bank car today and it’s a shame we didn’t finish off what was looking to be a very strong day.”
Even Josef Newgarden was caught up wrong too. He was doing a three stop strategy, meaning he didn’t pit yet either. He was hung out to dry and hit pit lane under caution.