PHOENIX – Simon Pagenaud, the 33-year-old Frenchman who won the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series Championship, was fortunate with a yellow flag that came out while his strongest rivals were in the pits and scored the first oval track win of his career Saturday night at Phoenix Raceway.
Pagenaud, driver of the No. 1 Menard’s Team Penske Chevrolet, won the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix in dominant fashion, taking the lead on lap 137 of the 250-lap contest and blazing to win at a record average speed of 144.058 mph — the first time any driver has ever averaged more than 140 mph in a race at the tricky one-mile oval.
The key moment of the race came on lap 138. Pagenaud had been running a close third behind Team Penske teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves when the lead pair dashed into the pits for fuel and tires. Pagenaud stayed out and inherited the lead when Takuma Sato drifted wide coming out of Turn 4 and made contact with the outside wall.
While under caution, Pagenaud was able to pit for service and retain the top position. The lead quartet of Pagenaud, Power, Castroneves and Josef Newgarden ran in close quarters at different times during the final 113 laps, but Pagenaud dodged and weaved to get around traffic and keep his pursuers at bay.
It was the second-consecutive year the defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion drove to Gatorade Victory Lane at Phoenix Raceway; last year Scott Dixon of New Zealand took the win.
Pagenaud gave car owner Roger Penske his 450th win across all motorsports and a record eighth career Indy car win at Phoenix Raceway. With Power finishing second by 9.103 seconds, it was a record fourth 1-2 finish in Indy car races for the most successful IndyCar team in history.
“It was a great respect between teammates,” Pagenaud said. “He (Power) gave me plenty of room and that’s what you want to see between teammates.
“I have to tell you, this is just incredible for me. This is my best win. It’s so strategic to win on an oval.
Those were the longest 50 laps of my life. It was the most stressful end of the race I’ve ever lived. The car was just phenomenal.”
Saturday’s race was Pagenaud’s second career start at Phoenix Raceway, with his first coming in last year’s Phoenix Grand Prix where he finished in second place. The win is the 10th of Pagenaud’s career, and his first on a configuration that has proven very challenging to Pagenaud throughout his career.
“Having a great result like that is very important after you win a championship,” Pagenaud said. “It was just a perfect day. I couldn’t be any happier.”
With the win, Pagenaud also became the Verizon IndyCar Championship Series points leader.