Pagenaud primed for big month of May with Team Penske

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INDIANAPOLIS – This is an important month ahead for Simon Pagenaud.

Thus far, the Frenchman and his No. 22 team at Team Penske have started to gel, and although top results have thus far eluded them, Pagenaud is happy with the early season progress through four races.

“It’s going pretty well, actually,” Pagenaud said in a teleconference last week. “Unfortunately the results don’t really show the performance. But that’s the growing pain of a new team, you know.

“On the 22 side, we have new people, people that have not worked together that now are working together. So there’s a need for transitioning, a need to understand how to optimize everybody and get the best out of everybody at each race.

“So far, I think I’m pretty satisfied with the performance. We just need to execute fully.”

Through four races, Pagenaud is one of only two drivers (teammate Helio Castroneves) with four top-five starts in as many races. But the finishes haven’t matched up, with fifth, 20th, fourth and ninth on the books thus far, and only five laps led while Will Power (75), Juan Pablo Montoya (59) and Castroneves (51) have a large amount more.

Pagenaud enters this weekend’s Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis as defending race champion.

The win came via a mix of weekend pace – Pagenaud was consistently one of the fastest cars during practice before the rain-interrupted qualifying session – and then pit strategy, when Pagenaud’s then-Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports crew ensured he had enough fuel to last the distance.

It also established him as a championship contender for the season, which he carried through to the season finale at Auto Club Speedway in August.

This weekend, now in DeVilbiss colors aboard his No. 22 car (expected to be a mix of orange and white), Pagenaud thinks he should be off to a good start.

“We already have four races behind us, and I feel a little bit like Brad (Keselowski, Team Penske NASCAR Sprint Cup driver) actually,” Pagenaud said. “I feel like going into Indy Grand Prix where we won last year is a really good opportunity for us to maybe unlock what has been going on for us.

“So the month of May is really exciting, especially with this announcement today with HP and Avaya. So it’s all very good news for us at Team Penske.”

After the car is orange and white for DeVilbiss this weekend, it will morph into red and white – more traditional Penske colors – for Avaya for the first of four races.

It was announced last week Avaya will be primary sponsor of the No. 22 car at the Indianapolis 500, Texas, Toronto and Sonoma races – the latter making big sense from a Silicon Valley/Northern California perspective.

“I really want to welcome HP and Avaya to Team Penske,” Pagenaud said. “It’s truly an honor to represent them, and be an ambassador of their brand. So it’s certainly a perfect fit. I mean communication in racing is such an important thing, especially with our schedule being so tight in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“When we come back to the shop or on the road, we need communication to be as fast as possible and as efficient as we can make it. So it is a really, really good fit. But also the IndyCar Series is becoming so sophisticated that having the opportunity to work with Avaya is a perfect partner to Penske for this.”

F1: Russian Grand Prix post-race interviews (VIDEO)

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The Russian Grand Prix is in the books, with Valtteri Bottas scoring his first career victory at Sochi.  Bottas had both a dynamic start and a dynamic defense for Mercedes against Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel to win in his 81st career start, and fourth with Mercedes since changing over from Williams.

NBCSN F1 pit reporter Will Buxton caught up with a number of drivers either during or after the race. Those interviews are below.

More videos will come in the fourth and final weekend installment of Paddock Pass, the NBC Sports Group original digital series. Stay tuned for that in the next day or so on NBCSports.com.

Anyway, Russia post-race interviews are below:

WIN. Valtteri Bottas

2. Sebastian Vettel

4. Lewis Hamilton

5. Max Verstappen

9. Felipe Massa

DNF. Daniel Ricciardo

DNS. Fernando Alonso

Hinchcliffe endures tough night in Phoenix to finish 12th

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James Hinchcliffe, off to one of the best starts he’s ever had in the Verizon IndyCar Series (certainly his best since his two wins in four races to start 2013) endured possibly the most frustrating race of his 2017 season Saturday night at Phoenix.

Down on pace to the Chevrolet cars, particularly those from Team Penske, Hinchcliffe had resigned himself to aim for “best in class,” and he had enough speed to run solidly in the top ten. However, as he explained, poor fuel mileage saw him be the first driver to pit during green flag pit stops, which elongated his final stint and forced him to make a late stop for fuel, dropping him to 12th at the end.

“Man, we just weren’t getting the mileage the other guys were. It’s too bad because the ARROW Electronics car was actually pretty strong,” he told NBC Sports. “We survived that first turn thing; it was unfortunate to see Mikhail (Aleshin) caught up in that.

