Simon Pagenaud regained his championship momentum with his fourth victory of the season after a hard gloves-off duel with teammate and rival Will Power.
The Team Penske-Chevrolets finished first and second, 4.2sec apart after Power admitted he was caught napping on a final restart, allowing five corners of wheel to wheel battling between the pair on lap 66. It was decided in Pagenaud’s favor when he forced Power to take a wide line, pick up marbles and then run too wide on entry to the penultimate corner.
Power lost momentum dropped two seconds behind and for the remainder of the race, everything he threw at Pagenaud was matched by the #22 driver who opens his points lead back up to 58.
These may also have moved into their own title battle as on lap 16, Scott Dixon tried an overambitious maneuver down the inside of Helio Castroneves at Turn 2 that ended with the front left of the #9 car tucked under his car and off the track. Castroneves also sustained rear-wing damage, and he compounded his foul day by running off track. He would be classified 15th, Dixon 22nd.
However, in true Mid-Ohio/IndyCar/yellow-flag fashion, Pagenaud and Power could have ended up in the lower reaches of the top 10 as strategies played out. As early as lap 11, Dale Coyne Racing went off strategy with both RC Enerson and Conor Daly, and soon enough Dixon, KVSH Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais, AJ Foyt Racing’s Takuma Sato, Mikhail Aleshin of Schmidt Peterson and Carlos Munoz of Andretti Autosport followed them in.
Following the Dixon/Castroneves full-course yellow, these drivers all cycled to the front, as the erstwhile leaders pitted, and emerged in the order Pagenaud, Power, Josef Newgarden, Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti), Charlie Kimball (Ganassi), Graham Rahal (RLLR), Kanaan (Ganassi), Jack Hawksworth (Foyt), Alexander Rossi (Andretti).
Further confusing the matters was another alternate strategy which saw not the early stoppers at the front but instead the no-stop-yet trio of Juan Montoya, Marco Andretti and Max Chilton. This strategy required even more luck, and eventually this trio would pit on lap 25, Montoya emerging 17th.
On the restart, Newgarden suffered a broken rear bumper on his Ed Carpenter Racing-Chevy as he got clipped by Power when he moved slightly left rather than protecting the inside line down to Turn 4. Fitting a replacement would lose him a lap, but he would have a significant part to play in this race yet.
Mikhail Aleshin kept pulling away from Munoz, Sato, Bourdais, Pigot, Daly, Enerson with Pagenaud and Power in close pursuit, looking after fuel and tires. Naturally, although the yellow had helped them save fuel, Aleshin and Munoz had to pit earliest, Rahal following them in on lap 39. This left Pagenaud nursing a 3.8sec lead over Power, who was chased distantly by Hunter-Reay and Kanaan.
Pagenaud pitted on lap 42 with a 4.2sec lead, but a messy out lap battling past backmarkers and some searing laps from Power allowed him to emerge from his stop ahead a few laps later, with Pagenaud having to muscle past Munoz to keep in touch with the silver #12.
The pair were still 10sec behind the remarkable Aleshin, however, while Pagenaud occasionally closed on Power, only to see the gap eke out again.
On lap 57, after dropping as low as 13th, Daly made a pitstop and it could have been the genius strategic move of the race, as four laps later, Hawksworth, distracted by Andretti moving in his mirrors, plowed off the road at Turn 1, bringing out another full-course caution.
When the pits opened, all stopped except Enerson (whose sparkling debut had been spoiled at the previous pitstop when the car stalled), Daly and Dixon who had rejoined the track some 40 laps down.
Aleshin led the convoy of cars into pitlane but after a front-wing adjustment held him up slightly, he was waved into the path of Newgarden, coming into the pitbox ahead. The collision ruined Aleshin’s dreams and also caused him to strike the right-front tire-changer on Montoya's car.
Aleshin was put to the back for an unsafe pit release violation and then a drive-through penalty for striking a crew member.
And so on the lap 66 restart Power and Pagenaud had a new foe ahead, Daly, but one who would need to stop again providing there were no more yellow flags. Power’s tardy restart allowed Pagenaud to start drawing alongside him on the run down to Turn 4 (starts and restarts at Mid-Ohio are held on the backstraight), and with some wheel-to-wheel action, and some proper rubbing, Pagenaud forced Power into the error that won him the race.
Daly had a lead of over eight seconds by the time he stopped allowing him at least to rejoin eighth, which became sixth when Bourdais outbraked himself into Turn 4 and took himself and Sato into the run-off with less than three laps to go.
Meanwhile up front, Pagenaud finished four seconds ahead of Power with Munoz the first Honda home, and the first of the alternate strategy cars. The Sato/Bourdais shunt allowed Rahal to finish fourth ahead of James Hinchcliffe who had earlier been sent to the back of the field for a pitstop violation. Behind Daly was Pigot, Kimball who survived a late off-course excursion at Turn 4, Sato was classified ninth and Newgarden fought back to 10th.
Kanaan fell backward in the late stages, while Hunter-Reay didn’t receive enough fuel on his final pitstop and had to watch his hard work float away over the closing dozen laps. He would be classified 18th.
|1||22||Simon Pagenaud||Penske (C)||1h49m59.6875s|
|2||12||Will Power||Penske (C)||4.1620|
|3||26||Carlos Muñoz||Andretti (H)||6.5662|
|4||15||Graham Rahal||Rahal (H)||7.0196|
|5||5||James Hinchcliffe||Schmidt (H)||11.1260|
|6||18||Conor Daly||Coyne (H)||11.8526|
|7||20||Spencer Pigot||Carpenter (C)||12.8831|
|8||83||Charlie Kimball||Ganassi (C)||15.0016|
|9||14||Takuma Sato||Foyt (H)||18.0128|
|10||21||Josef Newgarden||Carpenter (C)||18.5404|
|11||2||Juan Pablo Montoya||Penske (C)||20.6074|
|12||10||Tony Kanaan||Ganassi (C)||23.9632|
|13||27||Marco Andretti||Andretti (H)||24.7606|
|14||98||Alexander Rossi||Andretti-Honda (H)||25.5191|
|15||3||Helio Castroneves||Penske (C)||26.6191|
|16||8||Max Chilton||Ganassi (C)||26.8199|
|17||7||Mikhail Aleshin||Schmidt (H)||42.7274|
|18||28||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Andretti (H)||53.5383|
|19||19||R.C. Enerson||Coyne (H)||1 lap|
|20||11||Sébastien Bourdais||KVSH (C)||4 laps|
|21||41||Jack Hawksworth||Foyt (H)||30 laps|
|22||9||Scott Dixon||Ganassi (C)||63 laps|
(C) = Chevrolet, (H) = Honda