Champion Pagenaud Grips It And Rips It At Sonoma

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, September 19 2016
Simon Pagenaud drove his way to the 2016 IndyCar Series championship on Sunday at Sonoma Raceway. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

Simon Pagenaud drove his way to the 2016 IndyCar Series championship on Sunday at Sonoma Raceway. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Mild-mannered Simon Pagenaud “unleashed the beast” at Sonoma Raceway Sunday afternoon during a flag-to-flag victory in the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma that clinched the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series championship.

bugindycarPagenaud secured his first IndyCar Series title and the 14th for Team Penske by 3.2523-seconds over Graham Rahal at the conclusion of the 85-lapper. Starting on-pole, Pagenaud led all but nine laps around Sonoma Raceway’s 2.385-mile/11-turn permanent road-course in Northern California to clinch the crown by 127 points over teammate Will Power.

“I tried to take my future in my destiny by being aggressive and going as fast as I could,” said Pagenaud, driver of the No. 22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet. “Clearly we had a phenomenal car, I think a very dominant car today, so we could do that. I just enjoyed driving today. It was an incredible day and I think it just shows the strength of the No. 22 team for the whole season.”

Pagenaud began the day with a 44-point lead over Power, the only other driver eligible for the 2016 title, with the Frenchman needing a finish of fifth or better to clinch the Astor Cup. Pagenaud surrendered the point only during pit stop cycles in winning for the fifth time this season and ninth of his Indy car career. Power was running second to Pagenaud until a clutch malfunction stopped his car on-track on Lap 36. Power fell eight laps off the pace while repairs were completed.

“Obviously I saw Will slowing down, which I wanted this fight to go all the way,” Pagenaud said. “It was a bit of a relief, I have to say. I feel sorry for his luck today. But I’ve had my fair share of

Simon Pagenaud won Roger Penske another IndyCar championship.

Simon Pagenaud won Roger Penske another IndyCar championship.

bad luck this year, too, with mechanical issues. I think it’s fair to say it was a fair fight. We both fought one-and-two for a while. Must have been a good show; I hope it was. But then when I saw him slow down, I thought, ‘I think this is really good.’

“That’s one thing that I’ve been doing pretty well this year, just trying to keep my emotions at a very steady level, without trying to go crazy on the radio saying, ‘Wow, we’re the champions!’ I kept it cool. I then started to think, ‘I can go race, have fun, unleash the beast inside and just go for the race win. If I need to help Helio (Castroneves), I will. If I need to help Ryan (Hunter-Reay), I will.’ They were not in a position to be helped. So I just did my race.

Incredible day. I think this was the most dominant we’ve been. Most importantly, what I’m thinking about right now is it’s been a long career. You start, 7-years-old. You go through a lot. I remember my first race in France in a go-kart. It was raining. I had my visor open because I had the wrong helmet. I still have that picture at home. The ground I covered since is quite incredible.

I just feel so blessed to being a human that has been able to live his dream and get to this. I basically accomplished all the dreams I had. Obviously the Indy 500 is next. But this was my kid’s dream, so I’m very emotional inside even if it doesn’t show. Maybe it will show a bit later.”

Power, the 2014 series champion, finished 20th but retained second in the championship for the fourth time in his 12-year Indy car career. “It was obviously disappointing to have that gearbox problem,” said Power, driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. “I think Simon was going to be tough to beat as far as the championship goes. Maybe we could have beaten him for the (race) win, but I doubt it if everything just played out as it was.

“But honestly it was still a very strong year. Four race wins. I won a 500-mile race (at Pocono Raceway). Not the right one (the Indianapolis 500), but still a 500-miler.” Team Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya, a two-time Indy 500 champion, finished third in what might have been his final start for the organization.

The championship capped the 50th anniversary season for Team Penske founder/owner Roger Penske, who celebrated the organization’s 187th victory in Indy car competition _ more than any other team. Pagenaud, who set a track record in qualifying on Saturday, etched his name into the Sonoma books again Sunday with his average race-winning speed of 101.181 mph.

Pagenaud’s championship haul includes a $1-million prize and official presentation of the Astor Cup on Oct. 4 at the INDYCAR Championship Celebration in Indianapolis.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Pagenaud, a 32-year-old native of Montmorillon, France. “I think I will

Simon Pagenaud dominated at Sonoma on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of the INDYCAR)

Simon Pagenaud dominated at Sonoma on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of the INDYCAR)

realize it more tomorrow. There is so much emotion right now, to be honest, I can’t find the words. My whole career has been about this, about today and getting to this point and to this level.”

The Verizon IndyCar Series’ Sunoco Rookie of the Year in 2012 for Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports, Pagenaud joined Team Penske in 2015 and finished 11th in points. Pagenaud’s winless 16-race campaign last season became an ongoing talking point for his critics.

