Honda Indy winner Simon Pagenaud continues impressive start

Honda Indy winner Simon Pagenaud continues impressive start
This year's Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park drew the second-largest crowd in the event's history. (Phil Free/Alabama NewsCenter)

Simon Pagenaud continued his impressive start to the Verizon IndyCar Series as he was a nearly wire-to-wire winner of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park.

Sunday’s victory, before 83,765, was the French native’s second in as many weeks on the circuit in the PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet. He was runner-up in each of the first two races of the season.

Pagenaud started on the pole and held the lead the first 19 laps before yielding the lead for two laps to Graham Rahal, the runner-up at Barber for the second year in a row. Pagenaud set the pace for the next 59 laps, until Rahal nudged him and took the lead.

The race came down to Pagenaud’s side-by-side battle with the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda in the closing laps of the 90-lap, 207-mile race around the 2.3-mile, 17-turn road course.

“In the end, Graham really caught up, and he gave me a good piece of driving that was amazing from him,” Pagenaud said. “I (take) my hat off to him for that. He got me really excited, and I wouldn’t say that – the redness came up after I went off track.”

But, literally and figuratively, he got back on track.

“I said, yeah, I’m going to get that one back no matter what,” the series leader said. “We had so much pace in the car that I could get back to him, and then it was about being aggressive. He got a little too aggressive over the curb, and that was my chance.”

Rahal’s ride was damaged in Lap 30 as the right front wing broke. “It was just a simple part failure,” Rahal said. “That hurt us quite a bit. From then on, we were just trying to fight a lot of underspin in the car.

“I knew at the end I could catch Simon,” Rahal continued. “I knew we had the pace to do it. … We just let this slip today.”

Josef Newgarden, the 2015 winner of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, wound up third Sunday.

“I thought we had a good race car,” the Henderson, Tenn., native said of his Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet. “It obviously wasn’t enough for Pagenaud or Graham, but we were close. I think that’s why we were able to get third was that we were close to those guys.”

Scott Dixon set a track race lap record with a 1:08.4533 on his way to finishing 10th. Juan Pablo Montoya, who started last, finished fifth.

Sunday’s attendance was second only to the 84,126 who came to Barber for the first Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama in 2010.

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