LONG BEACH, Calif. — Dario Franchitti used fuel strategy and a very fast car Sunday to win the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Franchitti said he felt as if the seaside circuit in downtown Long Beach owed him after finishing second to Alex Zanardi and Juan Pablo Montoya during his days in the now-defunct CART series.
But he dominated this time, beating runner-up Will Power, the pole-winner, by 3.318 seconds — half of the final straightaway.
“That was a lot of fun,” said Franchitti, who dedicated his ninth IndyCar victory to actress wife Ashley Judd, who celebrated her 41st birthday watching the race from the Target Chip Ganassi Racing pits.
Helio Castroneves, who got back in his Team Penske car Saturday after being acquitted of federal tax evasion charges, started eighth and finished seventh.
“I’m so happy to be back,” said the Brazilian, who even led a handful of laps despite not even driving a race car for the past six months. “I thought I was going to be really tired, but I’m ready for the next race.
“I was sore this morning. My muscles were hurting. But this is what I love and I’m so glad to be back.”
Franchitti said his team gave him the win with a near-perfect pit strategy, starting the race on the softer and faster optional Firestone tires and bringing his No. 10 Dallara in for his first pit stop before any of the other contenders.
“The guys pitted me early,” Franchitti said. “The last race, we felt we had the car to win and waited too long to pit. This time, the timing of that first stop, they called it perfectly. After that, we were saving fuel and still making good lap times.”