Phoenix IndyCar: Pagenaud grabs his first oval win
A slightly bizarre yellow flag and pitstop situation gifted Simon Pagenaud the lead in the Phoenix Grand Prix, but he drove flawlessly thereafter to grab his first IndyCar victory on an oval.
At the start, poleman Helio Castroneves burst into the lead ahead of fellow front-row starter and Team-Penske Chevrolet teammate Will Power, but Josef Newgarden had also eased his #2 Penske into second when all hell broke loose in the midfield pack.
Mikhail Aleshin spun his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports-Honda trying to pinch down low on cold tires, which left championship leader Sebastien Bourdais nowhere to go, as Max Chilton (Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda), Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing-Honda), and Marco Andretti (Andretti Autosport-Honda) were also out of luck and out of room to avoid.
Ryan Hunter-Reay was extremely lucky not to get caught up fully in the shunt but got a left-rear puncture from Aleshin’s out of control car, so a pitstop under yellow dropped him to 15th. Ed Carpenter, starting last, used the elongated yellow as an opportunity to stop (twice) and Conor Daly also pitted his AJ Foyt Racing-Chevy.
The restart would see Castroneves lead Newgarden, Power, JR Hildebrand’s Ed Carpenter Racing-Chevy, Simon Pagenaud’s Penske, Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon for Ganassi, James Hinchcliffe’s Schmidt Peterson car, Charlie Kimball’s Ganassi, and Alexander Rossi’s Andretti machine.
The Lap 21 restart was waved off – Castroneves had a twitchy throttle-foot – but on the re-restart, Pagenaud passed Hildebrand into Turn 1 to make it a Penske 1-2-3-4.
The guys really on the move were Hunter-Reay and Carpenter who rose to 11th and 12th, but as tires warmed up, and everyone settled in, that’s where the order changes stopped.
However, there were some interesting changes in the gaps, with Castroneves swiftly building a 1sec lead over Newgarden, who appeared to be backing up toward Power and Pagenaud. By Lap 50, Dixon had fallen 1.6sec behind teammate Kanaan, suggesting the Kiwi was saving fuel.
Carpenter lost momentum on Lap 63 and found Daly passing him on the outside. But up front there was a more significant move on Lap 70 as Pagenaud, who had just held off a hard challenge from Hildebrand, then passed Power.
Hinchliffe stopped on Lap 72, with Dixon and Rossi ducking in on 73, while Castroneves pitted on Lap 74, with Power, Sato, Hildebrand, Kimball and Jones doing the same a lap later. Newgarden’s stop came on Lap 76 and Pagenaud’s on 77 but they were to lose out. When the stops shuffled out, it was Power in the lead ahead of Castroneves, Pagenaud, Newgarden, Hinchcliffe, Dixon, Hildebrand, Kanaan, Rossi and Hunter-Reay.
The big loser was Daly, whose tough drive effectively ended on Lap 78 in the pits as the gearbox failed.
The field also became more spread out, as Pagenaud ran 1.2sec behind Castroneves, with Newgarden a further 1.3sec in arrears by Lap 90, at the point where Hildebrand dived down the inside of Dixon at Turn 1 to grab sixth place and swiftly move in on the tail of Hinchcliffe, the leading Honda, who relinquished his fifth spot just two laps later.
Three Penskes were looking healthy, and Pagenaud was following Castroneves – himself only 0.6sec behind Power – very closely, but Newgarden was starting to struggle with a broken left-front wing assembly, allowing Hildebrand to close in. On Lap 118 the ECR driver made the move at Turn 1 and successfully grabbed fourth.
He also quickly drew onto the tail of Pagenaud, as the leading three Penskes approached Carpenter, who despite running 15th was still running at a healthy 177mph average.
Hinchcliffe pitted from sixth place on lap 122, as did Carlos Munoz, and on lap 123, Munoz also pitted his AJ Foyt Racing Chevy. Dixon and Hunter-Reay stopped on Lap 129, with Newgarden, and Rossi in on 130, Kanaan on Lap 131. However, Rossi then sideswiped the wall.
Power, Castroneves and Hildebrand all stopped on Lap 132, and then suddenly the full-course caution flew as another Andretti car, Takuma Sato’s, made much harder contact with the Turn 4 wall.
Initially it looked that this worked heavily against Pagenaud, stranded out on track while the pits were closed for the yellow, but in fact he was able to stop when the pits opened on Lap 141 and rejoin in the lead as the pack were held down at Pace car speed.
