Simon Pagenaud

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Penske, Chevrolet dominate Phoenix weekend

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Even though Team Penske and Chevrolet won the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park, the Honda teams still appeared more than capable of running with them, and the race was pretty balanced from a competition standpoint (for example: three Chevrolets and two Hondas finished in the top five, and three cars from each manufacturer made the Firestone Fast Six).

However, the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix was a different story. As was projected coming into the race, the Chevrolet aero kit and power unit dominated on the short oval.

Chevrolets qualified 1-5, with Team Penske drivers qualifying first (Helio Castroneves), second (Will Power), fourth (Josef Newgarden), and fifth (Simon Pagenaud), and JR Hildebrand of Ed Carpenter Racing sandwiched the quartet in third.

And during the race, all 250 laps were led by Penske drivers. Pagenaud led the most with 116, followed by Castroneves (73), Power (59), and Newgarden (2).

“Simon drove a great race,” said Jim Campbell, U.S. Vice President Performance Vehicles and Motorsports. “Kyle (Moyer) and the No. 1 team put together terrific car set up, race strategy and quick stops. Excited for Simon to get his first oval win with Chevy here at Phoenix.”

What’s more, it is the first short oval win for the Penske squad since Power’s triumph at the Milwaukee Mile in 2014, and is the first oval win period for Pagenaud. The Frenchman was understandably elated in the post-race press conference.

“It’s phenomenal. I’m just as excited as I was in the championship,” he revealed. “I think that’s going to resonate to you. I was very emotional at the end of the race there because I’ve been running after this. The desire to be good on ovals for me was really strong. I wanted to come to America and I wanted to embrace the sport, embrace the oval, and show that I could do the job.”

Conquering a short oval was makes things that much more special for Pagenaud, as he explained.

“I mean, I’m just super proud. To me, short oval is probably the hardest skill to have to win an oval,” he said. “Obviously, Indianapolis is more of a chess game, being there on the longer race, 500 miles. But here it’s very physical. You got to stay very clear in your head, despite being taxed physically, and also you need to keep up with the car very aggressively with traffic.”

Will Power had his best finish of 2017 at Phoenix Raceway. Photo: IndyCar

Teammate Will Power detailed that Chevrolet has been hard at work to match the somewhat unexpected speed from the Honda teams, and firmly believes they’ll be strong at both Indianapolis races.

“Obviously some tracks suited the Honda a little bit better. But, you know, I feel like we’re going to be good,” Power affirmed. “I mean, we were good at Barber. I think we’ll be good at Indy road course. Chevy’s been working really hard to have a great engine for the 500, which I’m very confident in those guys because they do such a good job. I think they could come up with something pretty good.”

Pagenaud’s win vaults him into the championship lead by 18 points over Scott Dixon, while Power rocketed into the top ten and currently sits seventh in the standings.

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Pagenaud breaks through for first oval win in Phoenix

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – Simon Pagenaud parlayed a combination of pace and longer fuel stints to win his first career Verizon IndyCar Series race on an oval, in the next logical career step for the 2016 series champion.

After starting fifth, Pagenaud advanced to the lead and led 116 of 250 laps in Saturday night’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix in the fourth race of the 2017 season in his No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet.

He’s the fourth winner in as many races, has four top-five finishes to kick off the year, and has now moved into the points lead. It’s his 10th career win.

In a Chevrolet-dominated affair, Pagenaud led teammate Will Power, who finally broke his duck of five straight races outside the top 10, JR Hildebrand, who finished on the podium in his return to action, and Helio Castroneves, who again lost the win from pole position but banked his fourth straight top-10 finish.

Team Penske dominated, leading all 250 laps themselves. Pagenaud, at one point, had more than a one lap lead on the field after stretching a run in the middle portion of the race – but that was negated following a wave-by during a yellow flag caused when Takuma Sato had a strange incident off of Turn 4.

