The ABC Supply team continues to make steady progress despite one of its more challenging weekends of the season. Tony Kanaan claimed his second straight eighth-place finish in the No. 14 ABC Supply Chevrolet while Matheus “Matt” Leist finished his first race on the lead lap in his No. 4 ABC Supply Chevrolet.
Kanaan started the race in 11th but an opening lap accident in Turn 1 which eliminated Simon Pagenaud and sent Graham Rahal to the back for avoidable contact (with Pagenaud), moved Kanaan to ninth when the green flag came out on lap 4. By lap 11, he had moved into sixth.
Leist, who started 14th, had moved up to 11th and as the pit stop cycles began, he was in 10th when he pitted on lap 15. With the team settling on a three-stop strategy because they couldn’t get the fuel mileage to do it in two stops—an area that Team President Larry Foyt said they will improve on—both cars came in early. Kanaan pitted two laps later on lap 17.
By the time the pit stops had cycled out, Kanaan was back in sixth and Leist was back to 11th. During the next round of stops, Leist emerged from his pit only to be lapped by pacesetter and pole sitter Alexander Rossi who was setting a torrid pace.
Kanaan continued to run in sixth and Leist was now a lap down in 17th. When the full course yellow came out on lap 60, Kanaan and Leist were just about to make their stops but couldn’t because the pits were closed. Others who had stopped the lap before, namely Ed Jones, Zach Veach, Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal gained valuable track position as the leaders had to pit under yellow, thus vaulting the others to the front.
It was a misfortune for Kanaan who dropped from sixth to 10th after his stop which was clean. In the closing stages of the 85-lapper, Kanaan passed a couple more cars including defending champion Josef Newgarden to take over seventh. However, Newgarden managed to slip back by him in the final five laps and Kanaan finished eighth.
“Another top 10—that’s what we wanted,” Kanaan said afterward. “The boys have been getting better on the stops and the car was pretty decent all day. We passed a lot of cars. We got caught on that yellow but unfortunately, that’s just the way it is. Some days it works in your favor, other days it doesn’t. But I’m pleased. We’re building something really cool here and I’m not talking just about results, I’m talking about through all the struggles we’ve been having, it’s making us as people a lot tighter. Everybody is going to want to come drive for A.J. eventually not just because of the results, but because of the people that we have.”
Leist benefited from the caution that cost Kanaan because Foyt told Leist to stay out so he could get back on the lead lap. It was a gamble because Leist had been scheduled to pit that lap (when the pits were closed due to the full course yellow) so the team was concerned about him running out of fuel. However, the gamble paid off and when Leist was waved around to the back of the field, he got his lap back and picked up a couple positions moving from 17th to 15th.
That turn of events became important when there was a bottleneck in Turn 11 (aka The Hairpin) and Leist managed to avoid the wreck and pick up three positions. He moved from 15th to 12th. As the race progressed, he did lose a position to Scott Dixon who had fresher tires. Leist crossed the line in 13th but in a controversial call, he was dropped a position for what officials said was a block on Sebastien Bourdais. Leist was credited with 14th, the same place where he started.
“Tough race,” said the 19-year-old rookie afterward. “In the beginning, I thought we didn’t have the pace, I was struggling a little bit but they played the strategy well and we managed to pass some cars [in the hairpin accident]. We restarted in p12, but my tires were gone and the guys behind me were on new reds so it was tough. Anyway, it was the first race we finished on the lead lap so that is good. There are some areas where we need to improve a little bit to be competitive but we’re going to get there. I’m happy for the team and onto the next one. We’ll see how Barber goes.”
“Challenging weekend for us,” Foyt said. “As close as the field is today in the IndyCar Series, if you unload a little bit off, it takes a great deal of effort to get up to the front. Both drivers gave good feedback all weekend, and the engineers were able to make some good adjustments to get us closer by race time. After morning warmup, we didn’t feel as a team that we could make the two-stop strategy work, but the way it played out, it seemed to be the better strategy and that hurt us a little. Tony looked racy and did a nice job to get the top 10. Matt ran hard all race, and for his first time at Long Beach, he did a nice job. We will keep working at it and see where our road course package stacks up at Barber next week.”
Rossi won the race followed by Will Power, who was never out of the top four. Ed Jones finished third followed by Veach and Rahal, all of whom benefited from the timely full course caution on lap 60.
The next race is at Barber Motorsports Park this coming Sunday on April 22.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!