Pagenaud Breaks Through To Win Second Detroit Doubleheader

Photo: Marshall Pruett

Drivers were on their best behavior at Round 1 in Detroit on Saturday. And how about Round 2 on Sunday? Not a chance.

Crashes ranging from solo hits to the big one on Lap 28–a nine-car melee triggered when Sebastien Bourdais tipped Will power into a spin at the tight Turn 1 on a restart–ruled the first half of day.

Once the caution periods died down, torrid running to the finish took over as Schmidt Hamilton Racing’s Simon Pagenaud earned his first Series win, the first for his team owner and helped Honda to sweep the weekend as the Frenchman went on to win the second Chevy Dual In Detroit doubleheader.

“It’s such a relief,” said the open-wheel, sports car and rallying ace. “There was so much emotion going through the cockpit those last two laps. I’ve been working for this my entire career. This is so freakin’ awesome.”

The list of firsts continued with Pagenaud’s race engineer Ben Bretzman, who won his first race in the series today, finished what his brother Eric Bretzman–Scott Dixon’s championship-winning engineer–started with the Target team more than a decade ago: The Bretzmans are now first known set of brothers to win IndyCar races as engineers.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s James Jakes had his finest day in the series, taking a fighting second with polesitter Mike Conway applying extreme pressure all the way to the checkered flag on Lap 70. Something has clearly clicked within Jakes at RLL, with that potential coming through during the doubleheader.

“It was a race where you had to stay patient,” said the Englishman. “There was so much carnage. We had to change a (front) wing, but then a window opened up and we made up a lot of spots.

“And things have just been really working so well with the team; we haven’t always had the results to show for it, but this kind of weekend is what we expect from ourselves.”

Target Chip Ganassi drivers Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti took fourth and fifth, completing an all-Honda top 5, while Marco Andretti delivered another inspired performance to take sixth, the first Chevy runner in the field. Ganassi’s Charlie Kimball finished seventh after passing Conway for the lead and holding the point until pitting moments later.

HOW IT HAPPENED

Conway looked like he might make it two-in-a-row at Detroit, leading from Laps 4-28 and 40-45, but something special was brewing in the Schmidt camp. Strategy played a major role in how Saturday’s Round 1 was run, and the same was true in Round 2 as most of the field figured out how the minimize the performance limitations of the Firestone Reds.

With the front-running drivers sharing a shot at winning–unlike Saturday when Conway stole the show–Round 2 came down to an extraordinary request Bretzman made to Pagenaud, and the 29-year-old’s brilliant response.

Pagenaud passed Conway for second on Lap 46, and one lap later, Conway made his final stop while Pagenaud was looking to stretch his final stop until as late as possible. With Conway flying on fresh rubber, Bretzman tasked his driver with turning a series of qualifying laps–maximum attack–to ensure he had enough of a gap to make his final stop and come out ahead of the Englishman.

Not only did Pagenaud rise to the challenge, he ran almost a half-second faster than the entire field on his sprint to pit lane on Lap 55. That incredible push resulted in a gap of more than six seconds to Conway who had no answer for his fellow Honda driver.

Jakes surrendered the lead on Lap 57 and had also stretched his gap to Conway, returning to the track on Reds which he used to retain second ahead of Conway. The podium finishers gave all they had in Round 2, and deserved all of the accolades that came their way.

Honda also scored its 199th Indy car victory and its 100th with engine competition after years of being the series sole supplier. 2013′s amazing theme of first-time winners was also extended with Pagenaud joining Takuma Sato and James Hinchcliffe. Pagenaud also made it six winners from seven rounds–only Hinchcliffe has won more than once–and the likes of Team Penske and Ganassi Racing continue to go winless this season.

BOOM! POW! BANG!

Outside of Pagenaud’s amazing drive, the tale of damage and cars dangling from tow trucks will likely be what most people remember.