Power tried to carve his way back from there but with too many lapped cars in-between him and Pagenaud following the wave-by, he was never able to get much closer than a few seconds. Ultimately, he ended 9.1028 seconds behind and did well to hold back Hildebrand’s late charge.

Scott Dixon completed the top five finishers, the top Honda. The Hondas were on the back foot all weekend, and seemed unable to break the stranglehold Chevrolet and Penske had on the top of the charts.

In an attrition-filled race, only 13 of 21 starters finished, with five cars going out in a first-lap accident, including prior points leader Sebastien Bourdais.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: For the second straight race, Team Penske got three of its four cars into the top four. It was a 1-3-4 at Barber, and a 1-2-4 tonight…. Ed Carpenter broke a rough patch of results with a seventh place finish after starting 21st and last, his first top-10 since coming sixth at Iowa after his memorable scrap with Sage Karam…. like Power and Carpenter, Charlie Kimball also got his first top-10 of the year with a run to eighth…. Ed Jones finished 11th more by default, but a finish in his first IndyCar oval start was a good one…. the result won’t show it but Conor Daly had his best run of the year, running as high as second before gearbox issues cost him a shot at his first top-10. He ended 14th.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Andretti Autosport wore the collar of four DNFs with all four of its cars for the second time in three races. Both Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi had lighter wall contact that eventually led to retirements, Takuma Sato had slightly heavier wall contact in Turn 3 and Marco Andretti was caught up in the Turn 1, Lap 1 mess. Another forgettable, and expensive evening…. James Hinchcliffe was a season-worst 12th with his car struggling with fuel mileage… Mikhail Aleshin’s incident streak continued after the first lap mess that also took out Andretti, Bourdais, Max Chilton and the luckless Graham Rahal.

NOTABLE: All four Penske drivers combined to lead all 250 laps…. with teams from Penske, Carpenter and Ganassi locking down the first nine spots, AJ Foyt Racing’s Carlos Munoz in 10th was “best of the rest,” as Dale Coyne Racing hit its first race of the year outside the top 10 with both cars, on an expensive evening for the small team.

QUOTABLE: From a very happy race winner, Pagenaud: “Those were the longest 50 laps of my life.  I have a button on the steering wheel to check the lap count, ever lap I was pressing the button.  It was the most stressful end of the race I’ve ever lived, but the car was just phenomenal.  It was an incredible day for the Menards car, Chevy, incredible job with the aero package for these kinds of tracks and on the engine as well.  Since the beginning of the season we worked so closely it’s been fun, I have to say. Obviously, thanks to Verizon as well for all the support that they give us.  I’ve got to tell you, this is just incredible.  For me, this is my best win because it’s so strategic to win on an oval.  You have to really study what the others are doing, how your car is responding adjust it during the race to be good at the end and today was just exactly a perfect day.  I couldn’t be any happier.”

RESULTS

AVONDALE, Arizona – Results Saturday of the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 1.022-mile Phoenix Raceway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, aero kit-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

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

Race Statistics:
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

Lap Leaders:
Castroneves 1-73
Newgarden 74-75
Pagenaud 76-77
Power 78-136
Pagenaud 137-250

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.

 

Pagenaud banks third straight top-five despite fuel saving frustration

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With finishes of second, fifth and third in the first three races of 2017, defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud is off to a pretty good start.

Except that because of his unreal start to 2016 when he finished second twice and won in Round 3, it seems like far less by comparison.

Pagenaud finally put together his most complete start-to-finish weekend of the new year at Barber Motorsports Park in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, starting and finishing third in the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet.

This result comes after a perhaps lucky 14th to second run in St. Petersburg and then a comeback from 21st and last to fifth in Long Beach two weeks ago.

The Frenchman made the most of the worst pit stall in pit lane this weekend, because after incurring that penalty for qualifying interference at Long Beach two weeks ago he’d be right at pit in and be compromised compared to those near pit out.

That made his team’s performance throughout the weekend all the better, even if Pagenaud was frustrated to be in fuel save mode for the final stint.

