LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Scott Dixon passed Helio Castroneves during a mid-race pit stop and dominated the rest of the way Sunday to win the Grand Prix of Long Beach for the first time.
A three-time IndyCar Series champion, Dixon has not had much luck on the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit, finishing fourth in 2010 for his only previous top 10 at Long Beach.
The New Zealander started Sunday’s race third, quickly passed series leader Juan Pablo Montoya and took the lead after Castroneves nearly collided with another car in the pits on lap 33.
Dixon turned back one challenge from Castroneves during the remainder of the 80-lap race and passed Bobby Unser for fifth place on the career victory list with 36. It also was Chip Ganassi Racing’s first victory this season.
Castroneves finished second, Montoya third and Simon Pagenaud fourth to give Team Penske another strong finish.
Penske dominated the first two races.
Montoya won the opener at St. Petersburg, where Team Penske had four of the top five. James Hinchcliffe of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports won at Louisiana last week, but Penske had three of the top seven in that race.
Team Penske entered Long Beach with the top three in the series standings and had three of the top five qualifiers, including the front row with Castroneves and Montoya.
Castroneves set track record in qualifying, earning his first pole at Long Beach since winning the 2001 race.
The Brazilian driver was strong at the start of the race and led the first 29 laps — his first laps led at Long Beach since 2009 — before a near collision in the pits cost him the top spot.
Castroneves had a good stop and was in position to beat Dixon out of the pits, but had to brake after nearly hitting Tony Kanaan’s car while trying to pull out of his stall. The hesitation was just enough to allow Dixon.
In the lead for the first time this season, Dixon beat Castroneves out of the final pit stop and turned back his pass attempt with 24 laps left before cruising the rest of the way.
Montoya made a gutsy pass to get by Simon Pagenaud to take over third and held on to his spot and series lead.
The fragility of IndyCar’s new aero kits was a problem during the first two races, causing caution-filled race as the tracks littered with car pieces. A woman also suffered a fractured skull at St. Petersburg after a chunk of debris flew over the catch fence.
IndyCar clamped down on the aero kits, mandating Chevrolet and Honda to secure the parts better. Chevrolet didn’t have time to make changes, so removed the parts Team Penske driver Will Power has called “rabbit ears.”
The Long Beach had an early issue with a front wing, when a chunk of rookie Gabby Chaves’ front end broke off and caused a caution on the fifth lap.