BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Simon says he wants a Verizon IndyCar Series championship. The Team Penske driver is working hard to earn it.
Simon Pagenaud dominated most of today’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park and fended off a late challenge from Graham Rahal to earn his second straight win of 2016 and extend his impressive start to the season that has seen him finish in the top two in all four races to date.
Driving the No. 22 PPG Automotive Refinish Chevrolet, Pagenaud led all but six of the 90 laps around the 2.3-mile permanent road course and took the checkered flag 13.747 seconds ahead of runner-up Graham Rahal in the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. It is Pagenaud’s sixth career win and first on the picturesque road circuit.
With the win, Pagenaud has accumulated 188 points in the first quarter of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season and holds a 48-point advantage over Scott Dixon. The series turns its attention now to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the historic month of May that includes the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the IMS road course on May 14, followed by much-awaited 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on the legendary 2.5-mile oval May 29.
As the Verizon P1 Award pole winner Saturday, Pagenaud started first and never looked back. Teammate Will Power closed in mid-race when Pagenaud was slowed by lapped traffic, but the Frenchman reasserted his advantage after the final round of stops.
Power had a slower final stop on Lap 65, allowing Rahal to overtake him for second place, where the Ohioan finished for the second straight year at Barber Motorsports Park.
Pagenaud was slowed again by lapped traffic in the closing laps, allowing Rahal to close and pass for the lead on Lap 82. The two cars made contact but kept going. Then on Lap 86, Rahal ran into the back of Jack Hawksworth’s car, damaging his front wing. Pagenaud took advantage later on the lap, passing Rahal for first place in Turn 16.
Josef Newgarden finished third in the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, the same place he started the race. Power was fourth in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevy.
Juan Pablo Montoya mounted the strongest charge of the day, starting last in the 21-car field and moving all the way to finish fifth in the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevy, just ahead of James Hinchcliffe in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.
Dixon, the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series champion in the No. 9 Coca-Cola Chevrolet from Chip Ganassi Racing, was turned around on Lap 3 by Sebastien Bourdais in the No. 11 Team Europa – KVSH Racing Chevrolet and fell to 20th position. Dixon rebounded to finish 10th, setting a race lap record of 1 minute, 8.4533 seconds (120.958 mph) along the way.
Pagenaud becomes the fifth driver to win in the race’s seven-year history.