From last to first: Simon Pagenaud wins IndyCar race at Iowa


Simon Pagenaud overcame a last-place starting spot to win Friday night at Iowa Speedway, stopping Chip Ganassi Racing’s bid for a fifth consecutive victory to begin the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season.

The Team Penske driver started 23rd (and will start last again Saturday) after failing to post a qualifying lap because of a mechanical problem but still managed the 15th victory of his IndyCar career and first since Toronto last July.

“Wow, this place is tough,” Pagenaud said after leading a race-high 83 laps and finishing 0.4954 seconds ahead of Scott Dixon for his first IndyCar victory at Iowa. “What a night. What a day for us. Amazing group effort from the whole Team Penske. We unloaded really well. Qualifying was disheartening, but these guys never give up, and that’s what this team is all about.

“I can’t believe it. I have to rewatch the race. How did I get there? I don’t know. The last 50 laps were lots of tension. When Dixon is chasing you, you better hit your marks.”

Dixon, who was trying to keep Ganassi’s streak intact with his fourth victory of the season, finished second at Iowa for the second consecutive year.

“Congratulations to Pagenaud, that was an awesome race,” said Dixon, who started 17th. “Proud to be powered by Honda; they did a tremendous job on fuel mileage. That’s really what enabled us to stay out, get that fuel mileage and jump a couple of cars. We had a pretty dreadful car in qualifying. We worked on it.”

Rookie Oliver Askew finished a career-best third, followed by Arrow McLaren SP teammate Pato O’Ward and Penske’s Josef Newgarden, whose No. 1 Dallara-Chevrolet led 68 laps and might have been the fastest car but got burned by a 26-lap yellow flag

 “I wish everyone could see my smile right now,” Askew said. “This No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet just absolutely came alive when the track became cooler. ‘If that yellow didn’t come out there near the race end, I think we would have had a shot at least 1-2 there. That’s probably one of the funnest races I’ve done in my life.”

Said Newgarden: “The caution was certainly the nail in the coffin. Without sounding sound too overconfident, we had the car to beat tonight. Hands down. So it’s frustrating. I’ve got to be honest: I’m so angry about the way that this all transpired. Some of it is just bad luck. The yellow coming out when it came out, you can’t predict that stuff. I had a rocket ship, and I’m sad we couldn’t put our car in victory lane. I’m really proud of my guys.”

The race was run under green for the first 143 of 250 laps, but two long caution flags changed the complexion of the event. The first was when Will Power hit the Turn 1 wall on Lap 146 because his left front-wheel came loose after a pit stop.

On what was supposed to be the ensuing restart, Colton Herta and Rinus VeeKay collided in a spectacular crash (video above) during a restart that was waved off because O’Ward was ruled to have jumped the green flag.

Herta and VeeKay were unhurt, and the running order was significantly jumbled by the race’s lone caution going so long during a critical pit-stop sequence.

Despite starting last, Pagenaud was among the first lead-lap cars to pit on Lap 58, putting him on fresher tires that helped him gain 3 seconds a lap (as tire degradation, always a major factor at Iowa, seemingly became even more magnified by the heavier aeroscreen). He took his first lead on Lap 138 of 250.

“All of a sudden they said, ‘You’re the leader,’ ” Pagenaud said. “I’m like, they’ve got it wrong, there’s no way I’m the leader. I know we’re fast, but I didn’t think I passed everybody.

“I realized at the start we were really strong. I realized on long runs we were really strong, but we short pitted, and then I passed a lot of people during the pit sequence. So I didn’t get to see the cars I passed, but all of a sudden they’re telling me that (indiscernible) is for position, Josef is for position, I’m like, wow, we’re right there in the mix, we’re right there for the win, and that was early in the race, too. I think that was by lap 80. So pretty early on we were right back in it.”

From there I just kept my head down really. I just kept pushing. I just kept attacking and I just kept listening to the race car and what we needed to keep going. We didn’t have to make any changes at the end. It was just a matter of being on the right tire at the right time. Glad it didn’t go yellow at the end there, that would have thrown a big curve ball.

