Simon Pagenaud says his surprise four-stop strategy that won the 2017 IndyCar finale at Sonoma was planned with his engineer over text the night before.
Pagenaud entered the weekend as one of five drivers in title contention, needing to win the race and have Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden finish lower than fourth and fifth respectively.
The 2016 champion vaulted himself into contention by making an unusual out-of-sequence four-stop strategy to take the lead and beat Newgarden by just over one second, falling short of the title but securing second in the standings.
Pagenaud admitted that he was sceptical the strategy would have paid off ahead of the race and was relying on a yellow that never appeared, in the first caution-free race at Sonoma since 1970.
“Last night my engineer texted me when I was at the Verizon dinner, and he said, ‘We're going to do four stops.’ I'm like, 'What? Four stops never worked here; why would we do four stops?’
"He said, ‘If there's a yellow, that's the best way we can win the championship. It makes sense, but it's a long shot. If it doesn't work out, we're going to end up fifth or sixth in the championship, it's not going to look too good.'
“But I was in a very attacking mode this weekend, and I thought, ‘Hey, why not? Let's try.’ And he convinced me."
Pagenaud says he was not convinced the strategy would work until he started to build a gap over Newgarden in the third stint ahead of his final stop.
“When I built a gap on Josef, 10 seconds, and then 11 and then 12, I was like, ooh, I think we have a chance,” he said. “So then I thought, if we keep putting pressure, maybe something would happen."
He then came out of the pits neck-and-neck with Newgarden and held on to take the win.
“The strategy worked out really, really well," he added. "It was impressive. The car was just phenomenal all day. That's the most I've ever pushed in an IndyCar race.”
Newgarden should have been more “careful”
Pagenaud believes that Newgarden should have been more careful in attempting to retake the lead from him on lap 65 of 85.
The pair had already collided in 2017, banging wheels at Gateway ahead of Newgarden’s victory in what many considered to be the defining overtake of the season.
When asked if he was surprised by how ‘fierce’ Newgarden was in the finale during the final stages, he said: “Yes, I was. When I blocked Turn 7 and I saw him diving, I'm like, 'dude, be careful'.
“The thing is, if he has a problem, I'm leading the race, I'm champion at the time we're racing. I could see on the sign Dixon was fifth, so I knew we couldn't do anything stupid for the championship.
“But it was more comfortable for me than it was for him, I'm assuming, in my position.”