“It’s been a good weekend. We unfortunately carried a penalty from Long Beach. So starting every qualifying session, practice at the back of the pack puts you in a bad rhythm,” Pagenaud explained in the post-race press conference. “So I’m very happy we were able to transform that into good qualifying results, and also a good result in the end of the race.

“It was pretty eventful. At the start of the race, I feel like we were a little too aggressive with the racecar. We adjusted. At the end, I was really good. I saved quite a bit of fuel at the end to make it.

“It was frustrating, I got to say. I just wanted to go.”

The day was weirder for Pagenaud because he was the only one of the four Team Penske drivers who didn’t lead a lap. Eventual race winner Josef Newgarden led the final 14 laps en route to his first win with the team, while Will Power dominated with 60 laps led before his late race puncture resigned him to 14th. Helio Castroneves finished fourth and led two laps on a pit cycle.

Pagenaud never got higher than third, where he finished. He noted a difficulty in the tire wear at the start of the race, as rain washed all the rubber down from earlier in the weekend, comprising five different types of tire manufacturers over the six series racing at Barber.

“The rain was the biggest effect last night. It really cleaned off the track,” he said. “The first stint personally was very difficult for us, quite a bit of tire wear. Balance wasn’t what we expected. Then the track got better toward the end, and the tires hung on better, I think.

“Yeah, it was different to yesterday, for sure. A lot of less tire degradation. Last year felt like we had a lot more tire degradation, too.”

Even though his title defense has been overshadowed so far in 2017 by all three winners, Pagenaud’s still in a good spot through three races. Pagenaud and Scott Dixon are the only two drivers with three top-five finishes in every race so far this year.

Pagenaud sits fourth in points, 11 behind his old Peugeot LMP1 teammate Sebastien Bourdais who leads the championship, and just four off Newgarden, who took the headlines on Sunday with his first win for his new team.

Still, not a bad day for the guy who heading into the race, discovered how to speak “Southern.”

Pagenaud paces Penske 1-4 sweep in Barber first IndyCar practice

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Team Penske and Chevrolet was poised to go 1-2-3, in numerical order, in the opening 45-minute practice session for this weekend’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, the third round of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

And then they went one better with a 1-4 sweep right at the end of the session.

Defending race and series champion Simon Pagenaud took the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet to the top of the timesheets at the 2.3-mile Barber Motorsports Park road course at 1:08.1104.

The 2015 race winner Josef Newgarden took his No. 2 Fitzgerald Glider Kit Chevrolet into second at 1:08.1822.

“It’s obviously a good start with our teammates. I think we were happy at the test; it seems to suit us well. We will try to capitalize on this the rest of this weekend. It’s great having Fitzgerald Glider Kit on board; they’re Tennessee boys, just like me,” Newgarden told IndyCar Radio’s Jake Query after the session.

Will Power, in need of a clean weekend in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet and a past two-time winner at Barber, leapt into third at the end of the session with Helio Castroneves in fourth in the No. 3 AAA Team Penske Chevrolet.

Eight Hondas were next, led by Alexander Rossi in the No. 98 Andretti-Herta Autosport Honda in fifth at 1:08.4560. Rossi and Marco Andretti are in revised liveries this weekend, red and blue and red and white respectively.

The only red flag came when points leader Sebastien Bourdais ran wide exiting Turn 1 in his No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda and collected a yard sign, which was funny but didn’t cause any damage to his car.

Series debutante Zach Veach clocked in at 1:10.6346 in the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet, about 1.7 seconds off teammate Spencer Pigot in his first official IndyCar race weekend filling in for the injured JR Hildebrand.

Hildebrand is on site this weekend and provided an update to IndyCar Radio’s Query during the session:

“It was really hard to tell initially,” he said. “The X-rays at Long Beach didn’t look that bad. Different place, set of circumstances. Once they dug into it via a CT scan, it was more blown up than they thought it was. The doctors tried to keep my expectations out of control. There was a high risk of doing further damage if I got in the car this weekend. Phoenix is the goal for next weekend.”

