Simon Pagenaud earned his first IndyCar oval win driving away from the field in the final half of the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix Raceway. Pagenaud took the checkered flag 9.1028 seconds ahead of Penske teammate Will Power and assumed the points lead after Sebastian Bourdais was taken out during a first lap multi-car incident.
Driving the No.1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet, Pagenaud collected the 10th win of his Indy car career and led a Chevy sweep of the top four positions on the 1.022-mile oval that has hosted 63 Indy car races dating to 1964. It was also win number 450 for Team Penske in all racing competitions and its 100th on Indy car ovals.
"I can't explain how excited I am," Pagenaud said. "Ovals are not my specialty - I grew up in Europe racing go-karts. I learned about ovals when I was 26 years old so I had to learn the skill and the technique that I didn't know.
"Man, this is incredible. What a win!"
Pagenaud took control midway through the 250-lap race, running longer while other frontrunners had to stop for fuel and tires. Pagenaud pitted on Lap 140 with a one-lap advantage on the field under a caution period caused when Takuma Sato's car made contact with the Turn 4 SAFER Barrier. Pagenaud returned to the track in first place and led the final 114 laps.
"The car was phenomenal and thanks to the Menards Chevrolet crew," Pagenaud said. "The car was so strong at the beginning of the race; we were able to save fuel in traffic. It paid off with that lucky yellow, but we've had our fair share of bad luck, too, this year so it doesn't hurt sometimes to have a little break."
Team Penske's four drivers led all 250 laps, the first time a team has paced every lap in a race since Team Penske did the same thing in the first race of Belle Isle doubleheader last year. Power led 59 laps in the No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet before finishing second.
"It was good night considering where we've finished the last few races," said Power, whose best result this season prior to tonight was 13th. "I'm happy to finish second and get some points."
Pole sitter Helio Castroneves led 73 laps in the No.3 REV Group Team Penske Chevy and finished fourth. Josef Newgarden, the winner of last week's Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, led two laps in the No.2 Verizon Team Penske Chevy and ran up front most of the night until contact with Ryan Hunter-Reay forced an unscheduled pit stop and Newgarden finished ninth.
"Tonight's a tough blow." said Newgarden "It's tough when you have a podium car, potentially a winner car if everything goes right, and you finish ninth. We can't be too displeased over ninth, but I don't think we're super happy. I think the Hum by Verizon Chevrolet team is going to truck forward. We think we have fast cars, we've had fast cars all year, so hopefully that bodes well for the month of May and we can try to get some more victories."
Hunter-Reay added, "It's very frustrating. I couldn't do anything with the car all day. I love short ovals and it's just really frustrating. The DHL car had a great start. We got by a bunch of guys and then we got a puncture. It's just the way it's been. (Scott) Dixon was coming up behind me there, stuck his nose in. I was afraid I'd turn across, and I should've just turned across. I got out into the gray and two guys got by me. Then I got down into Turn 1 and the car wouldn't turn at all. I don't know. It was a really wild ride in that thing today, it was way too complicated behind the steering wheel."
JR Hildebrand finished third in the No.21 Fuzzy's Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet - the best result for Hildebrand since his memorable runner-up finish in the 2011 Indianapolis 500 when he crashed while leading on the final lap. Hildebrand was pleased with tonight's showing after he sat out last week's race at Barber Motorsports Park while a broken bone in his left hand mended from an April 9 crash in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
"The car was just awesome all day," Hildebrand said. "Excited to get the result for the team, for sure. The car was bitchin'. I think at the end of the race we had obviously one of the top three, but I think we might have had the best car on the track."
Pagenaud holds an 18-point advantage in the championship over Scott Dixon, who finished fifth in the race. Newgarden sits third in the standings, 26 points out of first place.
Sebastien Bourdais of Dale Coyne Racing, who led the points entering the night, was caught in a five-car incident on the opening lap when Mikhail Aleshin spun and collected the cars of Bourdais, Marco Andretti, Max Chilton and Graham Rahal in Turn 2. No drivers were injured. Bourdais finished 19th and dropped to fourth in the standings.
"It's disappointing." said Bourdais "We work so hard and try to do things right. We had a good position at the start, being on the outside, and I could've probably picked up one or two positions because I had a good run going. But then all it takes is someone who takes a little bit too much risk to ruin your day. You can take risks when you're on the outside all alone, but if you're in the middle, in the gearbox of the car in front of you there's a good chance that you'll lose the car. It's disappointing to lose the points lead like this, I knew we would lose it this weekend but we're really missing out on some precious points. Plus, there's a lot of damage to the car and we really didn't need that."
Aleshin lost control going into the first turn on the opening lap spinning up the track and collecting Bourdais. Behind other cars began to spin trying avoid Aleshin and Bourdais.
"Unfortunately, when we got to Turn 1, I felt the rear of the car went, and I just couldn't do anything." said Aleshin "I was full lock, and I just understood that that was it. I feel sorry for the guys that hit as well, but that's racing. Very sorry to my Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team and everyone that works on the No.7 because I think the guys did a fantastic job. Sometimes situations like this happen, but we'll keep moving forward."
Added Andretti, "I think we were all just trying to miss Mikhail (Aleshin). He just sort of lost it and I didn't know which way to go. I spun to actually try to miss him, kept it off the wall and then because of my smoke, he couldn't see and then Graham (Rahal) ended up getting into me. It's just a bummer."
The Verizon IndyCar Series heads to an open test on Tuesday at Gateway Motorsports Park, where the series will race under the lights on Aug. 26. After that, it's back to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the road course May 13 (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network), followed by the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on May 28 (11 a.m. ET, ABC and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network).
1. (5) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 250, Running
2. (2) Will Power, Chevrolet, 250, Running
3. (3) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 250, Running
4. (1) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 250, Running
5. (8) Scott Dixon, Honda, 249, Running
6. (6) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 249, Running
7. (21) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 248, Running
8. (14) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 248, Running
9. (4) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 248, Running
10. (19) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 247, Running
11. (16) Ed Jones, Honda, 247, Running
12. (11) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 246, Running
13. (12) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 220, Mechanical
14. (20) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 180, Running
15. (15) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 141, Contact
16. (18) Takuma Sato, Honda, 135, Contact
17. (7) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 0, Contact
18. (9) Marco Andretti, Honda, 0, Contact
19. (10) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 0, Contact
20. (13) Max Chilton, Honda, 0, Contact
21. (17) Graham Rahal, Honda, 0, Contact
Winner's average speed: 144.058
Time of Race: 1:46:24.9473
Margin of victory: 9.1028 seconds
Cautions: 2 for 32 laps
Lead changes: 4 among 4 drivers
Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Pagenaud 159, Dixon 141, Newgarden 133, Bourdais 128, Hinchcliffe 120, Castroneves 118, Power 91, Kanaan 87, Hunter-Reay 82, Jones 81.
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