Pagenaud rides hot streak into points lead heading to Long Beach


Despite having three teammates with formidable Indy car resumes, Simon Pagenaud is poised to be Team Penske’s lead driver in 2015.

The Frenchman spent 2015 adapting to Team Penske’s way, but with back-to-back second place finishes to start the 2016 season, Pagenaud is the team’s top driver in the point standings.

“We've had a great start to the season,” Pagenaud said. “After back-to-back second-place finishes, it's an honor to be leading the points in the Verizon IndyCar Series for Team Penske. But, it's obviously very early in the season and we are still very hungry for our first win.”

Pagenaud is the only driver to finish in the top five in each race this season and leads Scott Dixon by four points heading into the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 17. Pagenaud has three top-five finishes in five starts on the 1.968-mile street course, including a runner-up finish in 2012.

“It would be really cool to get our first victory of the year here,” he said. “Long Beach is always a tough race and it's very important to qualify well so you can race up front. We are excited to have the No. 22 Team Penske car racing in the PPG colors this weekend. We had some really strong finishes last season in the PPG Chevy, including a couple of podium results, so we'll try to keep the streak going at Long Beach."

Here’s some other stories to watch heading into Long Beach:

California kids

Charlie Kimball grew up in Southern California with the Long Beach Grand Prix basically in his backyard.

The native of Camarillo, Calif., will have up to 60 friends and family at Long Beach as he returns to the Golden State looking for his first home win.

But Kimball won’t be the lone Californian racing in front of the home crowd this weekend.

Rookie Alexander Rossi hails from Nevada City, Calif., and will be making his first start at Long Beach. In fact, the former Formula 1 racer will be racing in his home state for the first time in his professional racing career.

"Long Beach is one of those races that you always hear about as an unbelievable venue and event, so I am very excited to be a part of it this year,” Rossi said. “This will be the first time that I have raced at home in California and I will certainly be looking to put on a strong show for the local crowd."

Race notes

* This weekend's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will mark the 33rd Indy car event on the historic street circuit. Mario Andretti won the first Indy car race there in 1984. Scott Dixon, who claimed his first win at Long Beach in 2015, aims for back-to-back wins at the Beach and join the prestigious list of back-to-back winners that includes Mario Andretti, Sebastien Bourdais, Paul Tracy, Al Unser Jr. and Alex Zanardi.

* Al Unser Jr. has won the most times at Long Beach (six), while Bourdais and Will Power are the only entered drivers with multiple wins. Bourdais won three straight races from 2005-2007. Power won in 2008 and 2012. Other former race winners scheduled to compete are: Juan Pablo Montoya (1999), Helio Castroneves (2001), Ryan Hunter-Reay (2010), Takuma Sato (2013) and Dixon (2015).

* Team Penske drivers have won five of the last seven poles at Long Beach: Castroneves, who set the lap record in 2015, Power from 2009-2011 and Ryan Briscoe in 2012. In addition to Castroneves and Power, other past pole winners entered in this year's race are: Hunter-Reay (2014), Bourdais (2006-2007) and Tony Kanaan (1999).

* Nineteen drivers entered in the event have competed in Indy car races at Long Beach. Twelve of those drivers have led laps: Bourdais 169, Power 162, Castroneves 132, Hunter-Reay 122, Dixon 69, Sato 66, Marco Andretti 64, Kanaan 51, Montoya 40, Simon Pagenaud 26, Jack Hawksworth 4 and Josef Newgarden 1.

* Kanaan seeks to start his 252nd consecutive race, which would extend his Indy car-record streak that began in 2001 at Portland. Teammate Dixon has made 193 consecutive starts, which is tied for the third-longest streak in Indy car racing.

From the fans