Without a caution to rely on, Simon Pagenaud and Team Penske came out on top of a strategy battle as the Frenchman claimed his first win on the streets of Long Beach, extending his Verizon IndyCar points lead in the process.

Pagenaud went into the blue riband event at the top of the standings courtesy of strong results in St Petersburg and Phoenix, and went better still on the streets of southern California to take his first win of the season, his first for Penske and his fifth all-time, by fending off Phoenix winner Scott Dixon by just three-tenths of a second to record the narrowest margin of victory in Long Beach history.

That difference could easily have been lost in pit-lane, or deciding when to come in, but the skill of the Penske pit-wall came to the fore as they guided Pagenaud from third on the grid, through a race-long battle with Dixon, before a beautifully-timed late pit-stop put the Frenchman's #22 machine ahead, not only of the Kiwi, but also Penske team-mate, and polesitter, Helio Castroneves, who had to settle for the final step of the podium some ten seconds adrift of his colleague.

Castroneves led from the pole as the field successfully navigated the tricky first few corners, and soon has Pagenaud making it a Penske 1-2 as he got the better of Dixon in the early going. The Ganassi driver was able to stretch his fuel mileage better on the first stint, however, and retook second spot by running to lap 28 before making his stop.

With none of the incidents that usually blight the Long Beach round, the timing of strategy was always likely to come into play, and Dixon surprised his rivals by pitting first second time around. Ducking out of traffic on lap 51, the series champion emerged ahead of Castroneves, who pitted next time around, but it was Pagenaud who got it just right, pitting on lap 53 and jumping both of his rivals. Although his return to the track looked a little dubious, the Frenchman was allowed to continue as the stewards deemed his infraction of 'failing to follow designated procedures .... exiting the pit area, including the proper use of the acceleration and deceleration lanes' were 'not severe enough to warrant a harsher penalty than the warning that was issued'. Unhindered, Pagenaud proceeded to hold off Dixon to the flag, crossing the line just 0.3032secs to the good.

"It is pretty cool," the Frenchman admitted, "I tell you this is my favorite street course, so winning here, especially in IndyCar with the level of competition so high, it is amazing. That PPG car is good luck on me. Every time I have been in that car, I have been on the podium. It's awesome, glad to represent those guys and Chevrolet. They gave me a hell of a piece of equipment. And it's my first win with Roger, so 'check'."

Dixon refused to get drawn into the controversy over Pagenaud's return to the track, admitting that his tactics had not been perfect in the final round of stops.

"When we got to turn one, it appeared that Simon turned a little early and crossed the line that you're not meant to cross, but it is what it is, so second place today," the Kiwi commented, "Team Target did a hell of a job, the pit-stops were clean and I think we had really good pace, but personally I think we should have won the race.

"It was definitely a pretty fierce battle up front, a bit of lapped traffic, some pit-stop sequence, people trying to pit short, go longer, etc, so it was quite exciting for in and out [laps] and when to use your overtakes and things like that. I think, on the last one we got caught off guard a little bit before the pit sequence had already been finished, and then to hear when we're coming down the straight that the #22 was just coming out, we had actually backed off already and started saving fuel. With the gap that we had on Helio, I really didn't think we had to worry about too much and didn't get any warning from the pits. Obviously that scenario was a lot closer than we anticipated...."

Behind Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya made it three Penske cars in the top four, with Will Power ensuring all four entries came home in the top seven, despite being beaten to the flag by Takuma Sato, the best-placed Honda runner, and Ganassi's Tony Kanaan after all 80 laps had run caution-free for just the fourth time in history and the first in the last 27 attempts.

James Hinchcliffe, Sebastien Bourdais and Josef Newgarden rounded out the top ten, while Charlie Kimball, who twice led briefly while the various strategies played out, came home eleventh. He was followed, at a distance, by Carlos Munoz and rookies Conor Daly and Max Chilton, while Graham Rahal had to make do with an unrepresentative 15th after an early charge was negated by his #15 machine running out of fuel on the last lap. Mikhail Aleshin, Luca Filippi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Alex Rossi and Jack Hawksworth completed the order.

Pagenaud's victory increases his points lead to 14 over Dixon as the IndyCar field prepares to do battle at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park next weekend.



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