Friendly rivals? Pagenaud warns Power

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Race car drivers are famously good at looking toward the next corner in the road, but excuse Simon Pagenaud if he’s still looking somewhat in the mirror.

The Verizon IndyCar Series driver is still irritated by the contact he took from longtime friend and former teammate Will Power in the April 13 race in Long Beach, Calif.

Power hit the left-rear corner of Pagenaud’s car as they approached a corner on the street circuit, and that sent Pagenaud spinning into the barrier. Fortunately for the Frenchman, damage to the car wasn’t enough to sideline him for the rest of the race, and his Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports crew was able to get him back to action.

Pagenaud recovered well enough to finish fifth, although that lofty spot came as a result of a seven-car pileup that started with contact between the three frontrunners at the time: Ryan Hunter-Reay hitting Josef Newgarden, and they collected third-place James Hinchcliffe.

Power not only drove through the accident scene as cars were sliding, he managed to finish second. Power, who drives for Team Penske, is the series points leader heading to Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network) because he also won the season-opening race in St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 30.

Pagenaud is third in the still-young standings, and he’s someone Power might want to be on the lookout for. After all, Pagenaud just might get even with the Australian.

Pagenaud said he is “still disappointed” in Power’s action.

“Although I understand racing can be tough sometimes,” he said this week. “I may make the same mistake some day, may not be proud of myself.”

That Power wasn’t penalized by IndyCar’s three-man steward group also rankles Pagenaud.

“It’s a shame; it really ruined my race,” he said.

Power apologized to Pagenaud, but Pagenaud noted that it’s easy for a violator to say that after the fact. How they race from this point forward — Sunday’s race at this picturesque 2.38-mile permanent road course is next on the agenda — will be something fun to watch.

“I guess he set the tone for the rest of the season,” Pagenaud said. “We’re going to be racing hard against each other.

“I’m pleased actually that we’re that high up in the championship to be chasing him; that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to try to be racing hard, and I’ll try to be as clean as I can be.”

Power won this event in 2011 and 2012, and he has captured the pole twice since the event began four years ago. Hunter-Reay, who drives for Andretti Autosport, won last year’s race from the pole.

Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver Scott Dixon, who won last year’s season championship, has finished second in the previous four races at Barber and came within a few laps of winning the Long Beach race before he relinquished the lead with three laps left to pit for more fuel. Mike Conway took the win for Ed Carpenter Racing.

Power’s teammate, Helio Castroneves, won IndyCar’s inaugural race at Barber in 2010. This race is the third of 18 this season.