by Mary Champion
Speedway, Ind., May 14 – It was very cold at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis but Simon Pagenaud was red hot as he piloted his Menards Team Penske Chevrolet to his third straight victory in the Verizon IndyCar Series on Saturday. The last time a driver scored three straight IndyCar Series victories was in 2013, when Scott Dixon scored a trifecta with a win at Pocono and a sweep of the Toronto doubleheader.
It was Pagenaud’s second victory in the event as he won the inaugural Grand Prix in 2014. He dominated this race in which his teammate, Helio Castroneves, finished second and James Hinchcliffe made a successful return to the Speedway after his near-fatal accident last May, with a third place finish.
For the third straight year, the field was not able to get through the first turn on the first lap without an incident. This year, going into the turn, the field went wide and Scott Dixon pinched Tony Kanaan into the outside wall. Sebastien Bourdais then ran into Kanaan’s car, bringing out the yellow.
Bourdais was able to restart his car and get back to the pits for repairs, but Kanaan was through for the day.
Kanaan was philosophical about the incident “It was a quick and unfortunate end to our day. It’s a very wide track here at the IMS road course and people were going three and four wide. Scott (Dixon) was trying to give me room and I was trying to do the same with others but it was just a racing incident. I don’t think it was any one person’s fault. It’s just disappointing.”
The track went green on Lap 5 with Pagenaud, who sat on the pole, leading the field into Turn 1, followed by Hinchcliffe, Charlie Kimball, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jack Hawksworth.
On Lap 6, Will Power, who was running back in the pack, did a solo spin in Turn 7 and was able to keep going, but went even further back in the running order.
By Lap 11, Pagenaud had built up a 1.4 second lead over Hinchcliffe and appeared to be on his way to dominating the race, which he ultimately did.
Pit stops began on Lap 18, scrambling the field, as Pagenaud led Kimball by almost four seconds.
Pagenaud pitted on Lap 22, relinquishing the lead to Kimball, who pitted on the following lap.
Rahal, who started 24rd, took the lead when Kimball pitted. Pagenaud re-assumed the lead on Lap 25 when Rahal headed to the pits.
Conor Daly, Gabby Chaves and Power were in the pits on Lap 38 when the yellow came out after Bourdais pulled off course in Turn 2, giving those drivers, especially Daly, an advantage over the cars that were yet to pit.
At that point, Pagenaud was still in the lead followed by Kimball, Hinchcliffe, Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
On the following lap, while the field was still under the yellow, JR Hildebrand ran out of fuel on the course and had to be towed back to the pits, lengthening the yellow flag period.
The leaders pitted when the pits opened on Lap 40, leaving Castroneves, who did not pit, and Daly out on the track in the top two positions. Hinchcliffe won the race off pit road ahead on Pagenaud, Kimball, Dixon and Hunter-Reay.
The green came back out on Lap 46 with Castroneves leading, but Daly took the lead from him in Turn 1 while Pagenaud passed Hinchcliffe for the third position.
Daly led, followed by Castroneves, until he pitted on Lap 60, turning the lead over to Castroneves, who pitted two laps later.
When Castroneves pitted, Pagenaud took back the race lead and maintained it for the rest of the event, despite pitting on Lap 63.
On Lap 66, Pagenaud held a 3.76 second lead on Castroneves while Daly was third, Hinchcliffe was fourth and Rahal rounded out the top five.
Hinchcliffe was able to pass Daly to claim third on Lap 70.
Pagenaud went on to score his third victory of the season and seventh of his career with a 4.4748 second victory over Castroneves. Hinchcliffe finished third while Rahal was fourth, Kimball was fifth and Daly fell through the field to finish sixth.
After leading 57 of the 82 laps in the race, Pagenaud was understandably happy.
“The car was fantastic once again. The balance was perfect all race. When we were in the lead, we were cruising, doing what we could to save the tires. But the car was just fantastic to drive,” he exclaimed.
“What a day! Three races! It’s incredible to win three in a row like this and here in Indy for me, its very special. This place is very special in my heart,” he added.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be closed tomorrow to reconfigure the track into the traditional oval with practice for the 100th Indy 500 beginning on Monday, May 16.