Pagenaud Resumes IndyCar Championship Swagger with Mid-Ohio Win …

Posted: August 3, 2016 in Uncategorized
The podium of Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Carlos Munoz hoist their trophies in Victory Circle following the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio -- IndyCar Image by Chris Jones

The podium of Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Carlos Munoz hoist their trophies in Victory Circle following the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio — IndyCar Image by Chris Jones

LEXINGTON, Ohio (Sunday, July 31, 2016) – If there were any questions that Simon Pagenaud was feeling the pressure of the Verizon IndyCar Series title battle, the Team Penske driver answered them emphatically with an aggressive victory at today’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.

Pagenaud, in the No. 22 PPG Automotive Refinish Chevrolet, banged his way past teammate and primary championship contender Will Power for the deciding pass of the race and drove on to a 4.1620-second victory. Coupled with winning the Verizon P1 Award in qualifying Saturday, Pagenaud extended his championship advantage to 58 points over Power with 12 of 16 races completed.

“The car was really good today, so when it was time to push, it was easy to lay down some fast laps,” said Pagenaud, who picked up his series-leading fourth win this season and eighth of his career. “The red Firestone tires were amazing today on the car. I just pushed as hard as we could and here we are. It’s awesome, four wins this year.”

Simon Pagenaud leads the field through Turns 5 & 6 during the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio -- IndyCar Image by Joe Skibinski

Simon Pagenaud leads the field through Turns 5 & 6 in the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio — IndyCar Image by Joe Skibinski

Starting from pole, Pagenaud led only 17 laps through the first two-thirds of the 90-lap race – the 32nd Indy car event on the permanent road course since 1980 – due to teams’ differing fuel strategies. Power, in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, even passed his teammate during a mid-race pit-stop sequence by staying on track two laps longer.

The decisive moment of the race came on a Lap 66 restart with Power running second and Pageanud third. Pagenaud made repeated bold overtaking maneuvers throughout the lap, with the two Penske cars making side-to-side contact several times until Pagenaud finally forced his way past Power exiting the 13th and final turn on the 2.258-mile circuit.

Simon Pagenaud sets up for Turn 5 during the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio -- IndyCar Image by Chris Owens

Simon Pagenaud sets up for Turn 5 during the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio — IndyCar Image by Chris Owens

Pagenaud pulled away from Power and then waited out race leader Conor Daly, who had to stop for a splash of Sunoco E85R ethanol six laps shy of the finish.

“It was an awesome battle with Will there,” Pagenaud said. “I knew that was my chance on that restart, it was time to go. It was a pretty interesting lap, fun driving like that. That’s racing. It was fair, it was clean, it was hard racing.”

Power, who collected his fifth straight top-two finish of the season, was mad at himself for not getting a good jump on the critical restart.

“I was sleeping on that restart and I regret that,” Power admitted. “I should have been on it, then I got marbles on the tires. It was a good, clean battle. It was tough but it sucked finishing second, all the effort you put into that race. But Simon did a bloody good job and it’s turning into a pretty good battle.”.

Simon Pagenaud leads the field to the green flag to start the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio -- IndyCar Image by Bret Kelley

Simon Pagenaud leads the field of the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio — IndyCar Image by Bret Kelley

Carlos Munoz used a fuel-saving strategy to finish third in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda, the Colombian’s best showing since he placed second at the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in May. Defending race winner Graham Rahal finished fourth in the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda.

Pagenaud has totaled 484 points in the 12 completed races to 426 for Power. The Team Penske duo achieved some separation from several other contenders who had issues in the race.

Five-time Mid-Ohio winner and 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon and two-time Mid-Ohio winner Helio Castroneves had contact on Lap 15, snapping Dixon’s left front suspension and damaging Castroneves’ left rear wheel guard. Castroneves ended up in 15th place and Dixon 22nd and last.

“I got alongside (Castroneves) and he kept edging me over until I just had nowhere to go,” Dixon said. “I braked when I was alongside him and then he just turned in.”

Josef Newgarden was forced to pit on Lap 22 to replace his entire rear wing assembly after contact with Power, finishing the race in 10th. Castroneves, Newgarden and Dixon now rank third through fifth in the point standings, but each has fallen more than 100 points in arrears of Pagenaud.

“It was tough day,” Newgarden said. “I feel bad for my guys because I think we had a good car. Pagenaud and Power would have been tough today, but I think we were a podium car, for sure.”

