Simon Pagenaud expands IndyCar lead with 3rd straight victory

— -- INDIANAPOLIS -- Simon Pagenaud turned up the heat in Indianapolis' record-breaking cold Saturday.

The hottest driver in the IndyCar Series took the lead when teammate Helio Castroneves pitted with 20 laps to go, then beat Castroneves out of the pits one lap later to keep the lead and pulled away to take the Grand Prix of Indianapolis for his third consecutive victory.

Pagenaud beat the Brazilian by a race-record 4.4748 seconds on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course, becoming the first IndyCar driver to win three straight since Scott Dixon in 2013 and the first two-time winner of the race.

"The temperature was so low, the tires weren't supposed to work in these temperatures but they (worked) very well," Pagenaud said. "We kept our best tires for the end of the race knowing it's when we would want the best performance, when I could really push. When I put those tires on the car it was magical."

The whole season has gone that way for the French driver.

Since finishing second in this season's first two races, Pagenaud has won three straight, back-to-back poles and holds a 76-point lead over defending series champ Scott Dixon. And this time, his biggest challenge was the weather.

Less than 24 hours after warm temperatures and sun helped produce record-setting qualifying times, chilly temperatures and brisk wind forced teams to recalibrate.

According to, the temperature was 49 degrees and the wind chill was 43 when the race began. The previous record low for an IndyCar race at the historic speedway was 58 degrees for the 1992 Indianapolis 500.

While the chilly temperatures may have kept some fans away from the Brickyard, Pagenaud used his sports-car experience to keep his tires properly warmed. He led 57 of the 82 laps and was so dominant that even his closest competitors knew they didn't have a chance.

"Simon saw me behind him and he was just playing with me," said Castroneves, the Brazilian who has three Indianapolis 500 wins. "I'd come close and then he would put distance (between us)."

Third-place finisher James Hinchcliffe, of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, saw it the same way.

"Simon was in a class of his own," the Canadian said after finishing his first Indianapolis race since surviving a life-threatening leg injury last May. "I don't know if we would have had enough for him either way."

Those who stayed home Saturday missed a remarkable recovery from American Graham Rahal, who was forced to start 24th in the 25- car field after failing a post-qualifying inspection. Rahal wound up leading two laps and finished fourth.

Charlie Kimball, who started second, rounded out the top five.

The race was marred by another first-lap crash. Dixon appeared to force teammate Tony Kanaan toward the outside wall and into Sebastien Bourdais, damaging both cars.

Kanaan did not make it back onto the course. Bourdais did but completed only 20 laps before dropping out.

WHO'S HOT: Team Penske. The four-car stable of Pagenaud, Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya and Will Power have combined to win four of five races and all five poles heading into the biggest event of the season for team owner Roger Penske.

WHO'S NOT: Marco Andretti. The Andretti Curse may have struck the family's youngest driver even before the Indianapolis 500. When Andretti finished ninth in the points last season, it appeared he could be on the cusp of a breakout year. Instead, his best start this season was 11th at Phoenix and he still hasn't finished higher than 12th. He was 15th on Saturday.

UP NEXT: Indianapolis 500, May 29. Juan Pablo Montoya is the defending race winner.