Pagenaud wins Phoenix Grand Prix
AVONDALE, Ariz. -- A reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion doesn't usually need breaks to win races, but Simon Pagenaud got a big one Saturday night at Phoenix Raceway.
Pagenaud won the Phoenix Grand Prix thanks in part to a caution coming at the perfect time for him. He not only got the lead when Team Penske teammate Will Power pitted, he got the big advantage when the caution came out for Takuma Sato's Turn 4 crash.
Because this track is known as a short oval -- it's only one mile in length -- Pagenaud was able to put a host of lapped cars between him and Power when the green light came back on.
That gave Pagenaud a seven-second lead that he didn't relinquish. It was Pagenaud's first victory on an oval track. His nine other series wins had come on permanent road courses and street circuits.
The margin at the finish was 9.1 seconds and gave Pagenaud his first victory of the season. It also gave him the series points lead after four races.
Team Penske drivers led all 250 laps.
Power finished second, with JR Hildebrand third. Hildebrand competed in his first IndyCar race at this track while dealing with a surgically repaired hand from a crash April 9 in the street race in Long Beach, Calif. The hand has a plate and eight screws inserted, and he missed the recent race at Barber Motorsports Park. Hildebrand hadn't finished in the top three of a race since the 2011 Indianapolis 500 when he crashed in Turn 4 while leading with the checkered flag in sight.
The field in this race didn't make it through the first turn smoothly. Between Turns 1 and 2, Mikhail Aleshin spun toward the outside wall, where a host of others wanted to be.
Sebastien Bourdais, who entered the race atop the season standings, was first to arrive on the scene, and his car bounced off the outside wall. Marco Andretti arrived next and spun to avoid contact. In doing so, he lit up the rear tires in a bid to avoid the Russian, but the abundance of created smoke meant others trailing couldn't see where to go. That's what led Graham Rahal's car to hit Andretti's.
From there was a mess. Max Chilton and Bourdais also got a piece of the accident, with Ryan Hunter-Reay's car catching a flat tire. Fortunately, no one was injured but all five cars were Hondas.
Andretti's luck remains sour. He now has three consecutive races in which he failed to finish, with results of 20th, 21st and 18th in 21-car fields. Officially, Rahal finished last in this race.
Sato's crash on Lap 135 continued the woes of Andretti Autosport. With Andretti in the opening-lap crash and reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Alexander Rossi brushing the wall, the four-car team was in trouble. Last week at Barber, none of the team's cars finished the race, a first for the organization, and it happened again when Hunter-Reay's night ended with a broken suspension after light contact from Josef Newgarden.
NOTES: Helio Castroneves won the pole, pushing his career total to 49. That figure ties him with Bobby Unser for third place in the sport's history. Castroneves has two poles this season. ... Castroneves and Tony Kanaan were honored Thursday night for 20 years in the sport. Both are Indianapolis 500 champions. ... IndyCar won't race next weekend, but it has plenty of action in the days ahead. The full-season drivers will test Tuesday at Gateway Motorsports Park (east of St. Louis). On Wednesday, two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso will make his debut in an Indy car during a test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Both events will be streamed on IndyCar.com.