Team Penske’s AJ Allmendinger ended a horrible weekend–one where he crashed in Turn 1 on Lap 1 during Round 1–by getting sideways and smacking the Turn 2 exit wall by himself seconds after the green flag waved.

“A huge mistake,” said ‘Dinger. “Started the race trying to be aggressive. I don’t know what to say. I apologized to roger and the entire team. It’s embarrassing for me. I don’t where I go from here. I’m heartbroken.”

Simona de Silvestro crashed on Lap 10 when a punctured tire sent her hard into the wall–Ryan Hunter-Reay crashed in the same spot on Lap 17 but was able to make it back to the pits and have extensive repairs made.

Ed Carpenter speared into Alex Tagliani under braking on Lap 14 as the race returned to green and returned immediately to yellow as debris was cleared.

Another yellow on Lap 21 to clear more debris ensued and the Lap 24 green also went right back to yellow when Takuma Sato was nerfed by Tristan Vautier into the tire barriers.

The attempt to go back to green on Lap 28 lasted one corner when Bourdais lightly nudged Power and mayhem broke out behind them. All of the aforementioned drivers were involved–some were done on the spot like Justin Wilson and Tagliani–while others, including Power, returned after repairs were made. Race-winner Pagenaud also even stopped to have a fresh nose installed after being hit.

Power’s temper flared as he made his way from his car to try and give Bourdais, who was later given a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact, a piece of his mind. A rather forceful safety worker restrained Power, and when he let go, the Aussie threw his gloves at Bourdais as he drove by.

Power offered his thought on the four-time Champ Car champion when asked about the incident by ABC: “Bourdais—he once was a champ, now he’s a chump.”

FINAL THOUGHTS

The doubleheader format was panned by many before this weekend, but the brainchild of former IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard was a clear winner on the track and with the organizers, who said they will ask the series to make next year’s Detroit race a twin-bill event.

IndyCar’s season of unpredictability continues–there’s no telling who’ll win next Saturday night on the 1.5-mile Texas oval–and, if I’m to be honest, it’s one of the greatest things about 2013.

INDYCAR: Detroit Highlights – 2013

1. (6) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Honda, 70, Running
2. (2) James Jakes, Dallara-Honda, 70, Running
3. (1) Mike Conway, Dallara-Honda, 70, Running
4. (7) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 70, Running
5. (16) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 70, Running
6. (14) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Chevy, 70, Running
7. (18) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Honda, 70, Running
8. (9) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Chevy, 70, Running
9. (15) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 70, Running
10. (11) Sebastian Saavedra, Dallara-Chevy, 70, Running
11. (22) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara-Chevy, 70, Running
12. (19) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Chevy, 70, Running
13. (13) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Chevy, 69, Running
14. (20) Tristan Vautier, Dallara-Honda, 69, Running
15. (23) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Chevy, 66, Running
16. (24) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Honda, 64, Running
17. (5) EJ Viso, Dallara-Chevy, 61, Running
18. (4) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Chevy, 59, Running
19. (10) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Chevy, 57, Running
20. (3) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy, 53, Running
21. (25) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 27, Contact
22. (8) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 27, Contact
23. (21) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 23, Contact
24. (17) Simona De Silvestro, Dallara-Chevy, 8, Contact
25. (12) AJ Allmendinger, Dallara-Chevy, 0, Contact

Race Statistics

Winners average speed: 84.906
Time of Race: 01:56:14.7861
Margin of victory: 5.6274
Cautions: 6 for 22 laps

Lead changes: 8 among seven drivers

Lap Leaders:

Power 1 – 3
Conway 4 – 28
Kanaan 29 – 38
Vautier 39
Conway 40 – 45
Kimball 46 – 48
Pagenaud 49 – 54
Jakes 55 – 58
Pagenaud 59 – 70

Point Standings: Castroneves 206, Andretti 206, Hunter-Reay 191, Dixon 186, Pagenaud 177, Sato 175, Wilson 169, Kanaan 160, Hinchcliffe 154, Kimball 149.

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