Pagenaud wins IndyCar title with dominant win

Simon Pagenaud slayed the opposition at Sonoma Raceway to clinch the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series title with his fifth victory, as Will Power suffered clutch failure and fell out of second place before half-distance.

Pagenaud wins IndyCar title with dominant win
Start: Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske Chevrolet leads
Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske Chevrolet
Start: Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske Chevrolet leads
Race winner and 2016 champion Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske Chevrolet is congratulated by Roger Penske
Juan Pablo Montoya, Team Penske Chevrolet
Juan Pablo Montoya, Team Penske Chevrolet
Alexander Rossi, Herta - Andretti Autosport Honda
Race winner and 2016 champion Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske Chevrolet
Alexander Rossi, Herta - Andretti Autosport Honda
Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport Honda
Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet
Marco Andretti, Andretti Autosport Honda
Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet
Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske Chevrolet
Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet
Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet
Race winner and 2016 champion Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske Chevrolet is congratulated by Mikhail Aleshin, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda
Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport Honda
Juan Pablo Montoya, Team Penske Chevrolet
Alexander Rossi, Herta - Andretti Autosport Honda
Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport Honda

At the start, Will Power beat Team Penske-Chevrolet teammate Montoya into third, as up ahead the championship leader Simon Pagenaud held off Helio Castroneves’ challenge. Behind, Graham Rahal held onto fifth, while Alexander Rossi got past his Andretti Autosport-Honda teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, as did a fast-starting Josef Newgarden for Ed Carpenter Racing-Chevy.

All stayed clean until Turn 7, when Chip Ganassi Racing-Chevy’s Tony Kanaan collided with Schmidt Peterson Motorsport-Honda’s Mikhail Aleshin, which spun the Russian almost to the back, and stalled Kanaan. However, there was no yellow, as the Safety Team bumpstarted the #10 Ganassi car before the pack came around again.

By Lap 5, Pagenaud’s lead over Castroneves was 1.3sec with Power hanging 2.9sec behind the Brazilian veteran, just keeping out of reach of Montoya, with Rahal, Rossi, Newgarden, Hunter-Reay and Dixon roughly equidistant.

Aleshin, having dropped almost to the back, pitted on Lap 9, and Jack Hawksworth did the same for AJ Foyt Racing-Honda, with Charlie Kimball pitting on Lap 10 for Ganassi.

Takuma Sato followed the example of his teammate Hawksworth, diving into the pits from 13th place to get service from the Foyt crew. Andretti’s Carlos Munoz, Dale Coyne Racing’s RC Enerson, and Ganassi’s Max Chilton and Tony Kanaan also stopped outside the expected pit window too.

By Lap 11, Pagenaud’s lead was 5.3sec, while Power was still 2sec behind Castroneves and Montoya 2sec behind his teammate and desperately trying to hold off Rahal. Rossi, Hunter-Reay and Dixon then  stopped at the end of Lap 14, the first of the lead runners to blink in this strategic battle. Dixon’s stop was long though, as he had his drink bottle fail.

Power and Montoya pitted at the end of Lap 15, delighted to switch to the harder compound blacks. Then it was the other Penske drivers, Pagenaud and Castroneves’ time to pit. With a brilliant out lap, Power grabbed second from Castroneves as Helio exited the pits and saw a silver streak rocket past into Turn 2. Montoya with his tires up to temperature, was now hassling Castroneves for third.

So what did Power have for Pagenaud now that he had the harder-compound black tires, on which the #12 had been stronger all weekend? At the end of Lap 18 the gap was six seconds. The following lap it was 6.4, then 7.0. This was not looking good for Power at all. And now he had Castroneves gaining ground on him, as the Brazilian had swiftly pulled a four-second gap on Montoya.

Kimball’s early pitstop had paid off, as it had gotten him around Hunter-Reay and Newgarden, who had swapped places in the pitstop exchange. For Sato and Munoz too, the early switch to black tires had been a blessing as they now ran 10th and 11th, ahead of Sebastien Bourdais’ KVSH Racing-Chevy.

