With IndyCar 2016’s first half complete, it’s Pagenaud’s title to lose

Photo: IndyCar

After his third successive Verizon IndyCar Series victory at the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Simon Pagenaud completed something he hadn’t done in six years – the in-season three-peat.

Then after the three races since that point to kick off May, Pagenaud has also built his points lead, despite missing two big opportunities in back-to-back races at the Indianapolis 500 (double points) and the first race at Detroit.

Pagenaud left the Angie’s List Grand Prix with a 76-point lead over Scott Dixon.

Three races later, despite finishes of 19th and 13th occurring before a runner-up on Sunday, that lead is now 80 points at the halfway point of the season.

“We leave here with an 80-points lead. We were strong everywhere,” Pagenaud said after finishing second on Sunday. “We were strong in Indy, just couldn’t finish the way we wanted it. Hopefully we can be strong in Texas and it will be okay.

“But, yeah, I’m very happy. I think we salvaged a pretty good weekend. Helio had a pretty bad day today. Dixon is behind. Those are the main contenders. So 80 points lead is big.”

Three golden opportunities to make up points and bring the field back to him have passed.

For a comparison of just how big Pagenaud’s lead is compared to the rest of the field, here are the respective gaps in positions down to 14th-placed Sebastien Bourdais, who was the highest-scoring driver in the field in the Detroit doubleheader weekend:

  • First (Pagenaud, 357) to second (Dixon, 277): 80 points
  • Second (Dixon, 277) to 14th (Bourdais, 210): 67 points

In simplest terms, that means there is a heck of a lot of shuffling that can go on for most of the field, but none of it will matter from a championship standpoint if Pagenaud doesn’t come back to the field with one or two more sub-15th place finishes to lower the gap.

He dodged two major bullets with the fact no one made up too much ground on him at either the ‘500 or Detroit race one.

And with only 67 points separating that next group of 13 drivers, it’s going to be difficult for any one driver to make too much headway from here unless someone gets on a roll of about two or three win/second-place finishes in a row.

The challenge from here for Pagenaud and Team Penske is to maintain enough calculated aggression to ensure he never settles the rest of the way.

Without that aggression, it can bite you and cost a championship. To be honest, that more or less undid Juan Pablo Montoya last year. He starred through his win at the Indianapolis 500, but then went nine more races before scoring his next podium at Pocono, the second-to-last race of the year.

This is also Pagenaud’s first true opportunity at being the “lead title contender” and will be a great test of his mental fortitude and resolve these final eight races.

Ryan Briscoe and Will Power in their first respective shots in 2009 and 2010 both failed to deliver the title in their first shot at it.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, meanwhile, pulled it off in 2012 – albeit with a bit of help when Power crashed out at Auto Club Speedway.

It was only after losing a title, and three of them in a row, that Power was able to pull through and deliver his first and thus far only championship in 2014.

After his phenomenal first half of the year – three wins, three runner-ups and four poles – it’s now time to see if Pagenaud has what it takes to secure his.

Otherwise, it could set up for another year for Chip Ganassi Racing to steal it away. Scott Dixon cleaned up Helio Castroneves’ lost chance in 2013, courtesy of a legendary second half comeback (then in a 19-race schedule), while he also famously capitalized on Montoya’s demise last year. Dario Franchitti took the 2009 and 2010 titles after Briscoe and Power faded late.

You can see the quest to catch Pagenaud in the final eight races of the year starting this Saturday night, at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, from Texas Motor Speedway.