“Obviously when you join a team like Team Penske, they deliver the best cars,” Pagenaud said. “They provide you the best equipment out there. As a driver, it’s your job to do the best job possible. When you’re (competing) against Power, Castroneves and Montoya, these guys are the benchmark. It’s about getting the most out of yourself because obviously we all have the same cars.

“Last year was a learning curve as a team and as a driver also. I realized there were areas I really needed to work on, which I did during the winter. With my team, my crew, (strategist) Kyle Moyer and (engineer) Ben Bretzman, we worked a different approach for this year. This approach has been basically the approach we’ve had with Ben since 2010 (while winning the American Le Mans Series LMP title).

“Yeah, last year was tough. But it was unfair to imagine a transition would be that easy, especially with a new team. It’s the first time, again, that Roger and (Team Penske President) Tim Cindric have fielded four cars in INDYCAR. We had to assemble a completely new team from people that were working on other teams, people working on other cars within the team.

It’s just like a football team. You have to make that chemistry, make sure that the chemistry is going to be the best. It took a while. It took us a while. It wasn’t easy. It took me a while to get used to my new environment and know what I could do and could not do. I think this year you saw more the package you saw at Schmidt, as well. I just did my thing and stayed focused on that. I think that’s what happened.”

Team Penske also completed a 1-2-3 sweep of the championship when Castroneves finished seventh in the race to edge Ed Carpenter Racing’s Josef Newgarden by two points in the standings. It marked the first time the same team took the top three championship positions since Penske also accomplished the feat in 1994 with Al Unser Jr., Emerson Fittipaldi and Paul Tracy.

With his second-place race finish in the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda, Rahal advanced to fifth in the championship as the highest-placing Honda driver. Rahal placed fourth in the standings last year.

“Good day, good way to end it,” the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver said. “I wanted to get Pagenaud, but when I’d get behind him I’d get massively loose. I thought at one point it was best I salvage a second place rather than do something stupid.”

As he did in winning the 100th Indianapolis 500 in May, Alexander Rossi ran out of fuel and coasted to the finish line in his home state. Rossi was passed by Andretti Autosport teammate Hunter-Reay for fourth, but still secured Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors for the season as he did at the Indy 500.

Chevrolet _ which won 14 of 16 races this season _ also clinched its fifth consecutive manufacturers’ championship by 104 points over Honda. Chevy has taken the honor every year since manufacturer competition resumed in the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2012.


Ryan Hunter-Reay will remain at Andretti Autosport through 2020 and carry the familiar yellow-and-red DHL primary sponsorship for the entire ride. Andretti Autosport confirmed Sunday the 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion will drive the team’s No. 28 entry for four more seasons. At the conclusion of the agreement, Hunter-Reay will have driven for Michael Andretti’s team for 11 consecutive seasons.

DHL began as a primary sponsor with Andretti in 2011 but the relationship dates to 2005. “To see this partnership develop and continue over a 15-year period through 2020 is the result of hard work by both companies in support of DHL marketing, sales and B2B objectives,” said Michael Andretti, Andretti Autosport owner/CEO. “It also reflects the strength of the Verizon IndyCar Series and Indianapolis 500 properties.”

RHR made his 200th Indy car start two weeks ago at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International in a career that began in 2003. The 35-year-old Floridian is the most successful active American driver in the Verizon IndyCar Series, with more race wins (16) than all the other current Americans combined. His resume is highlighted by a victory in the 2014 Indianapolis 500.


Results of the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 2.385-mile/11-turn Sonoma Raceway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, aero kit-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 85, Running
2. (5) Graham Rahal, Honda, 85, Running
3. (3) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 85, Running
4. (6) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 85, Running
5. (8) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 85, Running 
6. (10) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 85, Running
7. (2) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 85, Running
8. (14) Marco Andretti, Honda, 85, Running
9. (12) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 85, Running
10. (9) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 85, Running
11. (11) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 85, Running
12. (20) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 85, Running
13. (13) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 85, Running
14. (15) Takuma Sato, Honda, 85, Running
15. (16) Carlos Munoz, Honda, 85, Running
16. (18) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 85, Running
17. (7) Scott Dixon, Chevrolet, 85, Running
18. (17) Jack Hawksworth, Honda, 84, Running
19. (22) RC Enerson, Honda, 84, Running 
20. (4) Will Power, Chevrolet, 77, Running
21. (21) Conor Daly, Honda, 36, Mechanical
22. (19) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 35, Mechanical

Race Statistics
Winner’s average speed: 101.181 mph
Time of Race: 2:00:12.9424-seconds
Margin of victory: 3.2523-seconds
Cautions: 1 for 3 laps
Lead changes: 5 among 3 drivers

Lap Leaders
Pagenaud 1-15
Castroneves 16 
Pagenaud 17-60
Rahal 61-62
Castroneves 63-68 
Pagenaud 69-85 

Final point standings: Pagenaud  659, Power 532, Castroneves 504, Newgarden 502, Rahal 484, Dixon 477, Kanaan 461, Montoya 433, Kimball 433, Munoz 432

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, September 19 2016
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