INDIANAPOLIS – An epic season deserves an equally impressive champion.
That’s what IndyCar had this year in Simon Pagenaud, who was honored Tuesday during the Verizon IndyCar Series Championship Celebration.
Pagenaud, 32, was saluted at Hilbert Circle Theatre on Indianapolis’ Monument Circle for capturing the season championship on the strength of a series-best five race wins and seven Verizon P1 Award pole positions over the course of the 16-race campaign.
The driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet was awarded the $1 million champion’s prize and the Astor Challenge Cup, the trophy presented annually to the series champion since 2011, by Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co., the parent of IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, before a capacity crowd.
Pagenaud clinched his first career title with a dominant win in the Sept. 18 season finale, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. With two weeks to take in the significance of his accomplishment, the Frenchman is savoring the moment.
“It’s obviously a milestone in my career, my lifetime dream come true,” said Pagenaud, who just completed his sixth fulltime season and seventh overall racing Indy cars. “There’s obviously more in the future, other goals to reach, but I’ve reached one of the biggest ones I wanted.”
The celebration of Pagenaud as the champion climaxed an evening of recognizing superlative performances throughout the historic 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season, one that included the blockbuster 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race presented by PennGrade Motor Oil – won in most memorable fashion by rookie Alexander Rossi, who coasted across the finish line after his Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda ran out of fuel on the final lap.
The epic season also contained returns to Indy car racing’s roots at iconic racetracks Phoenix Int’l Raceway, Road America and Watkins Glen International. Coupled with continued successful events at IndyCar staple venues on temporary street circuits (St. Petersburg, Long Beach, Belle Isle and Toronto), permanent road courses (Barber Motorsports Park, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Sonoma Raceway) and ovals (Texas Motor Speedway, Iowa Speedway and Pocono Raceway), 2016 marked another year of solid, measurable growth for INDYCAR.
“This has been a phenomenal season,” said Miles. “Historic in a very real sense with the epic 100th Running of the Indy 500 – which I think exceeded everybody’s expectations as a monumental event. But then the whole year was great. I think back to all the races, every one of them was a dynamite event – great racing, great crowds.
“All of our fan metrics are up meaningfully this year,” Miles added. “In fact, we’re at like a 55 percent increase in our television audience over the last three years, which very few sports can claim, and all of our other metrics are great. IndyCar is on a roll, we’ve got the schedule out for next year and people are looking forward to 2017.”
In addition to the championship bonus, Pagenaud was awarded the Jostens Champions Award, a ring to commemorate his championship. He also won the Sunoco Diamond Performance Award for winning the most races this season and the Verizon P1 Award for scoring the most points among pole winners.
Billy Vincent, chief mechanic for Pagenaud’s No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet, accepted the Verizon IndyCar Series Chief Mechanic of the Year Award.
Jon Bouslog was honored as the Team Manager of the Year, with Team Penske collecting its record 14th Indy car championship in the same year that owner Roger Penske’s organization is celebrating 50 years in racing.
“Obviously Team Penske is one of the most historic race teams in the world,” Pagenaud said. “I’m so proud to be part of this team, so proud that I could bring this championship to Roger. The 50-year anniversary is huge and this is going to go into history. I’m very glad that I could leave a little bit of my legacy, but I’m a very small part in a very big thing.”
Rossi earned the Verizon IndyCar Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award, after also being named in May as the Sunoco Rookie of the Year for the Indianapolis 500.
Another Verizon IndyCar Series rookie, Conor Daly, claimed the TAG Heuer “Don’t Crack Under Pressure” Award for advancing the most cumulative places from the start of races to their finish during the season.
Mike Hull, managing director of Chip Ganassi Racing accepted the Firestone “Drive to the Finish” Award on behalf of Charlie Kimball, who completed the most laps of any driver this season (2,066 of a possible 2,070, 99.8 percent).
The family of Bryan Clauson, who was voted IndyCar Nation Fan Favorite Driver, accepted the award for the three-time Indianapolis 500 starter who was fatally injured in a midget racing accident in August.
Jim Campbell, Chevrolet’s vice president of performance vehicles and motorsports, accepted the manufacturers award on behalf of Chevrolet, which won 14 of the 16 races, 13 pole positions and led 71 percent of the race laps (1,467 of 2,070).
Chevrolet has won the manufacturers award every year since Verizon IndyCar Series engine competition resumed in 2012.
Will Power of Team Penske was honored as the second-place finisher in the championship while teammate Helio Castroneves was recognized for finishing third. It gave Team Penske a sweep of the top three positions in the point standings.
“Tonight is really a tour de force for Team Penske,” Miles said. “You can’t finish 1-2-3 if you don’t beat 4-5-6 through 21 or 22. It was a great year of racing for Simon and for Roger Penske in his 50th year in racing. It’s just an amazing accomplishment.”
CREDIT: INDYCAR Communications