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Chevrolet drivers penalized at Long Beach

Drivers using that engine will start no higher than 11th in Sunday's race, no matter how fast they qualify.

April 12, 2012|By Jim Peltz
  • IndyCar Series driver Will Power won from ninth place on the starting grid at the Grand Prix of Alabama earlier this month.
IndyCar Series driver Will Power won from ninth place on the starting grid… (Butch Dill / Associated…)

IndyCar's return to Long Beach ran into turmoil Thursday before the drivers had even taken their first practice laps on the city's seaside streets.

Each of the 11 cars using Chevrolet engines will be penalized 10 spots on the starting grid of Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach because Chevrolet changed engines for this weekend.

Chevrolet's decision came after one of its drivers, James Hinchcliffe, suffered a blown engine in testing Monday in Sonoma, Calif.

That means some of the top drivers in the Izod IndyCar Series will start no higher than 11th in Sunday's race regardless of how well they qualify.

Those drivers include Helio Castroneves and Will Power of Team Penske — who won the season's first two races in St. Petersburg, Fla., and Birmingham, Ala., respectively — and the drivers for Andretti Autosport, including Hinchcliffe and Marco Andretti.

As a result, the race on the 1.97-mile, 11-turn course will start with those penalized drivers hurriedly trying to pass to reach the front, and "that's going to make the race a lot more exciting," said Tony Kanaan, the 2004 series champion who drives a Chevy-powered car for KV Racing Technology.

"For the fans, I don't think that's a bad thing," said Kanaan, who struggled in the season's first two races. "I have nothing to lose; I want to move to the front right away. It's going to be fun."

IndyCar introduced a new, safer car this season and, with it, began allowing teams to choose from three engine suppliers: Chevrolet, Lotus and Honda, which previously was the sole engine supplier to the series.

IndyCar rules also decreed that the engines could be replaced without penalty only when they reached 1,850 miles of use or failed during a race.

The purpose was to maintain competitive balance by dissuading richer teams such as Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing from changing engines at will.

Sebastien Bourdais, a three-time Long Beach winner who drives for the Lotus-powered Lotus Dragon Racing, also was penalized 10 spots for this weekend because his team changed engines after the Alabama race.

The penalties were a boost for the Ganassi drivers — reigning champion Dario Franchitti and two-time title winner Scott Dixon — who use Honda engines.

Even so, "we're glad that Chevrolet is taking the initiative" with its engines, said J.R. Hildebrand, the Sausalito, Calif., native who drives for the Chevrolet team Panther Racing.

"The last thing you'd like to have happen is for something to go wrong in the middle of qualifying or the middle of the race," he said.

After two practice rounds Friday, qualifying is scheduled Saturday at 2 p.m.

james.peltz@latimes.com

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