April 24 in Motorsports History: Simon Pagenaud wins at Barber


After a tough first season with Team Penske in the year prior, things finally began to click for Simon Pagenaud in 2016.

The Frenchman finished second in the first two races of 2016 at St. Petersburg and Phoenix and then scored his first victory in nearly two years in the Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Simon Pagenaud celebrates after winning the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park on April 24, 2016. (Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images)

One week later, the IndyCar Series traveled to Barber Motorsports Park for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. Pagenaud proved a legitimate contender early in the weekend, winning the pole position Saturday.

On Sunday, April 24, Pagenaud dominated the race, leading all but six laps. While he made the race look like an easy Sunday drive early, Pagenaud got caught up in lapped traffic in the closing laps, allowing Graham Rahal to catch up and challenge him for the lead.

On Lap 82 of 90, Rahal made contact with Pagenaud as he passed for the lead in Turn 7. The incident forced Pagenaud off track and damaged Rahal’s front wing.

While Pagenaud lost the lead, he still was able to catch up to Rahal four laps later. As Pagenaud attempted to pass Rahal at the exit of turn six, Rahal made contact with the lapped car of Jack Hawksworth, destroying his front wing completely and ending any chance he had to hold off Pagenaud.

Exiting Turn 14, Pagenaud retook the lead from Rahal. He won by 13.748 seconds over Rahal.

“I had a really fast car,” Pagenaud told NBC Sports in Victory Lane. “With traffic, it was all about making sure I could keep Graham behind me.

“Anyways, I won the race. Graham damaged his front wing, so I just took my chances. I didn’t know he was struggling. Then I just ran away. … I’m driving my best and having a fantastic time with the whole team.”

Pagenaud would continue to drive his best in 2016, winning three more times. His final victory came in the season finale at Sonoma Raceway on Sept. 18, clinching his first series championship.

Also on this date:

1966: Rodger Ward won the Trenton 150 in his next-to-last open-wheel start. Born on Jan. 10, 1921, in Beloit, Kansas, Ward served as a fighter pilot in WWII.

After leaving the service in 1946, Ward began a successful racing career that would see him amass 26 open-wheel victories including the Indy 500 in 1959 and 1962. After racing, Ward served as a broadcaster for ABC Sports and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network. He died on July 5, 2004.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994

IndyCar Power Rankings: Pato O’Ward moves to the top entering Texas Motor Speedway


The NBC Sports IndyCar power rankings naturally were as jumbled as the action on the streets of St. Petersburg after a chaotic opener to the 2023 season.

Pato O’Ward, who finished second because of an engine blip that cost him the lead with a few laps remaining, moves into the top spot ahead of St. Pete winner Marcus Ericsson and Alexander Rossi, who finished fourth in his Arrow McLaren debut. Scott Dixon and St. Pete pole-sitter Romain Grosjean (who led 31 laps) rounded out the top five.

St. Pete pole-sitter Romain Grosjean (who started first at St. Pete after capturing his second career pole position) Callum Ilott (a career-best fifth) and Graham Rahal entered the power rankings entering the season’s second race.

Three drivers fell out of the preseason top 10 after the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – including previously top-ranked Josef Newgarden, who finished 17th after qualifying 14th.

Heading into Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, here’s NBC Sports’ assessment of the current top 10 drivers through the first of 17 races this year (with previous preseason rankings in parenthesis):

NBC Sports’ IndyCar Power Rankings

1. Pato O’Ward (5) – If not for the dreaded “plenum event” in the No. 5 Chevrolet, the Arrow McLaren driver is opening the season with a victory capping a strong race weekend.

2. Marcus Ericsson (7) – He might be the most opportunistic driver in IndyCar, but that’s because the 2022 Indy 500 winner has become one of the series’ fastest and most consistent stars.

3. Alexander Rossi (10) – He overcame a frustrating Friday and mediocre qualifying to open his Arrow McLaren career with the sort of hard-earned top five missing in his last years at Andretti.

4. Scott Dixon (3) – Put aside his opening-lap skirmish with former teammate Felix Rosenqvist, and it was a typically stealthily good result for the six-time champion.

5. Romain Grosjean (NR) – The St. Petersburg pole-sitter consistently was fastest on the streets of St. Petersburg over the course of the race weekend, which he couldn’t say once last year.

6. Scott McLaughlin (6) – Easily the best of the Team Penske drivers before his crash with Grosjean, McLaughlin drove like a legitimate 2023 championship contender.

7. Callum Ilott (NR) – A quietly impressive top five for the confident Brit in Juncos Hollinger Racing’s first race as a two-car team. Texas will be a big oval litmus test.

8. Graham Rahal (NR) – Sixth at St. Pete, Rahal still has the goods on street courses, and Rahal Letterman Lanigan remains headed in the right direction.

9. Alex Palou (4) – He seemed a step behind Ericsson and Dixon in the race after just missing the Fast Six in qualifying, but this was a solid start for Palou.

10. Will Power (2) – An uncharacteristic mistake that crashed Colton Herta put a blemish on the type of steady weekend that helped him win the 2022 title.

Falling out (last week): Josef Newgarden (1), Colton Herta (8), Christian Lundgaard (9)