Pagenaud unsure if he could’ve held Kimball back in final laps

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Simon Pagenaud said that issues with lapped traffic – particularly, Andretti Autosport’s E.J. Viso – didn’t help him as he tried to hang on to the lead in Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. However, he also admitted that he wasn’t sure if he could keep race winner Charlie Kimball behind him in the closing laps.

Pagenaud made his final stop with 18 laps remaining and came out of pit road as the race leader ahead of Kimball. But the Schmidt-Hamilton Motorsports driver found himself dicing briefly with Viso going into “The Keyhole” at Turn 2 as Kimball closed in.

Dealing with cold tires, Pagenaud was caught on the backstretch of the 2.26-mile circuit and Kimball made a bold pass on the inside going into Turn 4 for the lead. He would not give it up and cruised to his inaugural IZOD IndyCar Series win.

“I knew it was going to be close, but our ‘friend’ Viso, again, was in the middle of the racetrack and racing the leader, so that didn’t help,” said Pagenaud. “It is what it is. It’s racing. But it’s frustrating when there’s no need for it really.

“If it wasn’t for Viso, I think I could have kept my lead for at least [a little] longer. But Charlie was really strong, anyways. I don’t know if I could have kept him behind.”

But Pagenaud was still pleased with his first podium finish since winning Race 2 of the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit weekend back in June at Belle Isle Park.

Like Kimball, he opted to go with a three-stop strategy, beginning his race from eighth position on the primary “black” Firestones and then going to the alternate “reds” on his first stop at Lap 25. He would stick with the “reds” for the remainder of the 90-lap race.

“We knew we had a very consistent car, but the goal was to come back to the leaders at the end of the first stint, and then put on the new set of [reds] – we knew the car would be good on those tires,” Pagenaud explained.

“And then my race was basically to go really, really fast on the second stint to try to jump the guys in front, because it’s really difficult to pass on the racetrack. The goal was to try to pass as many cars as possible doing that strategy, and we did.”

Pagenaud led twice in the race for a total of 14 laps.

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).