• Newgarden stars in qualifying
• Aleshin leads rookie contingent in 9th
Taking advantage of fresh tires fitted to his Honda-powered Dallara during a late-race caution period, Simon Pagenaud fought his way to a fourth-place Verizon IndyCar Series finish in a thrilling final two laps of green flag racing in the Firestone 600 Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway.
Pagenaud ran in the lead group throughout the 248-lap contest, and was one of six cars on the lead lap when the caution flag waved for the third and final time of the night with just seven laps remaining. After sixth-place Will Power pitted for new tires during the caution, Pagenaud’s Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports team made the same call one lap later. When the green flag waved on Lap 246, Pagenaud was able to pass the Target Chip Ganassi Racing cars
of Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon on the final two laps to finish fourth.
Pagenaud’s rookie teammate, Mikhail Aleshin, finished seventh in his first appearance on a high-banked oval track to lead the four rookies in the field. Josef Newgarden qualified a careerhigh second for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and ran in the lead pack during the first half of tonight’s race, before fading slightly with handling issues to finish 11th. Justin Wilson was another Honda-powered driver to feature during the opening third of the race, but was eliminated in a Lap 118 crash with Sebastien Bourdais. Neither driver was injured in the race’s only accident.
Christina Zaza, from Whitestown, Indiana, led the field prior to today’s race start in the two-seat Honda Indy car driven by racing legend Mario Andretti.
With the completion of tonight’s race, the sixth Verizon IndyCar Series event in the last five weeks, drivers and teams now get a two-week break before resuming another series of four consecutive event weekends, starting with the June 27-29 doubleheader Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston, Presented by the Greater Houston Honda Dealers.
Simon Pagenaud (#77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda) started 6th, finished 4th: “We had such a good night. The car was easy to drive and very consistent, which makes your life a lot easier on an oval. I was in full attack mode with the strong Honda engine all night. The pit strategy at the end really gave us the push we needed to move up to fourth. I was a little confused when I was told to pit with two laps left, but I followed the orders and it paid off. Fresh tires at the end is what you want; that split-second choice enabled us to gain two spots in the final laps, and I had a blast. Our pit stops were very good, and the whole team is showing really well right now. It was so exciting at the end, I think the fans must have really enjoyed it.”
Josef Newgarden (#67 Strike Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda) started 2nd, finished 11th: “It was a tough race. There were a lot of green flag laps in a row, so that’s difficult when you’re trying to sort out the car, and you don’t have a lot of yellows to work with. For us, we weren’t as strong with the rear [of the car] as we needed to be, and that’s what we were chasing all night.”
Marc Sours (Senior Manager/Chief Enginer, Honda Performance Development) on tonight’s race: “One of the reasons Honda goes racing is to learn, and certainly after tonight we have an opportunity to do so. While mechanical failures are always disappointing, we have a good break between this race and Houston to thoroughly examine the issue and take the necessary steps to prevent a re-occurrence. Congratulations to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Simon Pagenaud for another strong performance tonight, and to his rookie teammate, Mikhail Aleshin, who continues to impress.”