Photo: Walter Kuhn
Simon Pagenaud (#22 Team Penske, Chevy) started on pole, coming into the race with two wins and two seconds in the season’s first four races.
A crash going into Lap 1, Turn 1 brought out the caution again, having halted action in 2015. This time Tony Kanaan and Sebastien Bourdais were the victims. Pagenaud led James Hinchcliffe (#5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Honda) and Charlie Kimball (#83 Chip Ganassi Racing, Chevy) under the yellow.
Green-flag racing returned to start Lap 5. After 10 laps (of 82) Pagenaud led Hinchcliffe by 1.3 sec and Kimball by 2.2. Kimball passed Hinchcliffe for second during Lap 17. Pagenaud pitted from the lead in Lap 22 with a 4-sec lead. Kimball and Hinchcliffe followed one lap later. Kimball exited with the lead, Pagenaud sandwiched between he and Hinchcliffe. Pagenaud’s warmer tires, however, allowed him to retake the lead within the first few turns.
By Lap 30 Kimball was running 3 sec behind Pagenaud. The yellow flew seven laps later as Bourdais stalled on track. The leaders came in under the caution. Hinchcliffe pitted faster than both Pagenaud and Kimball, and exited in front of both. Helio Castroneves (#3 Penske) and Conor Daly (#18 Dale Coyne Racing, Honda) ran 1-2, having pitted earlier. Hinchcliffe was third.
Daly passed Castroneves for the lead in Turn 1, with Pagenaud taking Hinchcliffe to reclaim third.
Pagenaud ended up leading 57 laps around the 2.439-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course to collect his third consecutive win.
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Pagenaud became the first series driver to win three straight races since Scott Dixon won at Pocono and then both ends of the Toronto doubleheader to propel him to the 2013 championship.
"What a day," said Pagenaud, who also won at Indy in 2014. "Three races! It's incredible to win three in a row like this and, here in Indy for me, it's very special. I lived here for nine years so this place is very special in my heart."
Pagenaud finished 4.4748 sec ahead of Castroneves. The key to victory came on Pagenaud's final stop on Lap 63, when he entered and exited the pits with the lead. "The car was fantastic once again," Pagenaud said. "The balance was perfect all race. When we were in the lead, we were cruising, doing what we could to save the tires. But the car was just fantastic to drive.”
"It was very difficult on cold tires, so you could really make some ground on the pit sequence," he added. "After the first (stop), I realized it was something to do with it. I let Kyle (Moyer, race strategist) know. He already knew but that's what we did the next two pit stops. We did the opposite and it worked. Thanks to my guys."
Castroneves was pleased with his runner-up finish. It was the Brazilian's 39th career second-place finish, second on the all-time list, and his 88th career podium, tying him with Bobby Rahal and Al Unser Jr. for sixth all time. "Great teamwork. Never give up," Castroneves said. "The hum by Verizon boys, everybody was really in sync. We never gave up because we knew we had issues and knew we didn't have the fastest car, but we had the heart, man. We had the passion. We put it out there and had a little bit of luck, obviously, but it all blends together."
Hinchcliffe had his best run of the season, starting and finishing third. The native Canadian pledged $15,000 of his winnings to the Canadian Red Cross to assist in relief for the Fort McMurray wildfires in Alberta.
"We had a great car," Hinchcliffe said. "Huge credit to everybody at Schmidt Peterson. The Arrow Electronics car was great all weekend. Missed the whole first practice, managed to put it on the second row. Got caught up on some of the restarts there but the guys were awesome in the pits. We were way quicker than Helio but just didn't have enough to get by him. Great result."