LONG BEACH, California: Simon Pagenaud finally broke through for Team Penske using a timely late pit stop en route to claiming the Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday (Monday in Manila).
France’s Pagenaud pitted on lap 53 then rejoined the field in first place before extending his lead over Scott Dixon on the 3.17 kilometer (1.97-mile) course through the streets of the southern California city.
Pagenaud edged out New Zealand’s Dixon by just 0.3032 of a second for the closest margin of victory in Long Beach race history.
“The big gamble paid off,” Pagenaud said.
He earned his fifth career IndyCar title but it was his first since joining Team Penske last year.
“It was difficult, but we managed to do it. It is awesome,” Pagenaud said. “My first win for Penske. You guys can’t say no wins anymore.”
“When you have Scott Dixon behind you, you always need to push as hard as you can. I was really, really pushing and we were saving fuel.”
The 80-lap race ran caution free but not without controversy. Pagenaud was given a warning for improper lane usage during his pit stop but was not penalized.
Dixon was upset with race officials that Pagenaud got off with just a warning.
“The rule clearly states you should have two wheels on the other side of the line or you get a penalty,” Dixon shrugged. “I don’t know what it’s about, this warning thing.”
“It has been a long battle with Penskes. It is what it is,” he added.
While Pagenaud was able to scrimp on fuel the same could not be said for Graham Rahal. He worked his way into the top 10 but then ran out of fuel on the last lap and finished 15th.
Pole sitter Helio Castroneves finished third, Juan Pablo Montoya was fourth and Takuma Sato rounded out the top five in the third race of a 16-race calendar.
The feature event of the series will be the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 29.