Simon Pagenaud wins wild IndyCar Grand Prix at IMS

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Simon Pagenaud won Saturday’s running of the IndyCar Grand Prix after a wet and wild afternoon that saw top championship contenders Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi experience misfortune.

The Team Penske driver collected his first series win since Sonoma in 2017, passing race leader Scott Dixon with two laps to go. Pagenaud’s victory was his third on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, having previously won the inaugural event in 2014 for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, as well as the 2016 running for Penske.

Penske has now won five consecutive races on the 2.439-mile road course; with Pagenaud’s teammate Will Power winning in 2015, ’17 and ’18.

“It was amazing, the whole race,” Pagenaud told NBC Sports following his 12th career IndyCar victory. “Third time, so I’m equal with Will. That’s awesome! We kept it in the Penske family. I can’t believe it. It’s awesome. What a race.”

With his winless streak finally over at 21 races, Pagenaud has proven that he still has what it takes to win in the NTT IndyCar Series – something that some fans may have doubted, but Pagenaud himself never did.

“I know what I’m worth,” Pagenaud said. “I have to get everything right, and we did that this weekend. Slowly and surely, we got there. The stars just didn’t align before, but the performance has always been there this year. The team has been fantastic at giving me what I need, so here we are.”

Dixon held on to finish second for the third time this year, and for the third year in a row at the IndyCar GP. Despite another runner-up, the defending series champion tried to focus on the positives following the race.

“All in all, [it was] a solid effort,” Dixon said. “It sucks to obviously lead that many laps and then come up short but again, congrats to Simon. He drove a hell of a race, and it’s nice to see him back in Victory Lane.”

Jack Harvey, who qualified third and ran up front all day, finished where he started for his first career podium.

“I believed in this team since the Indy 500 in 2017, and I knew this weekend could happen eventually and everyone at Meyer Shank Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports just worked so hard to give us that,” Harvey said.

“It wasn’t an easy race being half dry, half wet, but we put on a great show for everybody. You can see how happy these guys were just getting a podium. Can you imagine how happy we’re going to be when we finally get a win?”

Both series points leader Josef Newgarden, who started 13th, and second-ranked Alexander Rossi, who started 17th, needed some good luck to get through the 85-lap event.

Neither driver’s wishes would be granted. Newgarden finished a disappointing 15th, and Rossi fared even worse, finishing four laps down in 22nd.

Rossi’s race effectively ended as soon as it began, when Patricio O’Ward ran into the back of Rossi’s No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda at the start of the race. Rossi then clipped the inside wall on the frontstretch, and was forced to pit before completing his first full lap.

O’Ward earned a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact, but Rossi had to soldier on well out of contention for the victory.

Newgarden, whose race looked promising after leading 20 laps via pit strategy, saw all of his luck quickly evaporate when a tire from his pit box rolled onto pit road during a disastrous stop under caution on Lap 60.

Race control assessed a penalty to Newgarden, and he had to restart the race from the tail end of the field.

Rossi and Newgarden weren’t the only drivers to experience misfortune during Saturday’s race. The wet conditions saw several drivers go off track, including veterans Takuma Sato and Helio Castroneves, the latter bringing out the aforementioned caution for spinning in turn 1 after exiting the pits.

The first yellow flew on Lap 11 when Marcus Ericsson spun in Turn 14. Ericsson’s No. 7 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Honda slid across the grass separating the interior road course from the oval before making contact with the SAFER barrier. Ericsson walked away from the incident unscathed but out of the race.

Once the green flag came back out on Lap 16, Scott Dixon made a phenomenal move, passing Jack Harvey and Rosenqvist to take the lead in Turn 1 after Rosenqvist locked up entering the corner.

Moments later, the yellow flag came out again, as Harvey made contact with Colton Herta, causing the Harding Steinbrenner Racing driver to spin.

James Hinchcliffe then made contact with Ryan Hunter-Reay, who spun and hit Herta’s car as well.

Hinchcliffe was assessed a drive-through penalty, and Herta logged another disappointing DNF – continuing his streak of misfortune since winning the inaugural IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas earlier this season.

Josef Newgarden left the race still atop the series standings with 182 points. Scott Dixon moved up to second in the standings (-6) with his podium finish, pushing Alexander Rossi down to third (-36).

The NTT IndyCar Series now gears up for the biggest race of the year, the 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500, which will air live on NBC, Sunday, May 26.

Click here for full race results

Click here for the points standings.

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Ben Hanley relieved to make Indy 500 debut

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Qualifying for the Indy 500 is never an easy task, especially for a new driver and team, and with 36 cars vying for 33 starting positions last weekend, 34-year-old rookie Ben Hanley knew there was a chance he and his DragonSpeed team would not make the show.

“I wouldn’t say we were very confident, but we wanted to [make the field],” Hanley told NBC Sports. “The biggest thing we were trying to achieve was to not be on track on Sunday in the shootout because it only takes one mistake or one little issue and that’s it, you’re not in the race.”

But Hanley would not have to worry about being bumped from the field. He qualified 27th after making three attempts on Day 1, which was enough to lock the No. 81 team into the show. Not too shabby for a driver and team making only their third NTT IndyCar Series start.

THE 103RD INDIANAPOLIS 500: Click here for how to watch, full daily schedules

“That last run everything just came together,” Hanley said. “We trimmed out a little bit more and found a good balance of trim and grip over four [qualifying] laps and it was enough to get us through.

“It was a huge relief to get through in P27. A massive achievement for everybody involved.”

Indeed it was a massive achievement, as DragonSpeed is one of the smallest teams in the garage, with no corporate sponsors and a tiny team of around 20 personnel. Many of those were picked up by the team just a week before qualifying, when members of the team’s regular crew were denied entry into the United States due to visa issues after leaving a sports car race in Italy.

“It was all down to the team organizing some people who were in and around Indianapolis who weren’t needed for the race weekend,” Hanley said. “Obviously, I don’t think many people are going to refuse the chance to work on a car that’s trying to qualify for the 500.”

Though the team made its first Indy 500 on Day 1 of qualifying, the DragonSpeed team did not spend Saturday night out late celebrating. Instead, Hanley said the extra time was spent preparing for the race.

“We went straight on to race prep then for the car, so Sunday was a good day for the guys to take time to prep the car into the race spec and get everything sorted out in a nice, organized manner.”

Following the Indy 500, DragonSpeed will run two other races this season at Road America and Mid-Ohio. The team is hopeful that a good run at Indy will result in an opportunity to run a bigger schedule next season and attract sponsors.

Hanley stated that though he’s happy to have made the Indy 500 starting grid for the first time in his career, the magnitude of his feat hasn’t hit him yet.

“It hasn’t really soaked in yet,” he said. “I think it will soak in on Sunday when we roll out to the grid.

“It was such a huge relief to not be involved in Bump Day. Even just watching [Bump Day] it was intense, especially with the weather. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be involved in that.”

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