Pagenaud said it was a “turbo pressure issue … a problem that’s really rare” that kept his No. 22 Dallara-Chevrolet from starting on the qualifying grid. The 2016 IndyCar champion said it might have been the first mechanical problem he’d had in seven seasons at Team Penske.

“Luckily we were able to fix it,” Pagenaud said. “You have to be fortunate about the situation you’re in sometimes, and sometimes there’s going to be outside factors you can’t control, but this team, as you see, is able to always bounce back, and I think that’s the strength, and that’s what’s impressive to me.

“I think we had a car for both poles, so (Saturday) we’re going to have, again, a lot of work to do, but actually starting at the back allows you to learn really early on about lane usage, tire wear. So I think I started really aggressive and dialed it back a little bit afterwards, so that was a different approach to some of the races I’ve been starting at the front on ovals. Interesting for sure, but yeah, just very fortunate that my team had a great strategy, were able to lay down some fast laps in pit sequence and get to the front.”

After a dismal race weekend at Road America (where he was 12th and 13th), Pagenaud gained a spot to second in the points standings behind Dixon.

The Frenchman has three podium finishes in five races despite starting in the top 15 only once this season — a trend he hopes to continue when he will start last in the second race at Iowa.

“Hey, I never give up,” Pagenaud said. “I’m going to go to bed, I’m going to rest, and then (Saturday) morning I’m going to put the knife between my teeth and I’m going from last to first.:”

Ryan Hunter-Reay hired as replacement for Conor Daly at Ed Carpenter Racing

Ryan Hunter-Reay Carpenter
Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Ryan Hunter-Reay was named to replace Conor Daly in Ed Carpenter Racing’s No. 20 Dallara-Chevrolet, starting in the NTT IndyCar Series event next week at Road America.

Hunter-Reay is the 2012 series champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner. He finished 11th for Dreyer & Reinbold last month in the 107th Indy 500, his first start since the 2021 season finale. He drove full time for Andretti Autosport from 2010-21.

“We need to improve our competitiveness and I wanted to add a fresh perspective from a driver like Ryan who has a massive amount of experience and success as well as a reputation as a team leader. I am excited to welcome Ryan to the team,” team owner Ed Carpenter said in a team release. “We have worked together in the past as teammates and he tested for ECR at Barber Motorsports Park in October 2021, where he made an immediate impact as we were able to qualify one of our cars on the pole following that test. I am confident that his experience and technical abilities will be an asset to ECR as we move forward toward our goals as a team.”

Hunter-Reay has 18 IndyCar victories, most recently in 2018. He also is a winner in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, having been a part of winning entries in the 2020 Twelve Hours of Sebring and 2018 Petit Le Mans. Last year, he was an endurance driver for Cadillac Racing while being on standby for Chip Ganassi Racing.

He replaces Daly, whose departure was announced a day earlier in what the driver and team said was a mutual decision.

“I was surprised when I got the call from Ed,” Hunter-Reay said in a team release. “He described how frustrated he was that his team has not been able to realize its potential despite their efforts, investments, as well as technical and personnel changes over the past few years and asked for my help. Ed and I are very close friends and have been for a long time. I’ve worked with the team in the past and they are a very talented group with high expectations and a committed partner in BITNILE.COM.

“This will certainly be a challenge for me as well. It’s a tough situation jumping in a car in the middle of the season without any testing in what I believe to be the most competitive series in the world. Certainly, part of my motivation in saying ‘yes’ to Ed is the great challenge ahead. The last time I turned right driving an NTT IndyCar Series car was in October of 2021 with this team at Barber. However, I remain very confident in both my driving and technical abilities and believe by working with the talented people at ECR and Team Chevy, while representing BITNILE.COM, we will make progress. I am going to do everything I can do to help the team achieve its long-term objectives.”

Said Milton “Todd” Ault, the chairman of sponsor “It is great for to be aligned with an Indy 500 Winner and an NTT IndyCar Series champion. I have followed Ryan’s career for years and I am confident he will challenge the entire ECR team to perform at higher levels. I wish everyone luck at Road America.”