SONOMA, Calif. — Simon Pagenaud knew going into Sunday’s Verizon IndyCar Series season finale that he was “going to have to do something different” if he wanted to beat Penske teammate Josef Newgarden on the race track.
And while he came up just short of defending his series title, Pagenaud accomplished his primary mission by winning the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway for the second-straight year.
Utilizing a four-stop strategy as opposed to the traditional three-stop plan, Pagenaud cycled in and out of the lead throughout the race before finally coming together with Newgarden with 21 laps to go after the duo had both received their final service.
Pagenaud just stayed ahead of Newgarden coming off pit road, then held the young American at bay on his out lap before pulling away to a 1.0986-second advantage by the time the twin checkers waved at the end of 85 laps.
The win for Pagenaud was his second of the season and the 11th of his Indy car career.
“I’m exhausted. That was as hard as I could drive for 85 laps non-stop,” said Pagenaud in victory lane. “I can barely lift my arms right now.”
“I want to thank my team; we had a phenomenal performance today and all weekend. … Our team showed how strong everyone is at Team Penske all season. We did what we had to do; we won the race, but unfortunately it wasn’t quite enough (to win the championship). I was in the preferred position (during the final round of stops) and I always say I’d rather be hunted than the hunter. The tires just came up to temperature quick … and it worked out.”
Traffic was a slight hindrance for Pagenaud in the final laps, but never allowed Newgarden to close enough to challenge.
“I knew Josef wasn’t going to take too many risks,” admitted the Frenchman. “It was a little bit difficult with the backmarkers, because we couldn’t get up and going, but all in all … what a beautiful day.”
Newgarden jumped out to a one second lead from the pole in the first five laps, while Helio Castroneves maintained his early space among the top three as the only Penske driver on the red-sidewall alternate tires.
Pagenaud was the first among the championship contenders to pit, coming in on lap 12 for a fresh set of reds, and Scott Dixon followed suit five laps later but bolted on a fresh set of blacks in his attempt to catch the Penske brigade up front.
Newgarden wouldn’t stand for that, however; pitting a lap later alongside Castroneves to ward off Dixon’s assault. However, Dixon lost ground a lap later when he tried to pass Castroneves on the Brazilian’s out lap and locked up the tires at Turns 6 and 7, allowing Castroneves back by.
All the while, Conor Daly led his first laps of the season before pitting on lap 21 and handing the lead to Pagenaud, whose short-pit strategy allowed him to leap-frog Newgarden and assume the point position.
Pagenaud quickly drove off and opened up a near-12 second advantage by the lap 25 benchmark, but pitted five laps later as part of a four-stop strategy and handed the lead back to Newgarden, who maintained pace over Will Power, Castroneves and Dixon.
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