DETROIT (AP) — Simon Pagenaud took advantage of a series of restarts, making moves each time to thrive in a crash-filled Detroit Grand Prix for his first IndyCar victory.
The Frenchman finished 5.6 seconds in front of James Jakes on Sunday in the second of two races on Belle Isle.
“Luckily enough, my reflexes are pretty sharp,” Pagenaud said.
The reigning IndyCar Rookie of the Year hadn’t finished better than second in 39 IndyCar and Champ Car races, a fact he thought about late in the race.
“Those last two laps were very emotional in the car, but I kept saying, ‘Keep pushing,’” he recalled. “When I crossed the finish line, it was a sweet moment.”
Jakes, meanwhile, was a little salty that the start-and-stop nature of the race hurt his chances of winning an IndyCar event for the first time.
“Whenever we managed to get in a rhythm, the yellow flags kept coming out,” Jakes said.
Mike Conway, who won Saturday’s race with just three cautions, finished third.
“I couldn’t imagine that coming into this weekend,” said Conway, who was tending his dad’s garden in England during last week’s Indianapolis 500. “Hopefully, there’s some more races for me.”
Conway’s next scheduled race for Dale Coyne Racing is in Toronto, where IndyCar will have its second of three doubleheader weekends this year.
Scott Dixon was fourth, followed by Dario Franchitti and Marco Andretti, who pulled into a tie with Helio Castroneves for the IndyCar points lead.
“It’s good to get back up there in the points and we’ll keep marching forward at Texas next weekend,” Andretti said.
After racing on a tight, 2.36-mile street course, IndyCar’s next race is on an oval at Texas Motor Speedway.
Pagenaud’s victory for Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports was another one for the lesser-known IndyCar teams.
Six drivers, including three first-time winners, have won seven races this year and none of them are driving for traditionally successful Team Penske or Chip Ganassi Racing.
“We never know who is going to be on top of any weekend,” said Pagenaud, who hadn’t finished better than sixth this season and was 12th on Saturday. “It’s great to see what IndyCar has been able to provide, a product that allows every team to be competitive.”
Pagenaud put Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports atop an IndyCar podium for the first time.
Sam Schmidt is winningest team owner in Indy Lights history, but said those victories don’t compare to the one Pagenaud provided.
“This is better,” said Schmidt, a former driver, who became a quadriplegic following a 2001 practice-session wreck. “This is really huge.”
For the second straight year, Honda went 1-2-3 in the Chevrolet-sponsored race in the shadow of General Motors’ world headquarters.
“They’ve put in a lot of work to do it again in Detroit,” Jakes said after a career-best second-place performance. “We didn’t have the month of May that we wanted, but the guys have bounced back.”
Honda had quite a weekend — with a 1-2 finish Saturday — after a Chevy-powered car driven by Tony Kanaan won the Indianapolis 500.
Dixon won last year’s Detroit Grand Prix — a race marred by poor track conditions — and was followed by Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Dario Franchitti and Pagenaud.
Kanaan led for 10 laps on Sunday before slipping to 12th, one spot better than his finish Saturday.
The 29-year-old Pagenaud survived a demolition derby in Detroit.
It didn’t take long for there to be trouble on the track.
AJ Allmendinger was in a pack of cars when he hit a wall on the opening lap — crashing soon after the start for the second straight day — to trigger the first of six cautions that stunted the first half of the race. Five of the 25 cars couldn’t finish because of contact.
“I’m embarrassed,” Allmendinger.
Side-by-side restarts, which IndyCar uses on its road and street courses as well as at Milwaukee and Iowa, seemed to lead to some of the wrecks on the tight track.
“They need to rethink these double-file restarts for open-wheel cars,” Penske Racing driver Will Power said.
Power’s shot to compete for a win ended when he was bumped from behind by Sebastien Bourdais, a move that affected nine other cars. After Power got out of his car, he threw his gloves toward Bourdais.
“The safety worker was being very aggressive with me. I was like, ‘Hey, I’m just trying to show the Frenchman my displeasure with him and that was it,” Power said.
Bourdais was penalized during the race for avoidable contact, but the damage was done.
Pagenaud, though, avoided the fray and fared very well by leading 31 of the 70 laps, including the final 11 after passing Jakes.
“The race was pretty eventful,” he said. “My goal was to attack and not look behind.”
On the biggest day of his career, Pagenaud was flooded with reflections on his path to a podium. It was a spot he wanted to stand on since he started racing at the age of 8.
After racing the full 2007 Champ Car schedule, he was looking for work when the series merged with IndyCar in 2008 and ended up competing in the American Le Mans Series and was 14 seconds short of winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2011.
Unlike Pagenaud’s dad, he never doubted he could do it.
“You always have to believe to make it happen,” he said. “But there were a lot of tough moments.”