St. Petersburg, Fla – Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Pete was a French connection. Both of which capitalized on the Lap 25 caution to bring two French drivers 1-2 in today’s Verizon IndyCar Series season opener.
Simon Pagenaud benefited the most coming from a 14th starting spot to a second place finish in his No. 1 Chevrolet this afternoon. When qualifying ended yesterday, everyone was concerned to how Pagenaud would do this weekend. He was struggling with the new brakes and the team was struggling with getting the handling right on the 1.8-mile street course for the Team Penske driver.
But, Pagenaud steadily moved up through the field and was in the top 10 by Lap 10 of the 110 Lap race. Then, with that Lap 25 caution, Pagenaud benefited by the leaders that didn’t pit yet.
When the leaders came down pit road, Pagenaud inherited the lead. He’d stay there until Sebastien Bourdais passed him for the top spot on Lap 36. Outside of pit sequences, he would stay in the top five for the rest of the race winding up second on Sunday.
He’d lead 13 laps today.
That’s great news for his title defense, because yesterday, it looked like it would be a tough chore to defend. He was fifth, ninth and 11th respectively in the three practice sessions this weekend and wasn’t very good in qualifying.
“It’s definitely a champion team for regrouping like they did, understanding the issue we had in qualifying,” a joyful Pagenaud said on Sunday. “This morning in the warmup, I was back home in my car. It was great to get that feeling back. The race, the car was fantastic. We got very lucky at the start, I would say. We went through the chaos. I think God had something to play with it actually, because he put the car back where it needed to go. Very lucky. Then after that, we were a bit lucky with strategy. But that was actually the plan. So thanks to (strategist) Kyle Moyer and (engineer) Ben Bretzman for their work on that. They gave me some clean air. We had to save quite a bit of fuel to manage till the end.”
For the second straight year, he comes home runner-up and for the fourth straight year, he ends up with a top five in the season opener on the streets of St. Pete.