Simon Pagenaud and Tristan Vautier drove the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in true Southern California fashion with waves of brilliance and tides of disappointment on their way to finishing eighth and 17th respectively.
Tristan Vautier, driving the No. 55 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Dallara/Honda/Firestone car, started 27th due to a 10-spot grid penalty after an unscheduled engine change.
Vautier made contact with the No. 9 car of Scott Dixon on Lap 2, and was issued a drive through penalty for avoidable contact. The IZOD IndyCar Series rookie was not discouraged by the setback however, and began climbing through the field at a blazing pace.
“I made a mistake at the beginning of the race with Scott Dixon, and I’m sorry about that for him and his team,” Vautier said. “We got back out there after the penalty though and my pace was amazing.”
Making a focused march through nearly the entire field, Vautier climbed as high as second through on-track passes.
“We really made the most of the restarts,” Vautier said. “I think we gained five positions on each of them. It felt great to run up in podium position for awhile.”
Unfortunately the flow of the tide changed for the No. 55 car on Lap 56 when he came in for a pit stop under caution. After being released by his team at the completion of his stop, he collided with the No. 12 car of Will Power who was entering his own pit box.
“We had some communication issues as a team, but we’re all learning to work together and things happen,” Vautier said. “We win as a team and we lose as a team, and I had my mistakes as well. We had a great race going and it’s too bad it ended this way, but we’re going to get a good result soon because our speed is there.”
Vautier received a second drive through penalty for his involvement in the pit lane incident. After serving the penalty he remained on the lead lap, but found himself well behind the front-runners. He finished the day in 17th.
Simon Pagenaud started the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach from 17th, and took advantage of an alternate fuel strategy to climb through the field. The No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports car made up nine positions throughout the race to finish eighth.
“Honestly it was a good points day for us when you look at all the championship contenders who finished behind us,” Pagenaud said. “Starting 17th and finishing eighth is really a good day. The strategy my team came up with worked out really well, and my car had a great pace. We were nearly the fastest car on the track and I’m really happy with the end of the weekend.”
While encouraged by a top-10 finish, Pagenaud is eager to push for more in qualifying to put himself in a better position for races.
“It’s just a shame we weren’t able to have a good qualifying session to start higher on the grid today because I think I could have run away from the field,” he said. “We’re chipping away at things, and since it’s early in the season we still have time to make up points in the championship.”
Takuma Sato of A.J. Foyt Racing won the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, which was his first career IZOD IndyCar Series victory. Graham Rahal and Justin Wilson followed Sato to the finish line in second and third position.
The race was slowed by five caution periods for a total of 16 laps. There were five changes for the lead between four different drivers.
Pagenaud and Vautier will pick up where they left off in Long Beach at the Sao Paulo Indy 300 in Brazil on May 5. For the latest Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports updates, follow @SPMIndyCar on Twitter.