The result was that the restart would see Pagenaud leading with the lapped cars of Dixon, Hinchcliffe, Kanaan and Hunter-Reay as a buffer to Power, Castroneves and Hildebrand. Newgarden had also stopped and topped up under yellow and had a new wing fitted.
On Lap 149, Power made a fine restart, to get ahead of both Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe in the space of two laps. Behind, Newgarden was also charging and taking full advantage of his refettled car, and was up to fifth behind Hildebrand by Lap 158.
In second place, Power was six seconds behind Pagenaud by Lap 160, with the lapped Ganassi cars of Dixon and Kanaan ahead, but making no ground on the leader, and Castroneves catching up from behind and occasionally looking for a way by, with Hildebrand and Newgarden within one second behind the Brazilian veteran.
Despite strong pitstops from Power’s crew, there was no way they were going to be able to overcome an eight-plus second deficit to Pagenaud - who lost a couple of seconds through backmarkers, then regained it on a clear track.
Hinchcliffe, having fallen to ninth following the last restart, pitted on Lap 183 and dropped to the rear of the 13-car field. Hunter-Reay and Dixon were next to stop on Lap 193, with Newgarden ducking out of fifth and into the pits on Lap 196, Kanaan on 197.
Power had a clear track ahead of him now while Pagenaud hit traffic and the gap started falling to 5.5sec, before Power and Hildebrand pitted on Lap 204, Castroneves on 205, and Pagenaud on 207.
Power erupted from the pits and set a new fast lap on his fresh tires, a 186.340, and the gap went down to 3.1sec, again the Australian encountering traffic – Jones and Carpenter and, further up ahead, Hinchcliffe. By Lap 215, the gap was back out to 5.5sec.
Behind, there was drama as Newgarden clipped Hunter-Reay’s left rear and handed third and fourth to Hildebrand and Castroneves. The ECR driver took advantage of a moment’s hesitation from Castroneves as he encountered the farce ahead, and zapped round him and into third.
Hildebrand’s charge didn’t stop there, as he zoomed up onto Power’s tail, as the #12 Penske remained behind the lapped car of Hildebrand’s team owner, Carpenter. But Ed wasn’t playing games with Power and graciously allowed both his pursuers past. Jones, too, moved over, and now Power and Hildebrand went at it hard, lapping in the 180s as the leader eased back to the mid-170s.
However, Power held on to take second, 9.1sec behind a truly elated Pagenaud to complete a Penske 1-2 and just a quarter second ahead of Hildebrand who scored his first top-three finish since his infamous runner-up finish at Indy six years ago.
Castroneves in fourth was the last driver on the lead lap, and was thus able to take it easy in the closing laps.
Dixon, Kanaan, Carpenter and Charlie Kimball completed the top eight with Newgarden eventually salvaging ninth ahead of Munoz, Jones and Hinchcliffe.
|1||1||Simon Pagenaud||Team Penske||1:46'24.9473|
|2||12||Will Power||Team Penske||9.1028|
|3||21||J.R. Hildebrand||Ed Carpenter Racing||9.3417|
|4||3||Helio Castroneves||Team Penske||16.5864|
|5||9||Scott Dixon||Chip Ganassi Racing||1 lap|
|6||10||Tony Kanaan||Chip Ganassi Racing||1 lap|
|7||20||Ed Carpenter||Ed Carpenter Racing||2 laps|
|8||83||Charlie Kimball||Chip Ganassi Racing||2 laps|
|9||2||Josef Newgarden||Team Penske||2 laps|
|10||14||Carlos Munoz||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||3 laps|
|11||19||Ed Jones||Dale Coyne Racing||3 laps|
|12||5||James Hinchcliffe||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports||4 laps|
|13||28||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Andretti Autosport||30 laps|
|14||4||Conor Daly||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||70 laps|
|15||98||Alexander Rossi||Andretti Autosport||109 laps|
|16||26||Takuma Sato||Andretti Autosport||115 laps|
|17||7||Mikhail Aleshin||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports||250 laps|
|18||27||Marco Andretti||Andretti Autosport||250 laps|
|19||18||Sébastien Bourdais||Dale Coyne Racing||250 laps|
|20||8||Max Chilton||Chip Ganassi Racing||250 laps|
|21||15||Graham Rahal||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||250 laps|
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