In what was a thrilling final 10 laps at IndyCar’s virtual return at Twin Ring Motegi, last week’s Michigan winner Simon Pagenaud, held off a hard charging Scott Dixon for his second consecutive IndyCar challenge win.
Pagenaud took the lead with seven to go after Oliver Askew made contact with leader Will Power.
“Wow, it was a crazy race,” Pagenaud said to NBC Sports. “It was very hectic with Will (Power) at one point and then (Scott) Dixon at the end. But man, we worked hard. I will tell you, we worked hard all week to be competitive. I think I am catching up, I think I am getting there. Certainly, I get a lot of prep from Ben Bretzman, my race strategist and as you can see, he’s doing a great job with the pit stops.”
“I am having a lot of fun. It’s so stressful, because you’re still lacking a lot of feedback. So, I’m learning another way to race. Though, it’s the same behavior as usual for all the drivers out there.”
Before IndyCar made their virtual return to the oval in Japan, qualifying was held shortly before NBCSN came on the air. Robert Wickens was able to put his No. 6 machine on the front row for the pole. For James Hinchcliffe, however, internet issues plagued him and prevented him from competing in today’s race. He was credited with a 33rd place finish.
As the Firestone 175 got underway, there were several accidents, some as early as Lap 2. Tony Kanaan went flipping on the backstretch but no caution was called. One lap later, Max Chilton went spinning around. However, the first and only caution of the race was called on Lap 5 as IndyCar veteran Helio Castroneves and others were involved in a multi-vehicle wreck.
The restart came on Lap 8 with Oliver Askew in the lead and pole sitter Wickens dropped to 10th. But, it didn’t take long for Will Power to take the lead on Lap 12. After Power took the lead, the Firestone 175 went into a long green flag run. Though, on Lap 31, Felipe Nasr was parked by race control due to poor connectivity.
Just 14 laps before halfway, the first round of green flag pit stops began. Santino Ferrucci was the first to pit on Lap 42. The top runners like Scott McLaughlin pitted on lap 48, as Power pitted on Lap 49, while Dixon and Pagenaud pitted on Lap 50. During the pit stop cycle, Sage Karam, Josef Newgarden, Takuma Sato, and NASCAR Cup Champion Kyle Busch all stayed out a few laps longer due to pitting early in the race. They were hoping to catch a caution but they ran out of time and had to make a stop.
After the stops, Team Penske driver and Pagenaud’s teammate, Will Power, cycled out in the lead on Lap 56, right at the halfway point. Despite Power having a dominating racecar, he was challenged for the first time in the race. On Lap 75, Scott Dixon ran down Power and took the lead. The two traded the top spots in a thrilling battle, before Dixon maintained the advantage.
With the laps clicking off toward the finish, the last round of green flag pit stops took place. The first to pit was Jack Harvey with 29 to go, followed by eventual race winner Pagenaud on the same lap. The leaders Dixon, Power, and McLaughlin all pitted one lap later.
Hoping to stretch their fuel mileage, Newgarden and Askew had not pitted. The only way the two could stay on track was to catch a caution and have a lucky break. However, Askew pitted with 16 to go, as the race leader Newgarden had to pit with 14 to go.
After the pit stops, things heated up on the track. While Power cycled back into the lead again, Askew accidentally made contact with him and McLaughlin. McLaughlin had the most damage and went flipping, as Power suffered major right side damage, eventually costing Power the race.
Due to those accidents, Pagenaud took the race lead with seven to go with Dixon breathing down his neck. Pagenaud was trying all he could to prevent Dixon from catching him in the draft. With two to go, Dixon made a dive bomb move to try and pass Pagenaud for the win. However, Dixon had to check up, which allowed Pagenaud to pull away with the lead and another race win in the IndyCar Challenge.
After Pagenaud crossed the finish line, Dixon’s car hit the wall taking Castroneves and several others. In the end, it was Pagenaud and the No. 22 DXC Technology scoring back-to-back virtual wins.
“No, I’ve never had that happen,” Pagenaud said to NBC Sports after Dixon’s car went rage mode. “You know, Dixon can be upset, it’s the last lap of the race. I’m racing for the win and I’m going to go for it, and he (Dixon) went for it too. Just sometimes, this can be like real life situations. Dixon is a great racer and it’s a pleasure to race with him.”
- Simon Pagenaud
- Scott Dixon
- Will Power
- Marcus Ericsson
- Robert Wickens
- Jack Harvey
- Sage Karam
- Zach Veach
- Santino Ferrucci
- Graham Rahl
- Conor Daly
- Takuma Sato
- Kyle Busch
- Felix Rosenqvist
- Josef Newgarden
- Ryan Hunter-Reay
- Ed Carpenter
- Colton Herta
- Dalton Kellett
- Sebastien Bourdais
- Oliver Askew
- Alex Palou
- Rinus VeeKay, one lap down
- Scott McLaughlin, one lap down
- Marco Andretti, one lap down
- Pato O’Ward, one lap down
- Kyle Kaiser, one lap down
- Alexander Rossi, two laps down
- Helio Castroneves, three laps down
- Tony Kanaan, 27 laps down
- Felipe Nasr, OUT, Parked
- Max Chilton, OUT
- James Hinchcliffe, OUT, DNS
Up Next: The IndyCar Challenge continues next week with Round 5 taking place at Circuit of the Americus on Saturday April 25 live on NBCSN. The time of the event is yet to be announced.