"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 IndyCar 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."
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 33 IndyCar races held at Long Beach and the fastest ever with an average speed of 100.592 mph. It gave Pagenaud five career IndyCar 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).
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.
The win was not without controversy, as IndyCar race stewards warned Pagenaud for improper lane usage exiting the pits. Still, 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."
IndyCar issued the following statement on the matter:
"Simon Pagenaud's actions during the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach were deemed an infraction per Rule 126.96.36.199. "Lane Usage" of the INDYCAR Penalty Guidelines: Failing to follow designated procedures entering or exiting the pit area, including the proper use of the acceleration and deceleration lanes. The penalty for this infraction ranges from a warning (minimum), putting the driver to the back of the field (mid) and drive-through or stop and go/hold (maximum). INDYCAR race stewards determined his actions were not severe enough to warrant a harsher penalty than the warning that was issued."
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."
Boxing legend Oscar De La Hoya was grand marshal of the race and issued the command for drivers to start their engines.
Also among those in attendance were stars Alfonso Ribeiro, Terrell Owens, and Larenz Tate.
Below are Sunday's results of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 1.968-mile Streets of Long Beach circuit, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):
1. (3) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 80, Running
2. (2) Scott Dixon, Chevrolet, 80, Running
3. (1) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 80, Running
4. (5) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 80, Running
5. (8) Takuma Sato, Honda, 80, Running
6. (4) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 80, Running
7. (6) Will Power, Chevrolet, 80, Running
8. (7) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 80, Running
9. (14) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 80, Running
10. (9) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 80, Running
11. (15) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 80, Running
12. (10) Carlos Munoz, Honda, 80, Running
13. (13) Conor Daly, Honda, 80, Running
14. (19) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 80, Running
15. (17) Graham Rahal, Honda, 80, Running
16. (18) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 80, Running
17. (12) Luca Filippi, Honda, 80, Running
18. (11) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 80, Running
19. (21) Marco Andretti, Honda, 79, Running
20. (16) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 79, Running
21. (20) Jack Hawksworth, Honda, 77, Running
Winners average speed: 100.592
Time of Race: 1:33:54.4835
Margin of victory: 0.3032 of a second
Lead changes: 6 among 4 drivers
Castroneves 1 - 26
Dixon 27 - 28
Kimball 29 - 30
Castroneves 31 - 51
Pagenaud 52 - 54
Pagenaud 56 - 80
IndyCar Series point standings:
Pagenaud 134, Dixon 120, Montoya 106, Castroneves 92, Kanaan 82, Hunter-Reay 68, Power 62, Rahal 59, Kimball 58, Aleshin 57.
By Staff of TheDailySportsHerald.com and news services