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

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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.:”

Final 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona results, stats

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona overall results were all streaks: two consecutive victories in the endurance classic for Meyer Shank Racing and three in a row for Acura.

And Helio Castroneves became the second driver to win three consecutive Rolex 24s and the first to win in three straight years (Peter Gregg won in 1973, ’75 and ’76; the race wasn’t held in ’74 because of a global oil crisis).

Starting from the pole position, Tom Blomqvist took the checkered flag in the No. 60 ARX-06 that led a race-high 365 of 783 laps with co-drivers Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Colin Braun.

RESULTS: Click here for the finishing order in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona l By class

Meyer Shank Racing now has two Rolex 24 victories and the 2022 championship since entering the premier prototype category of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2021.

“I think what’s so special about this team is we are a small team compared to some of our opponents, but the atmosphere, the way we work, enables people to get the best out of themselves, and I think that’s why we’re such high achievers,” Blomqvist said. “I think there’s no egos. It’s a very open book, and that just enables each and every one of us to reach our potential. I think that’s why we’ve achieved so much success in really a short time at this level of competition.”

It’s the 16th IMSA victory for MSR.

The 61st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona marked the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category that brought hybrid engine technology to IMSA’s top level.

In other categories:

LMP2: James Allen passed Ben Hanley on the final lap and delivered a victory in the No. 55 ORECA by 0.016 seconds. It’s the second IMSA victory for Proton Competition, which last won at Sebring in 2012. It was the first Rolex 24 victory for Allen and co-drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Fred Poordad and Francesco Pizzi.

GTD Pro: Cooper MacNeil won in the last start of his IMSA career as the No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3 scored the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for WeatherTech Racing and the team’s fourth career victory.

MacNeil, who co-drove with Maro Engel, Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella, earned his 12th career victory and first at the Rolex 24.

“Winning by last IMSA race is tremendous,” MacNeil said.

GTD: The No. 27 Heart of Racing Team delivered the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for Aston Martin, which has been competing in endurance races at Daytona International Speedway since 1964. Drivers Marco Sorensen, Roman De Angelis, Darren Turner and Ian James (also the team principal) earned the victory in the English brand’s 13th attempt.

It’s also the first Rolex 24 at Daytona win for Heart of Racing, which has seven IMSA wins.

LMP3: Anthony Mantella, Wayne Boyd, Nico Varrone and Thomas Merrill drove the No. 17 AWA Duqueine D08 to victory by 12 laps for the team’s first class win in IMSA.


STATS PACKAGE FOR ROLEX 24 HOURS OF DAYTONA:

Fastest laps by driver

Fastest laps by driver after race (over the weekend)

Fastest laps by driver and class after race

Fastest lap sequence

Lap chart

Leader sequence

Race analysis by lap

Stint analysis

Time cards

Pit stop time cards

Best sector times

Race distance and speed average

Flag analysis

Weather report

NEXT: The 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will resume with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 18 with coverage across NBC, USA and Peacock.