Simon Pagenaud wins IndyCar race at Phoenix
AVONDALE, Ariz. — Simon Pagenaud appeared to be on cruise control after taking a big lead when a caution flag caught the other leaders on pit road in the Verizon IndyCar race Saturday night at Phoenix International Raceway.
The Frenchman had a different view from the cockpit as he closed in on his first oval victory.
“Those were the longest 50 laps of my life,” Pagenaud said. “I have a button on my wheel that tells me how many laps were left. I kept pressing it. It was stressful. The car was phenomenal.”
The defending series champion grabbed the lead when Team Penske teammate Will Power pitted on the 137th lap, and the caution came out seconds later when Takuma Sato hit the wall in the fourth turn.
“We were a little bit lucky there with the caution,” Pagenaud said, “But we were in that position because we were able to stretch it (fuel) out.”
Pagenaud not only ended up with the lead, but had lapped cars between his Chevrolet and the other four lead-lap cars. Power cut Pagenaud’s lead to 3 seconds with 40 laps to go before the winner pulled away to win by over 9 seconds in front of about only 7,000 fans at the mile oval.
Pagenaud took the season points lead with his 10th career victory. Penske drivers led all 250 laps — Pagenaud 116, pole-sitter Helio Castroneves 73, Power 59 and Josef Newgarden 2 — en route to the team’s record-extending 189th series victory.
“This is incredible. This is my best win,” Pagenaud said. “You need to be so strategic to win on an oval and today was the perfect day. I couldn’t be any happier.”
Power had his first podium finish of the year.
“We just got caught out by a yellow,” the Australian said. “We just had a wait there. It made a bad race of it.”
JR Hildebrand finished third in another Chevy for Ed Carpenter Racing, and Castroneves was fourth for Penske. Scott Dixon, the winner last year, was a lap down in fifth in Chip Ganassi Racing’s Honda.
“Chevy had a leg up on us here and they showed that tonight,” Dixon said. “We tried to keep our nose clean, but just didn’t have anything for them tonight. ”
Hildebrand returned after missing the Alabama event last week because of a broken left hand. He was hurt after late contact with Mikhail Aleshin in Long Beach, California.
“At the end, we might have had the best car on the track,” Hildebrand said. “It’s a great result heading into May.”
Aleshin didn’t finish a lap Saturday, losing control and spinning in the second turn to start a wreck that collected fellow Honda drivers Marco Andretti, Sebastien Bourdais, Graham Rahal and Max Chilton.
“I turned and the rear just went sideways,” Aleshin said.
Bourdais won the opener in St. Petersburg, Florida, and took the points lead into the night.
“I was just along for the ride. Nothing I could do,” Bourdais said. “It’s just a shame.”