Whether the rule book says a certain move is legal or not, Sunday afternoon at Long Beach, California proved one point. Unless a rule is enforced by the officials, it is merely pointless. Legal or not, Simon Pagenaud managed to beat out the competition on the final round of green flag pit stops and held on to claim his first win for Team Penske in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, further extending his points lead in the series championship after three of sixteen races.
Starting third when the 80-lap race began, Pagenaud stayed in contention throughout before taking the lead with 25 laps to go. However, it was how he did it that sparked the controversy. Turning into the 90-degree turn one left hander following his final stop, the Frenchman appeared to cross the yellow blend line that separates the main flow of race traffic, with drivers exiting the pit lane. This of course on paper would be viewed as a violation of the rules, however due to the fact that several other drivers had reportedly done likewise earlier in the race, Verizon IndyCar Series chief steward Dan Davis decided to issue a warning to Pagenaud, rather than a drive through penalty, a move that infuriated Target Chip Ganassi Racing general manager Mike Hull.
“It’s disappointing.” Hull admitted in an interview on the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network. “INDYCAR told us there would be no more warnings. Pagenaud crossed over.”
Pagenaud did not seem to feel a penalty was justified based on his viewing of the rules.
“The left side (wheels) were on the right side of the (blend line),” said the Frenchman during the post-race press conference. “which (they were); so I’m good.”
Despite avoiding the penalty, Pagenaud still had to fight hard to hold off Dixon, who had beaten Pagenaud in the most recent IndyCar Series event on the one-mile oval at Phoenix International Raceway. Dixon managed to get alongside Pagenaud on the Shoreline Drive pit straight with 20 laps to go, however the Frenchman had the preferred line and maintained the top spot. Although the New Zealander managed to stay within a second of Pagenaud to the checkered flag, he was unable to mount a more serious challenge for to wrest away the victory.
“When you have Scott Dixon behind you, you always need to push it.” admitted Pagenaud. “You push it as hard as you can. He was really, really pushing. I was trying not to lose any time in the last section to create a gap, and it worked (out).”
Dixon was understandably frustrated with the runner-up result, which denied a shot to claim his second win of the 2016 season.
“I really haven’t seen the replay, but from what I am told, he was definitely over with all four tires, which is a drive through or some sort of penalty to give the spot back.” said Dixon after the race. “Team Target did a (great) job and we just missed by a little bit there.”
The victory is the fifth in Verizon IndyCar Series competition for Pagenaud and extends his streak of finishing second or better to three straight races. Behind Dixon who finished second, two more Team Penske drivers Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya finished in third and fourth. Although Dixon will be tagged as the main victim of the non-call, in reality Castroneves suffered the biggest loss during the final round of pit stops as he had dominated the race up to the start of the final sequence of pit road appearances. Montoya meanwhile, had to fight hard to maintain his fourth position from an aggressive Takuma Sato late in the race, an incident that was investigated by stewards, but was not issued a violation.
Sato, who won this event in 2013 for AJ Foyt Racing would round out the top five on Sunday, representing the first Honda-powered car to cross the finish line. Beyond the Japanese veteran however, only Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe managed to record a top ten result, after finishing the day in eighth.
The final prep race before the month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is set for two weeks time at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama.
Stay tuned to OnPitRoad.com for further news and updates from the Verizon IndyCar Series.