Simon Pagenaud picked one of the Verizon IndyCar Series tracks richest in open-wheel history to earn his first oval victory.
The reigning series champion drove away from the field in the final half of the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix Raceway, winning by 9.1028 seconds over teammate Will Power and assuming the points lead after four races of the 2017 season.
Scott Dixon finished fifth and holds second overall on the points table.
“Obviously, it was a tough night for the No. 9 NTT Data car, and all the Honda entries I think,” commented Dixon. “Chevy had a leg up on us here and they showed that tonight. We tried to keep our nose clean but just didn’t have anything for them tonight. Hopefully we can get some momentum back at the Grand Prix of Indy next month.”
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 No. 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.
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.