By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
Simon Pagenaud is the man to watch out for at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, and not just because the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series champion won comes in as the defending race winner.
Top to bottom, he has one of the more impressive results listings over the last decade at the beach, only rivaled by Team Penske teammate Will Power.
2007: 14th (Team Australia, rookie year – Champ Car era)
The only driver with a more impressive run over five years at Long Beach is held by Al Unser Jr., who was second in 1987 (and 1986) and then won four in a row from 1988 to 1991. Heck, he nearly made it five consecutive in 1992 before being punted on the last lap by teammate Galles Racing teammate Danny Sullivan for the win.
Is there any surprise why Pagenaud would be the guy to watch? Let’s look at last year’s race.
Pagenaud started third but got to second on the second lap of the race. He stayed in second until dropping to third after the first round of pit stops. After the second round of stops, Pagenaud was able to come out ahead of Dixon (a little controversially) but led the last 25 laps to win.
But how was Pagenaud able to come out ahead of Dixon?
Pagenaud pitted on Lap 54. His fastest lap was Lap 53, a 1:08.8640 lap which happened to be the fastest leader lap of the race. His in lap for his final pit stop was set to be just as fast before heading into pit lane, while Dixon wasn’t able to match Pagenaud’s lap times.
The controversial moment of the race:
Pagenaud’s right side wheels cross over the edge of a yellow line marking the pit lane exit onto the track with many calling for a penalty, but none was called because Takuma Sato and Tony Kanaan had made similar moves just a minute apart from Pagenaud’s exit, and with non-calls for Kanaan and Sato, there had to be one for Pagenaud.
That situation and a really fast car made the Frenchman’s race all the more easier as he sailed away for his first win in the 42nd annual event.
With a consistent record of solid finishes combined with running with Team Penkse, and continuing last season’s momentum by starting this year with a second-place finish in the IndyCar opener in St. Petersburg. Pagenaud is the confident pick on who to watch as the series heads to Long Beach this weekend.