Here’s the points breakdown after the Indianapolis 500 on the left, and then after Detroit on the right, with positions gained:

1 22 Pagenaud 292 1 22 Pagenaud 357
2 9 Dixon 235 2 9 Dixon 277
3 3 Castroneves 224 3 3 Castroneves 271
4 21 Newgarden 211 4 21 Newgarden 259
5 5 Hinchcliffe 205 5 98 Rossi 242 +1
6 98 Rossi 203 6 26 Munoz 242 +1
7 26 Munoz 199 7 10 Kanaan 240 +1
8 10 Kanaan 192 8 12 Power 240 +3
9 83 Kimball 189 9 2 Montoya 233 +1
10 2 Montoya 187 10 83 Kimball 227 -1
11 12 Power 178 11 5 Hinchcliffe 226 -6
12 15 Rahal 173 12 15 Rahal 225
13 28 Hunter-Reay 162 13 28 Hunter-Reay 224
14 11 Bourdais 134 14 11 Bourdais 210
15 14 Sato 134 15 18 Daly 177 +4
16 27 Andretti 130 16 14 Sato 173 -1
17 7 Aleshin 127 17 27 Andretti 166 -1
18 8 Chilton 122 18 7 Aleshin 155 -1
19 18 Daly 108 19 8 Chilton 139 -1
20 41 Hawksworth 91 20 41 Hawksworth 110

X44 Racing win 2022 Extreme E championship as Abt Cupra score first race victory

2022 Extreme E Uruguay
Extreme E

Abt Cupra Racing’s Nasser Al-Attiyah and Klara Andersson scored their first win in the Extreme E Energy X Prix in the 2022 finale in Uruguay as Lewis Hamilton’s X44 Vida Carbon Racing drivers Sebastien Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez survived a chaotic finale to edge the 2021 champion Rosberg X Prix team of Johan Kristoffersson and Mikhaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky, by two points.

“There are so many emotions,” Andersson said in Extreme E’s coverage. “I’ve been waiting for this for so long. In my second race, first full weekend to be at the top of the podium: it’s big.”

Andersson was behind the wheel at the finish.

Rosberg Racing entered the event with a 17-point advantage over X44, but the standings were close enough that four teams remained in contention in Round 5.

“It’s a crucial weekend for us,” Loeb said in Extreme E’s coverage prior to the race. “We are not in the best position to win the championship, but the only thing we can do is try to win the race and score as many points as possible.”

The top two title contenders each crashed in qualification and were relegated to the Crazy Race, Extreme E’s version of the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ). For the moment, they had the steepest hill to climb, but then the other two championship contending teams, Chip Ganassi Racing and Acciona Sainz Racing failed to advance from their heats.

Only one team advances from the Crazy Race, so the X44 drivers were in a must-win situation to simply keep hope alive.

More: Extreme E 2023 schedule

Ahlin-Kottulinsky and Gutierrez ran wheel to wheel into the first turn at the start of the LCQ.

The Rosberg racer experienced crash damage in that turn that damaged her front steering, but managed to limp back to the pits at the end of her two-lap stint. The team attempted to fix the steering, but incurred a penalty for having too many mechanics in the pit area.

Meanwhile, Gutierrez took the early lead, but knew she would need to sit through a five-second penalty for an incident earlier in the weekend. The female half of the gender equal pair erased the penalty by entering the Switch Zone with a five-second lead before turning the car over to Loeb.

That was all the nine-time World Rally Championship titlist needed to give him the advantage needed to win the Crazy Race.

But the championship was not over yet. X44 Racing needed to finish third or better in the five-car finale to earn enough points for the title and after advancing from the LCQ, they were forced to take the worst grid position.

A chaotic start to the Finale saw Loeb run as high the lead and low as fourth after getting pushed off course during his first lap. And that is how he entered to Switch Zone.

On her first lap, Gutierrez slammed into Molly Taylor. With one lap remaining, X44 and Gutierrez were still in fourth and the title hope was quickly evaporating, but it was announced halfway through the lap that the third-running Andretti United team would suffer a penalty for a Switch Zone infraction. The seven-second deduction for Timmy Hansen braking too late in the zone made the difference in the title.

Coming off a disappointing Copper X Prix when Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour crossed under the checkers first, but were relegated to fifth by penalty, the McLaren pair scored their first podium of the season in second.