Times are below. Owing to the track delay for barrier repairs from the morning’s Battery Tender Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires practice session, the Friday schedule is an hour behind.

IndyCar drivers expect Indy 500 challenge from F1 champ

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Two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso is confident that in short time he can get up to speed for the Indianapolis 500, even though he has never before raced in IndyCar or on a superspeedway.

So are the IndyCar drivers Alonso will be competing against the last Sunday in May after his surprising announcement that he’s skipping the Monaco Grand Prix to instead race at the Brickyard that day.

“The experience that he has in motorsport, I don’t think it’ll be any problem for him,” three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves said.

“I think he absolutely does,” Scott Dixon, the 2008 Indy 500 winner, said when asked if Alonso has a chance to win. “Obviously all of us want to win at that place, and the competition is extremely tough. But he has a great shot.”

Alonso will be the first Formula One world champion to drive as an Indy 500 rookie since Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet both in 1993. Mansell finished third, and Piquet 32nd that year. Seven other drivers won F1 titles after participating in the Indianapolis 500.

“It’s a step forward in my career. I want to the best driver and the most complete driver in the world,” said Alonso, adding that he needs to know how it is to handle the cars through the oval and the backstretch while driving so close to each other.

McLaren is back in the Indianapolis 500 for the first time in 38 years with Alonso’s entry, a Dallara DW12 chassis run by Andretti Autosport. Team owner Michael Andretti is a former IndyCar champion who raced in Formula One for McLaren in 1993.

It will be Alonso’s first time driving at Indy as the 35-year-old Spaniard steps up his bid to win motorsport’s so-called “Triple Crown” of the Monaco GP, the Indianapolis 500 and the Le Mans 24 Hours race. Alonso is a two-time Monaco GP winner, and has yet to drive Le Mans.

“I didn’t expect it to happen this year, but I know that he was looking at it,” Andretti said. “He’s a racer, and he sets goals for himself. He wants to be one of the few people to say he’s won the Triple Crown like that. So I admire him for that, to want to go out and do it – especially right now, in the middle of the season.”

Alonso will fly to Indianapolis immediately after the Spanish Grand Prix on May 14 to start practice for the May 28 race.

The only driver to win a Formula One title and then win the Indianapolis 500 in his first attempt was Graham Hill – in 1966, four years after the first of his two F1 titles. Hill is also the only Triple Crown winner in motorsports.

Andretti’s team won at the Brickyard last year with Indy 500 rookie driver Alexander Rossi, the former F1 test driver.

“You get enough miles around Indianapolis to sort of get a good basis on it,” Dixon said during a break at IndyCar testing in Texas. “He’s with a team that’s a proven winner, and teammates that are definitely proven winners, too. He’s walking into a good combination. Honda is a very strong package right now. So the stars are somewhat aligning for a great run for Fernando.”

And another big day for IndyCar, after last year’s Indianapolis 500 was a sellout breaking attendance marks and again had improved television ratings.

IndyCar driver Josef Newgarden talked about how incredible and impressive the 100th running of Indy was. For anyone wondering how the series would keep that momentum, having Alonso for the 101st makes a big difference.

“You’re not going to see any drop in momentum,” Newgarden said. “If anything, it’s going to be a better show, which is hard to do after what we had last year. But the Indy 500, it’s the greatest race in the world, and having a team like McLaren come back to that, to have an entry and also a driver of Alonso’s caliber to come over and race with us, it just speaks volumes to the type of race that the Indianapolis 500 is.”

Will Power said he “was pretty stoked” to hear about Alonso’s entry that brings a lot of attention to the IndyCar Series and its showcase event.

“Seeing the interest from a Formula One champion, a double world champion, is actually exciting, super exciting from a driver’s standpoint,” Simon Pagenaud said. “I think we’re all excited to get to race against him. … It’s going to be a great challenge.”

AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer and AP Sports Writers Steve Douglas, Michael Marot and Luke Meredith contributed to this report.

More AP auto racing: http://racing.ap.org