Defending champion Scott Dixon was made to settle for fifth at the fourth round of the IndyCar Series – the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix – at Phoenix International Raceway on April 29.
The Kiwi, who qualified eighth, in the end finished a lap down, with defending series champion Simon Pagenaud taking advantage of a caution flag that caught the other leaders on pit road.
Pagenaud grabbed the lead when Team Penske team-mate Will Power pitted on the 137th lap, and the caution came out seconds later when Takuma Sato hit the wall in the fourth turn.
The Frenchman not only ended up with the lead, but had lapped cars between his Chevrolet and the other four lead-lap cars. Power cut Pagenaud’s 13-second lead to three with 40 laps to go before Pagenaud pulled away to win by over nine seconds in front of a crowd of about only 7,000 fans at the mile oval.
“Those were the longest 50 laps of my life,” Pagenaud said. “I have a button on my wheel that tells me how many laps were left. I kept pressing it. It was stressful. The car was phenomenal.”
Pagenaud took the season points lead with his 10th career victory and first on an oval. Penske drivers led all 250 laps on the mile track en route to the team’s record-extending 189th victory.
“This is incredible. This is my best win,” Pagenaud said. “You need to be so strategic to win on an oval and today was the perfect day. I couldn’t be any happier.”
Power had his first podium finish of the year.
“We just got caught out by a yellow,” the Australian said. “We just had a wait there. It made a bad race of it.”
JR Hildebrand was third in another Chevy for Ed Carpenter Racing, and pole-sitter Helio Castroneves finished fourth for Penske.
Dixon, who remains second in the standings, has had a consistent start to the season, though is the only driver in the top five not to have claimed a race win. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver has now had finishes of third, fourth, second and fifth, moving to 141 points, trailing Pagenaud by 18, and ahead of US driver Josef Newgarden by eight.
The series now heads to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the IndyCar Grand Prix road race on May 13 and the Indianapolis 500 on May 28.
– Associated Press