The woods can get thick in the deep South, but Simon Pagenaud and Tristan Vautier maintained focus and cut their way through the thicket to claim two top-10 spots in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
Simon Pagenaud, driving the No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports Dallara/Honda/Firestone car, started from 13th and pitted early in the race on lap 18 to get a splash of fuel and work on an alternate pit strategy.
Clean pit stops and a cool head over the 2.38-mile, 15-turn road course brought Pagenaud as high as fifth throughout the 90-lap race before he settled for a sixth place result.
“Today was a good day, and sometimes a sixth place can feel like a win,” Pagenaud said. “We had a great race car that was consistent and fast. Coming from 13th to sixth was great and we were able to fight with the main guys. I’m pretty happy with the result today because it’s good points for the championship.”
Tristan Vautier, driving the No. 55 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (SPM) Dallara/Honda/Firestone car, started from third in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama and climbed to second on Lap 1.
Vautier spent the first 23 laps directly behind the race leader, but as the grueling race wore on he found he had a steep learning curve to overcome at Barber Motorsports Park.
“Today was a pretty tough race, but I learned a lot,” Vautier said. “I asked my engineer for a few too many changes that didn’t work out and ended up not quite being there on the pure speed.”
The 23-year-old rookie ended the day in 10th position, his first top-10 in the IZOD IndyCar Series. Despite the positive result, Vautier climbed out of his car wishing he could have accomplished more in the No. 55 car.
“I made three big mistakes that cost us a lot of time on the track,” he said. “I think next time I just need a better pace and to avoid those mistakes. Overall it was good to finish the race and it showed me how hard it is to stay at 100 percent for almost two hours in a race.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport won the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, and was joined on the podium by Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves. Charlie Kimball and Will Power rounded out the top-five.
At the conclusion of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, Simon Pagenaud is 14th in the IZOD IndyCar Series Championship with 34 points, and Tristan Vautier is 17th with 29 points.
The Frenchmen return to IZOD IndyCar Series action for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 21. For all the latest news from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports, follow @SPMIndyCar on Twitter.