Daly, in the No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda, wound up in sixth place after the late splash-and-go. Mikhail Aleshin led a race-high 33 laps in the No. 7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Honda, but made contact exiting his pit with Newgarden on Lap 62. Aleshin was penalized for making an improper pit exit and hitting Team Penske crewman Vance Welker (who was uninjured) and finished 17th.

“I was the fastest car on the track so obviously the car was pretty good,” said Aleshin, who had led only four career laps prior to today. “I think the incident (with Newgarden) was unfortunate. … Sometimes these things happen in the race and we’re ready to win, but we just got a little bit unlucky today.”

The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to action for the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway on Aug. 21. Broadcast coverage of the 500-mile race on the 2.5-mile triangular oval begins at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

Drivers surprised with return of longmissing helmets

Drivers typically don’t care for surprises in their race day routine, but this morning provided an undeniably sentimental moment as four previously missing racing helmets were returned to their owners. Helio Castroneves, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Ed Carpenter and Sarah Fisher had just emerged from the drivers’ meeting for The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. Jaws dropped and eyes widened as the helmets were uncovered.

“A blast from the past,” Andretti Autosport’s Hunter-Reay said of the Rahal Letterman Racing helmet he wore for his 2007 Verizon IndyCar Series debut, ironically at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. “This makes me feel old. Thank you.”

Helio Castroneves, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Sarah Fisher, and Ed Carpenter receive their recovered helmets that were previously stolen from INDYCAR. -- Image by Chris Jones

Helio Castroneves, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Sarah Fisher, and Ed Carpenter receive their recovered helmets that were previously stolen from INDYCAR. — Image by Chris Jones

The helmets, as well as ones belonging to Danica Patrick and the late Dan Wheldon, were stolen in 2008 from an INDYCAR fan experience trailer parked in Speedway, Ind. All six were recently returned to INDYCAR.

“Helmets are important to any driver,” Hunter-Reay said. “It’s a piece of your career and a lot of memories come with it. This is a pretty important helmet. I kind of wrote it off. It’s nice to have it back.”

Fisher’s white helmet was also important – it was covered with fan signatures and worn in her series comeback race in 2006.

“It was my comeback helmet, my first race back after having driven some stock cars for Richard Childress,” said Fisher, who retired from racing in 2010 and is now the pace car driver at Verizon IndyCar Series events. “(Team owner) Dennis Reinbold put me back in an Indy car in 2006. It was such a quick turnaround; I didn’t have time to paint a helmet. My husband now, Andy (O’Gara), had this great idea to take my helmet to the autograph session and have the fans sign it so that it would kind of be painted.”

At the time of the theft, Fisher said, “I was devastated. It meant so much to me.”

Carpenter, now the series’ only owner/driver, wore his recovered helmet for Vision Racing in 2007.

“It’s nice we have all the INDYCAR tech stickers or otherwise I probably wouldn’t remember what year it was from anyway,” he said. “I had forgotten that it was stolen. I remember giving it to put on that trailer. It’s cool to have it back.”

Castroneves took his 2001 Team Penske helmet and gave it to an unsuspecting Vince Kremer, now vice president of operations at INDYCAR who was Bettenhausen Motorsports’ crew chief when Castroneves was an Indy car rookie in 1998.

“This one’s for you,” Castroneves said to Kremer, who was visibly stunned and emotional.

As their bond developed in 1998, Castroneves promised Kremer, “You’re going to get one of my helmets.” Each year since, Kremer enjoyed teasing the Brazilian with a reminder. Not anymore.

“He just totally shocked me and blew me away,” Kremer said.

Mazda Road to Indy recap

Santiago Urrutia (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian) completed a weekend sweep of wins in Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires races at Mid-Ohio to wrestle the points lead away from Ed Jones (Carlin), who finished 11th. Urrutia holds a 16-point lead with three races remaining.

Anthony Martin (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing) made it a tripleheader weekend sweep in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda to take a 21-point lead over teammate Parker Thompson with two races go to.

In the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires, Nico Jamin (Cape Taylor with Wayne Taylor Racing) won both weekend races, but Team Pelfrey’s Aaron Telitz finished on the podium twice to pull 14 points ahead of teammate Pato O’Ward for the championship lead with three races left.

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