Hawksworth stopped again on Lap 21, with Kimball, Aleshin and Enerson also stopping early, albeit on Lap 24.

Power having trimmed Pagenaud’s lead back to 6.5sec, saw it creep out to 8sec on Lap 27. Simon was planning to win this title in style.

Castroneves made his second stop at the end of Lap 29, and filtered out in 15th behind Hinchcliffe, who he dispensed with 2 laps later. It seemed like Roger Penske had elected to take a four-stop strategy for his man… or was gambling on a bunch of full-course caution laps.

Lap 31, and Pagenaud’s lead was out to 10sec. Unless Power was saving a lot of fuel or saving his tires, this appeared to be Pagenaud’s race, and championship. Power was being caught by Montoya, the Colombian trimming the Australian’s advantage to 1.8sec, a gap that became 1sec two laps later as Power got caught behind Spencer Pigot’s Ed Carpenter Racing-Chevy.

It all became immaterial on Lap 36: Power ground almost to a halt on track with clutch control unit failure – his first significant mechanical issue of the season. The Penske crews of Pagenaud and Montoya ducked into the pits as a precaution to protect their position, in case there was a full-course caution. It came soon enough, to allow the Safety Crew to tow Power to the pits, as the 2014 champion couldn’t even limp it to pitlane as it dipped into neutral.

Dixon pitted on Lap 41 for a new helmet, to solve a radio communication issue. He would never be a factor again.

Kimball’s pit-early strategy had paid off magnificently, having moved up to third behind Pagenaud and Castroneves, but following the Lap 42 restart, he was passed into Turn 7 by Rahal, while behind Kimball, Montoya, Rossi, Hunter-Reay, Sato, Munoz, Newgarden, although the latter pair swapped places a lap later. Further back, Andretti blasted around the outside of Kanaan to take 12th.

Power then emerged eight laps down to try and protect his second place in the championship, which caused brief consternation for the midfield runners as they climbed the hill to Turn 2, but the #12 stayed out of the way.

Up front, Castroneves hadn’t let Pagenaud disappear into the distance – far from it in fact: the #3 was just 1.4sec adrift five laps after the restart, and Rahal was hanging tough too, just 2.9sec behind. The battle for fourth lost its leader, Kimball on Lap 48 as he pitted allowing Montoya, Rossi, Hunter-Reay and Newgarden to move up. Kanaan, Chilton, Sato and Hawksworth followed Kimball in.

Castroneves made his third stop on Lap 50, emerging in 12th, ahead of Kimball but behind Hawksworth, a car he dismissed on Lap 53.

At this stage, Rahal was matching the pace of his old Formula Atlantic rival Pagenaud at the front of the field, albeit four seconds behind, while also keeping the same distance back to Montoya who was running less than two seconds ahead of Rossi and Hunter-Reay.

On Lap 58, Castroneves moved back into the top 10 with a pass on Hinchcliffe at Turn 7. Helio still had hopes of beating Power to championship runner-up.

On Lap 61, Pagenaud made his final stop of the day, with Montoya, Rossi, Hunter-Reay, also stopping.

Rahal led a lap before he ducked into the pits too, but his stop was far slower so there would be no jumping Pagenaud. He’d have to do it on track.

However, Pagenaud was not in the lead, as the charging Castroneves had hit the front, albeit in the knowledge that he would have to stop again. Behind Pagenaud, Rahal was 3.5sec behind, with Kimball now fourth again, 2.4sec ahead of Montoya. Sato (also needing to stop again) was sixth, ahead of Kanaan, Rossi, Hunter-Reay, Munoz, Newgarden, Andretti, Bourdais, Chilton and Aleshin completing the top 15.

