Simon Pagenaud took the first IndyCar win of his career in a chaotic second race of this weekend's double-header at Detroit's Belle Isle.
On an afternoon where pit strategies were blown open by a procession of caution periods during the first half of the race, Schmidt Peterson driver Pagenaud worked himself toward the front during his middle stint, and had just taken the lead from James Jakes when he made his final stop. But the gap to pursuers Dario Franchitti and Mike Conway was enough that Pagenaud was able to rejoin the track ahead of them, and he reclaimed the lead when Jakes – who was on a similar strategy to the Frenchman – made his final stop.
While Pagenaud disappeared up the road, Jakes rejoined from his stop in second and soon found himself under intense pressure from Saturday race winner Conway, who had dispatched Franchitti. The pair fought all the way to the flag, with the fact that Jakes had four more hits of push-to-pass still available than Conway playing a big part in him keeping the Rahal Letterman Lanigan car ahead of his compatriot's Dale Coyne machine. The gap between them at the finish was just over 0.4 second.
“There were a lot of things going on in the cockpit in the last two laps, I can tell you that. It's unbelievable," said Pagenaud. "I don't know how we did it. The car was mega fast. The HP team did a fantastic job. Honda has been amazing. I certainly had more horsepower than anyone else out there right now. Thanks to everybody. I want to thank my family and everybody around me. This wouldn't have happened without them. Man, it's a great feeling. One I hope of more to come.”
Jakes was delighted with his career-best second, while Conway felt he had got all he could with his hard-fought third.
"Just driving flat-out. As fast as it would go. I pushed really hard at the beginning and that may have taken a little bit out of the tires but it was still good towards the end. I was catching James [Jakes], I could see he was on reds, so he started to pull away to start with when he came out to start with from that last pit stop. I thought they may go out until the end, and they were, and I used my overtake, the one I had left, maybe a lap to early. And that was enough. I couldn't quite get close enough."
Scott Dixon finished fourth after making a late pass on Ganassi teammate Franchitti, who had been forced to back off right through his final stint in order to stretch his fuel to the end.
There were a total of six cautions during the race following a sequence of accidents that decimated the field to the point that by the halfway mark only 13 cars were still on the lead lap. The worst accident was a multi-car pile up triggered when Sebastien Bourdais tipped Will Power into a spin on a restart, causing chaos behind him as cars swerved to avoid the spinning Penske driver.
At least 10 cars were involved, although most were patched back together and sent back out to salvage some points. Bourdais' car was undamaged, but he was issued a drive-through for causing avoidable contact – which left the unrepentant Frenchman furious after the race.
"We got robbed and that is not right," declared Bourdais. "Yesterday my teammate was taken out by Marco (Andretti) and there was no penalty given. We have had at least 15 contacts throughout the weekend and maybe two or three guys were penalized, including me today. I hardly touched Will Power at that restart and was penalized. This is just not right, because my team works so hard and we deserve so much better than this."
Other noteworthy incidents included a single-car crash by Ryan Hunter-Reay, who made a mistake and clipped a wall at Turn 8.
"I just threw the race away; completely my fault," admitted the series champion. "I just tagged the right front on the entry wall at one of the corners here. That's how it is with street circuits – when you mistake by an inch, it can cause you a race.
"The guys did an unbelievable job – we only lost 11 laps. The right front and right rear corner were damaged completely. To only lose 11 laps is just miraculous; they did a great job. Unfortunately, we didn't get any more yellows to help us out."
Earlier, a failure on Simona De Silvestro's car ended the Swiss driver's race at the same spot.
AJ Allmendinger earned the unhappy distinction of crashing out on the first lap for the second time in 24 hours (ABOVE), an accident for which the Penske driver took responsibility. This weekend was the last of his currently scheduled outings in Penske's third car.
Results - 70 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Engine Time/Gap
1. Simon Pagenaud Schmidt/Honda 1h56m14.7861s
2. James Jakes Rahal/Honda + 5.6274s
3. Mike Conway Coyne/Honda + 6.0616s
4. Scott Dixon Ganassi/Honda + 21.2953s
5. Dario Franchitti Ganassi/Honda + 23.4917s
6. Marco Andretti Andretti/Chevy + 29.0629s
7. Charlie Kimball Ganassi/Honda + 29.6681s
8. Helio Castroneves Penske/Chevy + 37.6446s
9. Graham Rahal Rahal/Honda + 40.5396s
10. Sebastien Saavedra Dragon/Chevy + 51.4543s
11. Sebastien Bourdais Dragon/Chevy + 1m13.1052s
12. Tony Kanaan KV/Chevy + 1m14.1353s
13. Ryan Briscoe Panther/Chevy + 1 lap
14. Tristan Vautier Schmidt/Honda + 1 lap
15. Ed Carpenter Carpenter/Chevy + 4 laps
16. Josef Newgarden Fisher/Honda + 6 laps
17. EJ Viso Andretti/Chevy + 9 laps
18. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti/Chevy + 11 laps
19. James Hinchcliffe Andretti/Chevy + 13 laps
20. Will Power Penske/Chevy + 17 laps
Alex Tagliani Herta/Honda 27 laps
Justin Wilson Coyne/Honda 27 laps
Takuma Sato Foyt/Honda 23 laps
Simona de Silvestro KV/Chevy 8 laps
AJ Allmendinger Penske/Chevy 0 lap
Winners average speed: 84.906
Time of Race: 01:56:14.7861
Margin of victory: 5.6274
Cautions: 6 for 22 laps
Lead changes: 8 among seven drivers