“And we had decent pace, we were kind of hanging with Scott (Dixon) there in the first stint and ended up just having to pit way before anyone else. And five or six laps a stint compounding, we just never got the yellow at the right time to equalize the field and put us on the same page as everyone else. And at the end, we had to come in for that splash and go.”

Of course, the night could have been much worse, as he barely avoided the first turn pileup that collected five cars after teammate Mikhail Aleshin spun in Turn 2. “It was close, man. I saw Mikhail start to spin and come down, and then Marco (Andretti) hit the brakes and locked up and went around. I was lucky to avoid it, to be honest,” he said of the incident.

Despite finishing 12th, Hinchcliffe held onto fifth place in the standings, 39 points behind new championship leader Simon Pagenaud.

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Newgarden finishes ninth after two wing changes in Phoenix

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The Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix had a promising beginning for Josef Newgarden, who rocketed up to second on the opening lap after starting fourth. However, a pair of front wing changes put paid to any chances of a win, and the Barber Motorsports Park winner was relegated to ninth at race’s end.

“It was a rough night, pretty much as rough as it can be for the No. 2 car,” he told NBCSN’s Robin Miller after the race. “The good news is I think we had speed, I think all the Penske cars did. Simon (Pagenaud) was awesome tonight so congrats to him for getting the win. It’s a victory for all of us at Team Penske, so I’m happy to see that. Will (Power) was good too, and obviously Helio (Castroneves) starting the race up front.”

It was unclear what caused the initial damage, which was on the left-front end plate and happened in the early laps. But, a lap 138 caution when Takuma Sato crashed allowed the team a chance to replace the wing.

From there, Newgarden charged back toward the front and was battling for a podium finish when contact with the lapped car of Ryan Hunter-Reay damaged the new wing, this time on the right-front end plate.

Newgarden described the incident and revealed that there was nothing he could do to avoid contact. “I was following Scott (Dixon), and I had Helio breathing down my neck. We were just trying to ride and catch a podium to recover for the day, essentially. Scott got on the inside of Ryan into (turn 3), they went two-by-two and so I followed Scott through. But as soon as Scott got clear, Ryan wanted to get back down immediately. And I just had a head of steam coming with Scott. I didn’t have any time to check up, I tried to check up and hit the brakes, but I’m in the middle of the corner, so I couldn’t really do much to miss him.”

Hunter-Reay described the view from his vantage point to NBCSN’s Marty Snider: “It’s just very frustrating. I couldn’t do anything with the car all night, because I love short ovals. Survived the start. Then we get a puncture or whatever. Dixon came up behind me, stuck his nose in, I was worried I might have turned across him. I went into the gray and two guys got by me. The car wouldn’t turn at all. Bent the right rear toe link. It was a really tough ride today. It was way too complicated.”

Newgarden pitted a second time for a new wing and ended up finishing ninth. He now sits third in the championship, 26 points behind teammate Simon Pagenaud for the lead.

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Hamilton struggles to fourth in Sochi after ‘very tough weekend’

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Lewis Hamilton endured one of his toughest Formula 1 races in recent memory in Russia on Sunday, finishing fourth at the Sochi Autodrom as Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas took his maiden grand prix win.

Hamilton qualified fourth on Saturday, almost half a second back from Bottas and the Ferrari pair of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen who locked out the front row of the grid.

Bottas was able to pass both Ferrari drivers on the first lap en route to victory, but Hamilton struggled to keep up with their pace, finishing some 36 seconds behind his teammate.

“It’s been a very, very tough weekend. I can’t remember having as difficult a weekend,” Hamilton told NBCSN after the race.

“Probably the last time I remember is Baku or something like that. Just ultimately not quick enough, not got the car where I was comfortable, and then in the race I was overheating so just had to settle for fourth.”

Bottas’ success came in just his fourth race for Mercedes, having replaced F1 world champion Nico Rosberg for 2017 following the German’s shock retirement.

Hamilton has spoken warmly of Bottas on a number of occasions, and was full of praise for the Finn after his success in Sochi.

“Big congratulations to him. He’s done such a great job,” Hamilton said.

“Fantastic teammate to work with. It’s an amazing feeling to win your first grand prix. It will mean a lot to him and his family.”

With title rival Sebastian Vettel finishing second, Hamilton is now 13 points adrift of the championship lead ahead of the fifth race of the year in Spain on May 14.