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Alexander Rossi repeats as Grand Prix of Long Beach winner

Alexander Rossi turned the Grand Prix of Long Beach into more of a parade than a race.

The Californian won the 45th edition of the famed street race Sunday in even more dominating fashion than he did in winning at Long Beach a year ago.

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Rossi captured the IndyCar Series race from the pole position, as he did in 2018, and he led 80 of the race’s 85 laps around the 11-turn, 1.97-mile course.

Rossi won by a crushing 20 seconds over second-place Josef Newgarden, the biggest margin of victory at Long Beach since Al Unser Jr. won by 23 seconds in 1995.

“It’s an amazing day,” Rossi said. “I have a great car and a great crew behind me” on the Andretti Autosport team, he said.

But Rossi also had mixed emotions and was subdued in his victory celebration because his grandfather died Saturday. “I want to dedicate this one to him,” Rossi said.

One factor that helped Rossi lengthen his lead was that the race was nearly accident-free.

“The whole time you hold your breath hoping the yellow [flag] doesn’t come” for a crash-related caution period that would bunch the field and wipe out Rossi’s lead, team owner Michael Andretti said.

Rossi “drove flawlessly all weekend,” Andretti said. “To be able to start on pole here is a big advantage. Everything went perfect today.”

Rossi, a 27-year-old native of Nevada City, quickly proved that his No. 27 Honda-powered car was the class of the field.

He took the lead on the opening lap, led by 11 seconds over the second-place car at the halfway point and kept stretching his lead with the help of flawless pit stops.

It was Rossi’s sixth career IndyCar victory. His first win came in 2016 when he captured the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. Rossi also became the fourth different winner through the first four races of this year’s IndyCar season.

The win lifted Rossi into second place in the championship standings, 28 points behind Newgarden, the 2017 IndyCar champion who scored his best finish at Long Beach in eight starts. Rossi is pursuing his first IndyCar Series title.

Rossi said “you cherish those days” when a victory comes by such a big margin and added “we didn’t have a whole lot of pressure.” He agreed that starting in the first spot was a major advantage.

“Winning the pole is just huge come Sunday because it allows you to hopefully be in front leaving Turn 1 and really just control the race from there,” he said. “You can run your own strategy and your own pace.

“You just stay in the zone and stay focused,” Rossi said.

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Graham Rahal crossed the finish line in third and Scott Dixon in fourth, but IndyCar officials penalized Rahal — and reversed their finishes — after finding that Rahal threw a block on Dixon that ran afoul of IndyCar rules as Dixon tried to pass Rahal on the final lap.

“I’m not upset about it. We had a good day,” Rahal said. “We were going to lose a spot anyway” because the “tires were just absolutely shot,” he said.

Still, Rahal said he wasn’t sure a penalty was warranted. “Yes, I blocked, but you’re allowed to block in this series” in certain situations. He added that he “gave [Dixon] a lane” to pass. “If he wanted to go, he could go,” Rahal said.

Dixon said that had Rahal “not defended or reacted the way he had done, we would have gotten the pass easily. Graham has definitely been racing on the edge.”

The Grand Prix capped three days of various forms of racing and other festivities at the Long Beach event, and organizers said there were about 187,000 spectators over the three days, a 1% gain from last year.

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