Will Power was in position to run away with the 38th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday, but Simon Pagenaud had a finishing kick like few in the sport have ever seen.
Chopping off a second per lap for the last 12 laps, Pagenaud moved from third place to the rear Power's Dallara before finally running out of time in the 85-lap race.
Had it been 86 laps the outcome might have been different, but Power ended up winning his second race in a row, and gave team owner Roger Penske a sweep of the first three races of the IZOD IndyCar Series season.
Power's magin of victory was 0.86 seconds, and though he got the victory, it was Pagenaud's performance that stole the show. With 12 laps remaining, he was in fourth place and down by more than 12 seconds on the 11-turn, 1.698-mile course.
With his victory, Power took over the championship lead after three of 16 races. The runner-up to champ Dario Franchitti the past two seasons, Power has 127 points, ahead of teammate and St. Petersburg winner Helio Castroneves with 103 and Pagenaud with 100.
While Power drives for the powerful Penske organization, Pagenaud races for the single-car team owned by Sam Schmidt and Davey Hamilton.
Power made only two pit stops and saved fuel while Pagenaud made three stops and raced hard throughout. Still, Power said he was ready for a late challenge.
"With three to go I had a 3 1/2 second gap," Power said. "I could probably equal his lap time if I pushed really hard, but we saved enough fuel to run really hard for the last two laps if I had to."
Power qualified second on Saturday but, like all drivers with Chevrolet engines, was penalized 10 spots on the starting grid; he took the green flag in 12th position.
“I passed when I could,” Power said. “Every time I could get around, I passed. That was the key to the victory, making those moves on (Justin) Wilson, (Takuma) Sato, (James) Jakes.
“On those laps you use a lot of fuel. … You have to use the fuel to do that, but then save extra to make up for the fuel that you used, and to get the lap time. It was just a day of pushing as hard as I could while saving fuel. It was a good race.”
Power took the lead on Lap 71 when Pagenaud peeled off into the pits after leading twice for a race-high 26 laps. Pagenaud had an 11.6-second lead over Power after 70 laps, but the Frenchman emerged from the pits in fourth place, behind Power, Sato and Rubens Barrichello.
Then Pagenaud went to work, slipping past Formula One veteran Barrichello in two laps and setting his sights on the leaders. He passed Sato on Lap 79, giving him six laps to wipe out Power's 5.8-second advantage.
Power and Pagenaud were teammates in 2007 in the Champ Car World Series racing for Team Australia. Power finished fourth that season and Pagenaud eighth.
James Hinchcliffe, taking over the ride vacated by Danica Patrick at Andretti Autosport, finished third after Ryan Hunter-Reay was assessed a 30-second penalty for avoidable contact with Sato on the last lap. Hinchcliffe, a Canadian, has finishes of fourth, sixth and third this season—just as many top six finishes as Patrick had all last year before moving to NASCAR.
The top 10 was rounded out by fourth-place Tony Kanaan, J.R. Hildebrand, Hunter-Reay, pole-sitter Ryan Briscoe, Sato, Barrichello and Wilson. All but Pagenaud Wilson—who led 15 laps after passing Franchitti—was powered by Chevrolet as the manufacturer took eight of the top 10 spots despite being penalized 10 starting spots on the grid after qualifying.
It was a particularly disappointing finish for Sato, who led 16 laps and was in third place when Hunter-Reay got into him. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver has yet to finish a race.
Franchitti, who started on the pole, finished 15th, two laps down. It was also a rough day for Scott Dixon, who had finished second in the first two races and was in second place in the standings. Dixon lost power on Lap 28 and finished 23rd; he dropped to fourth in the standings.
The highest finishing Lotus drivers were Oriol Servia and Sebastien Bourdais, who finished 16th and 17th after starting 23rd and 25th, respectively. They completed 83 of the 85 laps.
See the attached video for highlights of the race.