A tough finale, but Pagenaud, SPM end third in points after great year

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Simon Pagenaud’s last race of the year didn’t go according to plan – a late-race engine issue thwarted a great comeback after an early race tire issue – but the driver of the No. 77 HP Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports Honda ended the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series third in the points standings, an incredible effort.

Pagenaud, in his second full season in IndyCar after a partial 2011 and a solitary Champ Car campaign in 2007, produced the second straight top-five championship finish for Sam Schmidt’s squad. He was fifth last year and secured the SUNOCO Rookie-of-the-Year honors – an achievement matched by teammate Tristan Vautier this year – while in 2013, Pagenaud got his first two victories at Detroit Race 2 and Baltimore as part of a second half surge this year.

“We’ve been able to show that we can be strong on each type of track now,” Pagenaud said in a team release. “It’s only our second year but we came home third in the championship, which is seriously cool. I’m so proud of the guys and the HP team for what we’ve accomplished this year.”

As for the race itself, Pagenaud was forced to pit on Lap 5 with his tire pressures too high, so he changed all four. That put him a lap down and sent him into an early hole. However, he recovered admirably throughout the rest of the night, getting back on the lead lap and making it into the top five before the late-race engine issue with just 33 laps remaining. Pagenaud was classified 13th.

“The first few laps were difficult because we had an issue with our tires,” Pagenaud said. “Luckily we were able to recover from that. We had an incredible race car, and I couldn’t believe how strong it was in traffic. We drove our way back from one lap down to eighth, and then we even ran as high as fourth.”

Pagenaud’s former teammate at Team Australia in that 2007 Champ Car season, Will Power, leapt to fourth in the final standings with his third win in the last five races. One-time points leader Marco Andretti, who finished seventh, secured fifth in the championship and was best of the four Andretti Autosport cars.

The rest of the top 10: Justin Wilson, defending series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, Charlie Kimball and Dario Franchitti. Wilson’s sixth is the best for Dale Coyne Racing since Bruno Junqueira was seventh in that 2007 Champ Car campaign, and ninth for Kimball is a career-best.

More on all their seasons will come in the following days and weeks.