Within a couple of laps, Rahal had trimmed a second from Pagenaud’s advantage, on Lap 66, the gap was 1.7sec, on Lap 67 it was 0.6sec. Pagenaud and his strategist Kyle Moyer were being very careful regarding fuel. Was Rahal really able to save that much more gas and close on a Penske-Chevy? Or would he have to make a fourth stop? He only stopped one lap later, after all…

On Lap 69, the battle became one for the lead, as Castroneves made his fourth stop, which went smoothly but dropped him just – by an inch – behind Andretti as they climbed different routes up to Turn 2. On Lap 72, with its tires up to temp, the Penske passed the Andretti Autosport machine down the inside into Turn 7, and that put him back ahead of Newgarden in the championship battle for third… and closing on him on the race track, dueling for sixth.

The scintillating battle between Pagenaud and Rahal had drawn them a full 12sec clear of Montoya with 15 laps to go, while JPM was five seconds ahead of Rossi who had eked out a 1.3sec margin over Hunter-Reay.

With eight laps to go, having given his tires a little rest by dropping out of Pagenaud’s slipstream to the tune of 1.8sec, Rahal was back nibbling at the Penske car’s rear wing, before Pagenaud responded by pulling it out to over two seconds. By the time the gap closed again, Pagenaud had saved enough fuel to use his push to pass boosts as an extra defensive measure. No one was going to beat him today. He crossed the line to score his fifth win of the season, and Penske’s 10th, in perfect style. His only error all day – all weekend, really – was stalling on his slowdown lap while performing victory donuts down at Turn 7.

Montoya finished third, 15sec behind, while Rossi ran out of fuel on the final lap, allowing Hunter-Reay to slip past to claim fourth. The Indy 500 winner thus fell from a potential eighth in the championship to 11th.

The fight for sixth went somewhat stale at the end, both Newgarden and Castroneves out of push-to-pass boosts, and Andretti closing in on them, but it was enough to make Roger Penske’s day perfect, completing the team’s only 1-2-3 finish in the championship since 1994. 

Andretti turned in his best drive of the year with a fighting eighth, just 1.4sec behind Castroneves, with Kimball and Bourdais completing the top 10.

In the end, the most solid driver of the season did everything required of him today and more. Simon Pagenaud has been almost fault-free in 2016, his bad scores largely down to mechanical maladies – Indy 500 and Road America – or a pitstop strategy which didn’t work with the way the yellows fell – Detroit 1 and Toronto.

Everywhere but Watkins Glen he has been a contender for victory or has finished in the top three, regardless of the fact that he still hasn’t won an oval race. Pagenaud, more than any of his teammates, was able to fully exploit the fact that Penske-Chevrolets were fast everywhere this season.

In short, there could not be a more worthy recipient of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series title.

Sonoma race results
P.DriverTeam (Engine)deficit
1 22  Simon Pagenaud Penske (C)  
2 15  Graham Rahal Rahal (H) 3.2523
3 2   Juan Pablo Montoya Penske (C) 18.0157
4 28  Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti (H) 29.7224
5 98  Alexander Rossi Andretti-Herta (H) 30.6649
6 21  Josef Newgarden Carpenter (C) 32.2754
7 3  Helio Castroneves Penske (C) 32.8490
8 27  Marco Andretti Andretti (H) 34.3002
9 83  Charlie Kimball Ganassi (C) 34.9353
10 11  Sébastien Bourdais KVSH (C) 43.8965
11 7  Mikhail Aleshin Schmidt (H) 49.3242
12 5  James Hinchcliffe Schmidt (H) 51.1304
13 10  Tony Kanaan Ganassi (C) 52.1792
14 14  Takuma Sato Foyt (H) 52.6331
15 26  Carlos Muñoz Andretti (H) 56.6756
16 8  Max Chilton Ganassi (C) 1:09.2581
17 9  Scott Dixon Ganassi (C) 1:21.1112
18 41  Jack Hawksworth Foyt (H) 1 lap
19 19  R.C. Enerson Coyne (H) 1 lap
20 12  Will Power Penske (C) 8 laps
21 18  Conor Daly Coyne (H) Mechanical
22 20  Spencer Pigot Carpenter (C) Mechanical

(C) = Chevrolet, (H) = Honda


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