It was far from a complete cakewalk, yet when all was said and done on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course layout on Saturday afternoon, for the third straight 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series race Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud appeared on the top step of the podium, after coming from behind to win his second Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis.
After clinching the Verizon P1 Award on Friday, Pagenaud placed his No. 22 Menards Chevrolet into the early lead surviving a first lap crash that ruined the race prematurely for both Chip Ganassi Racing’s Tony Kanaan and KVSH Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais. The first serious challenge to his domination came immediately after the first round of green flag pit stops as Kanaan’s teammate Charlie Kimball managed to sneak out of the pits just ahead of Pagenaud, but was unable to hang on as the Team Penske pilot immediately regained the lead at the end of the Hulman Boulevard straight.
Building as much as a four second lead on Kimball, the caution flag waved for a second time on lap 37, when Bourdais’ entry finally ground to a halt on course. The resulting pit stop shuffle would relegate the veteran to fourth place, a position he would only improve by one spot in the next green flag run. However, the pace of the Chevrolet driver over a single lap and getting on and off pit road would quickly propel Pagenaud back into the lead role with 22 laps remaining, a position he would hold to the finish.
The victory is the seventh in Verizon IndyCar Series competition for Pagenaud and extends his second or better finishing streak to start 2016 to five races. No driver since the beginning of North America open wheel racing’s modern era in 1979 has opened a campaign with this form of consistency. The result also gives the Frenchman a massive 80 point lead on the championship table, looking ahead to the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, an event that offers full race points for time trials next weekend and double points for the race itself in two weeks time.
Behind Pagenaud, the second and final full course caution of the day opened the door for some drivers who struggled in Friday qualifying to snag better than expected results. Despite qualifying 15th on Friday, Pagenaud’s teammate Helio Castroneves pitted before the call for the yellow, vaulting him into contention and eventually to a runner-up finish, perhaps providing much needed momentum in his quest to become just the fourth four-time winner in Indy 500 history in two weeks from now.
Saturday was also a solid welcome back to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe, who finished third in Saturday’s race. Just over eleven months ago at the Brickyard, Hinchcliffe nearly suffered a fatal crash during practice for the Indy 500, an incident that would keep him out of the driver’s seat for nearly ten months. Starting third on Saturday, the Toronto, Canada native drove solidly throughout the 82-lap distance, coming up just short in wresting away runner-up honors from Castroneves at the finish. The result will also provide a solid donation to the Canadian Red Cross, to whom Hinchcliffe will donate his winnings from the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis to provide relief to those affected by the recent wildfires in the province of Alberta.
After having his second row qualifying effort erased due to a post inspection failure, Graham Rahal made the biggest gain on Saturday, moving from 24th to place fourth, just ahead of Kimball who earned his third consecutive fifth place finish in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Of course, for the local crowd at the track Saturday, the race may be remembered most for the efforts posted by Noblesville, Indiana native Conor Daly, who led 14 laps before finishing sixth, his best Verizon IndyCar Series effort to date.
With the month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway now underway, the focus now shifts to the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, with the opening practice session set to get underway at Noon eastern time on Monday.