IndyCar champ Pagenaud notches first oval win
Los Angeles (AFP) – France’s reigning series champion Simon Pagenaud notched another milestone in his IndyCar career with his first win on a racing oval at the Phoenix Grand Prix.
“This is just incredible,” the Penske driver said after a win that also saw him move to the top of the standings for the first time this season.
“For me, this is my best win because it’s so strategic to win on an oval,” Pagenaud said.
Things broke his way when teammate Will Power of Australia went into the pits just as a yellow caution flag waved in the wake of Takuma Sato’s loss of a front tire.
The caution let Pagenaud seize the lead on the 137th of 250 laps on the 1.022-mile (1.64 Km) oval and he never relinquished it.
He led by as many as 13 seconds and finished 9.1sec in front of Power.
Still, Pagenaud said, with the longed-for oval win in his sights “those were the longest 50 laps of my life.”
“I have a button on my wheel that tells me how many laps were left. I kept pressing it,” he said. “It was stressful.”
American JR Hildebrand, driving with a brace on his broken left hand, finished third.
Pole-sitter Helio Castroneves finished fourth and New Zealand’s Scott Dixon was fifth — his fourth top-five finish in four races this season.
The race got off to a chaotic start when Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver Mikhail Aleshin of Russia lost control of his car in the very first turn in a crash that ultimately involved five cars.
France’s Sebastien Bourdais, Briton Max Chilton and Americans Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal were all caught up. None of them was hurt, but none could continue the race.
“Rear of the car went, and I just couldn’t do anything,” Aleshin said.
Pagenaud vaulted from fourth to first in the standings, 18 points in front of Dixon going into the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, which Pagenaud won last season.