DETROIT -- After multiple cautions that jumbled the running order and ruined the weekend for many drivers on Belle Isle. After multiple pit stop and tire strategies seeking to gain an advantage on the 2.346-mile, 13-turn street circuit. After multiple battles and high drama, let alone tempers, stood Simon Pagenaud in Victory Circle.
The French driver was as exhausted as the push-to-pass operations available in the No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports car over the 70-lap race but smiling broadly after earning his first IZOD IndyCar Series victory.
It also was the 100th for Honda with Indy car engine manufacturer competition (199th overall), which is fitting as Pagenaud has been associated with Honda in multiple programs since 2008 and will drive a Honda vehicle in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb later this month.
He's the sixth different winner -- from six different countries -- in seven races and the third first-time winner this season.
"It’s unbelievable. I don’t know how we did it," said Pagenaud, who turned 29 on May 18. "It’s a great feeling. One I hope of more to come. I started karting when I was 8 so it's been 21 years of hard work to finally win an IndyCar race.
"It was the toughest race of my life (in Race 1 on June 1 when he started eighth but finished 12th) and my engineers improved everything. The car was just super fast and strategy was awesome. Every restart we just went forward."
Pagenaud, who started sixth, led twice for a total of 18 laps, inheriting the point for good when James Jakes drove the No. 16 Acorn Stairlifts car onto pit lane on Lap 58. But the final laps were anything but a Sunday drive in the park as quick work by the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing crew got Jakes back into contention and Race 1 victor Mike Conway was closing quickly in the No. 18 Sonny's car for Dale Coyne Racing.
"He was driving on a mission; he wanted this really bad," said team co-owner Sam Schmidt, who along with fellow former IndyCar driver Davey Hamilton earned their first series victory.
Jakes wound up finishing a career-best second by holding off Conway by .4342 of a second. Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti were next to cross the start-finish line. Like Franchitti, Charlie Kimball advanced 11 positions to finish seventh.
"It’s huge for a lot of people," said Jakes, who started a career-high second. "Three Hondas on the podium in Detroit again. They’ve really worked their butts off since Indy and we’re proud of them. The car was just magical today."
Helio Castroneves overtook Graham Rahal on Lap 68 for eighth place, gaining the extra point to retain the championship points lead. He's tied at 206 with Marco Andretti, who finished sixth.
"What an adventurous day we had in the Hitachi car; we crashed and somehow still had a great race," Castroneves said. "Credit the Hitachi crew for fixing the car and putting me in a position to turn some great laps at the end. It felt like we just won the lottery being able to finish in the top 10. We leave here tied for the top of the points standings, which is where we want to be, so overall it was a good weekend.”
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