Pagenaud victorious in Grand Prix of Phoenix
By John Haverlin
May 1, 2017
AVONDALE, Ariz.—Defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud is now an oval race winner.
The Team Penske driver earned his first victory of 2017 in Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix on Saturday night. Teammate Will Power finished second and J.R. Hildebrand finished third, giving them each their first podiums of the year.
The 255-mile race opened with a six-car wreck on lap one. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver Mikhail Aleshin broke loose on the exit of Turn 2 and Conor Daly, Marco Andretti, Sebastien Bourdais, Max Chilton, and Graham Rahal were all collected in the accident. Bourdais entered the race as the points leader but fell to fourth in the standings when the checkered flag waved.
Bourdais, driving for Dale Coyne Racing, didn’t expect to sustain a champion lead for long, knowing he competes for one of the series’ smaller teams. But crashing before completing a lap certainly isn’t what the Frenchman envisioned for the night.
“It's disappointing to lose the points lead like this,” he said. “I knew we would lose it this weekend but we're really missing out on some precious points. Plus, there's a lot of damage to the car and we really didn't need that."
Fellow countryman Pagenaud took over the top place in the standings and leads Scott Dixon by 18 points.
HILDEBRAND SPOILS THE PENSKE PARTY
All four Penske cars ran in the top-five throughout the race. The only non-Penske car? J.R. Hildebrand’s No. 21 Chevrolet.
The Ed Carpenter Racing driver started and finished third at the desert oval. He earned his second career podium and first since the 2011 Indianapolis 500, where he was runner up.
“The car was just awesome all day,” Hildebrand said. “It was a little tricky on those first starts and restarts. I couldn't quite get the timing right and the other guys were running a little less downforce than we were.
“Towards the end of the race, I really felt like I had something for Will Power there. If we were in a little more traffic for a little longer, I think we could have gotten him. That's where we were at our best at this race, just running in a whole pack of cars.”
NEWGARDEN, HUNTER-REAY HAVE ISSUES NEAR THE END
Last week’s winner Josef Newgarden and Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay made contact with 30 laps to go and it cost both drivers a potential top-10 finish. Newgarden, who made a front wing replacement midway through the race, was forced to make another on Lap 223 and was relegated to ninth place.
Hunter-Reay got the worst of it, though. He grazed the outside wall of Turn 2 and came to pit also, but never returned to the track. His No. 28 suffered a rear suspension failure and ended up 13th.
Said Hunter-Reay: “The DHL car had a great start. We got by a bunch of guys and then we got a puncture. It's just the way it's been. Dixon was coming up behind me there, stuck his nose in. I was afraid I'd turn across, and I should've just turned across. I got out into the gray and two guys got by me. Then I got down into Turn 1 and the car wouldn't turn at all.”
IndyCar heads to the homeland for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on May 13th and the 101st Indianapolis 500 on May 28.