Pagenaud looking to build on strong Iowa run one year ago

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Perhaps the best performance of Simon Pagenaud’s rookie season in the IZOD IndyCar Series came at Iowa Speedway. The Frenchman had a poor qualifying effort and had to start 25th on the grid for last year’s Iowa Corn Indy 250, but managed to charge through the field and come home fifth – an impressive feat for a driver that had only done a handful of oval races in his career at that point.

“In our first year at Iowa Speedway, it took us some time to understand what to do with the race car,” he recalls. “In the race, my engineers hit the sweet spot though and the car was really nice to drive. I was able to be aggressive and we made up a ton of ground. I was running in the top-three at the end, so I learned a lot that day.

“I figured out how aggressive I needed to be to succeed here and I hope to do the same this weekend.”

Pagenaud comes to Iowa looking to get back on form after following up his maiden IndyCar victory in the second Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit race with 13th and 12th-place finishes at Texas and Milwaukee respectively. It will be interesting to see if he’s quick off the trailer and can save himself from having to come from the back of the field like he had to last year.

Learning the right amount of aggression at Iowa will be useful for him, but he knows that must be tempered with a constant focus. Iowa has drivers rattling off laps every 18 seconds and going over bumps that have become a part of the high-banked short oval’s character, making for a tough challenge.

“You pretty much spend the whole time in the corners in Iowa,” he said. “There are a lot of bumps, so you have to stay very focused on your line. There’s not really any downtime to think about anything else. You’re just trying to be proactive on the car’s behavior and keep your car as straight as possible when you cross the bumps.”

Valiant efforts from Hunter-Reay, Dixon come up just short at Road America

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Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon drove about as hard as they possibly could during Sunday’s KOHLER Grand Prix, and they both drove nearly perfect races.

Hunter-Reay took advantage of Will Power’s engine issues on the start to immediately jump into second, and stalked pole sitter and leader Josef Newgarden from there, often staying within only a couple car lengths of his gearbox.

Dixon, meanwhile, had a tougher chore after qualifying a disappointing 12th. Further, he was starting in the same lane as Will Power, and when Power had engine issues when the green flag waved, Dixon was one of several drivers who was swamped in the aftermath.

Scott Dixon had to come from deep in the field on Sunday’s KOHLER Grand Prix. Photo: IndyCar

However, as is his style, he quietly worked his way forward, running sixth after the opening round of pit stops, and then working his way up to third after the second round of stops.

It all meant that, after Lap 30, Newgarden, Hunter-Reay, and Dixon were nose-to-tail at the front, with the latter two in position to challenge for the win.

Yet, neither was able to do so. Hunter-Reay never got close enough to try to pass Newgarden, while Dixon couldn’t do so on either Hunter-Reay or Newgarden. And, neither driver went longer in their final stint – Dixon was actually the first of that group to pit, doing so on Lap 43, with Hunter-Reay and Newgarden pitting together one lap later.

And Newgarden pulled away in the final stint, winning by over three seconds, leaving Hunter-Reay and Dixon to finish second and third.

It was a somewhat bitter pill to swallow, with Hunter-Reay noting that he felt like he had enough to challenge for a win.

“I felt like we had the pace for (Newgarden), especially in the first two stints,” he asserted. “I really felt like it was going to be a really good race between us. Whether it be first, second, third, fourth stint – I didn’t know when it was going to come.”

He added that, if he could do it over again, he would have been more aggressive and tried to pass Newgarden in the opening stint.

“In hindsight, I should have pressured him a bit more in the first stint,” Hunter-Reay lamented. “We were focused on a fuel number at the time. Unfortunately that Penske fuel number comes into play, can’t really go hard.”

Dixon, meanwhile, expressed more disappointment in the result, asserting that qualifying better would have put him in a possibly race-winning position.

“I think had we started a little further up, we could have had a good shot at trying to fight for the win today,” he expressed.

The disappointment for Dixon also stems from the knowledge that his No. 9 PNC Bank Honda had the pace to win, especially longer into a run.

“The car was pretty good on the long stint,” he asserted. “I think for us the saving grace was probably the black tire stint two. We closed a hefty gap there. We were able to save fuel early in the first stint, which enabled us to go a lap longer than everybody, had the overcut for the rest of the race.

“I think speed-wise we were right there. Had a bit of a crack at Hunter-Reay on his out lap on the last stint there, but cooked it too much going into (Turn 14), got a bit loose, lost momentum. That would have been really the only chance of passing him.”

Dixon remains in the championship lead, however, by 45 points, while Hunter-Reay moved up to second, tied with Andretti Autosport teammate Alexander Rossi.

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