Pagenaud Wins in Closest Finish in Grand Prix History

Pagenaud Wins in Closest Finish in Grand Prix History

Simon Pagenaud has knocked on the door of victory lane in each of the first two races of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Today at the 42nd Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, the Frenchman broke through to earn the win.

Pagenaud, in the No. 22 PPG Automotive Refinish Chevrolet, edged reigning series champion Scott Dixon across the finish line by 0.3032 of a second, the closest finish in the history of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, and the fastest ever with an average speed of 100.592 mph. It gave Pagenaud five career Verizon Indy Car Series wins and his first since joining Team Penske in 2015.

Pagenaud, who finished second in each of the first two races this season, takes a 14-point championship lead over Dixon into the next event, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park on April 24 (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

“This is my favorite street course,” said Pagenaud, a two-time winner in sports car races on the 1.968-mile temporary street course, but who took his first Indy car victory here today. “To win here, especially in INDYCAR, given the level of competition, is amazing. The PPG car is good luck on me. Every time I’m in that car, I’m on the podium.”

Starting the 80-lap race third, Pagenaud took his first lead on Lap 52 when teammate and pole sitter Helio Castroneves made his final pit stop. Pagenaud was able to push two laps farther before stopping for fuel and tires, exiting the pits just ahead of Dixon and Castroneves.

INDYCAR race stewards warned Pagenaud for improper lane usage exiting the pits, but he was able to lead the final 25 laps to collect the win in the first Verizon IndyCar Series caution-free race since Mid-Ohio in August 2013 and the first completely green-flag race on the often-chaotic streets of Long Beach since 1989.

Dixon, in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, believed Pagenaud should have been assessed a stronger penalty, but was resigned with the runner-up finish that kept him second in the standings. Pagenaud leads with 134 points after three of 16 races, Dixon has 120 and Team Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya is third with 106.

“It appeared that Simon turned a little early and crossed the line (exiting the pits) that you’re not meant to cross,” Dixon said. “But it is what it is, so second place today and Team Target did a hell of a job.”

Castroneves finished third in the No. 3 Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet, leading a race-high 47 laps. Montoya finished fourth in the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevy after a frenetic late-lap battle with Takuma Sato, who wound up fifth in the No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda.

Pagenaud finished 11th in last year’s standings, in his first season with Team Penske, with best finishes of third at Belle Isle-1 and Mid-Ohio. Despite going winless in 2015, he focused on the long-term plan.

“I knew it was coming because we’ve been so competitive since the beginning of the year,” Pagenaud said. “I knew I could win races. It’s not my first win; I’ve been around. It was just a matter of when and it’s when we were going to put ourselves in that position.”

Stars come out in droves for Long Beach race

When actor Alfonso Ribeiro won the 40th Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race on the eve of today’s Grand Prix of Long Beach, he might have had good karma from the Verizon IndyCar Series on his side.

Ribeiro, host of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and the 2014 “Dancing with the Stars” winner, is a longtime Indy car fan, so it’s fitting that he took the checkered flag Saturday as the charity race celebrated its 40th and final year. It was Ribeiro’s fourth Pro/Celebrity Race win.

The actor – best known for his role playing Carlton Banks on the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” – is a friend of Andretti Herta Autosport principal Bryan Herta and knows numerous Indy car drivers, so he has received racing tips from the pros.

“I’ve been a fan of Indy car (racing) probably since 1988. I became really good friends with Bryan Herta (when Herta was a driver) and actually used to spot for him at the oval races,” said Ribeiro. “What I love about INDYCAR … is (the schedule includes) street circuits, road courses, ovals, superspeedways and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s just amazing – they have to be not just great drivers in one area, they have to be great across the board. These guys are some of the best in the world.”

Many other celebrities visited the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock over the course of the weekend. Six-time NFL Pro Bowl player Terrell Owens showed up Friday with a microphone, reporting for “The Rich Eisen Show,” spending time with Chip Ganassi Racing drivers Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon and taking a ride in the INDYCAR Experience two-seat Indy car with racing legend Mario Andretti at the wheel.

“Dancing with the Stars” professional dancers Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Tony Dovolani also took the ride of a lifetime with Andretti, as did Spike Feresten, host of “Car Matchmaker.”

Boxing legend Oscar De La Hoya was grand marshal of the race and issued the command for drivers to start their engines. Taya Kyle, widow of “American Sniper” Chris Kyle, waved the green flag to start the 80-lap grand prix.

Larenz Tate, star of the new NBC drama “Game of Silence,” comedian Nick Swardson, “Girl Next Door” Bridget Marquardt and Austin Stowell of the film “Bridge of Spies” were guests of Marco Andretti, driver of the No. 27 United Fiber & Data/Snapple Honda for Andretti Autosport.

“That ’70s Show” and “Spider-Man 3” star Topher Grace and Tory Belleci of “MythBusters” were guests of Conor Daly, driver of the No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda for Daly Coyne Racing. Nathan Kress of “iCarly” fame watched the race from Dixon’s pit.