Pagenaud claims victory in thrilling Grand Prix of Indianapolis

8 Mins read
Simon Pagenaud (FRA), Team Penske, 2019 NTT IndyCar Series, Indianapolis
Credit: Chris Owens / Courtesy of IndyCar

Simon Pagenaud has taken victory in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series Grand Prix of Indianapolis at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. The Frenchman put in a stunning drive at the end of a chaotic race to chase down reigning champion Scott Dixon to take the lead on the penultimate lap.

There was a lot of anticipation as the race got underway at Indianapolis. A mixed up field would take the green flag after an exciting qualifying session on Friday, with Chip Ganassi Racing‘s Felix Rosenqvist leading away from his first pole position start for the opening stages of the race.

An early caution saw two different strategies begin to play out. Marcus Ericsson spun into the wall at the final corner on lap eleven, with the caution coming out right as rain was starting to approach the circuit. The leaders elected not to pit, but further back, drivers such as Josef NewgardenPatricio O’WardJames Hinchcliffe and more elected to get rid of their Firestone primary tyres and move onto the alternate compound; thus setting up two different pit phases for much of the remainder of the race.

Much of the middle stages of the race saw the potential advantage swing too and throw between many drivers, as all were waiting for the rain to become heavy enough to pit for the wet tyres. On the restart after the first caution, Scott Dixon would get a monster restart to move up from third to the lead, passing both Meyer Shank Racing‘s Jack Harvey and his race-leading team-mate Rosenqvist.

Once Dixon hit the front, he looked to be in control. He soon built up an impressive lead over his rivals on the same pit-strategy, with Josef Newgarden taking over the lead occasionally during pit-sequences.

With just over twenty-five laps remaining in the race, the rain was starting to reach its heaviest point. This was illustrated when returning veteran Helio Castroneves made a pit-stop for wet tyres on lap fifty-nine and duly spun on the exit of the pit-lane. He soon found himself beached on the exit of turn two, which would subsequently bring out a caution; right in the window for the entire field to make it to the end of the race.

During the extended caution period, the rain would worsen even further. The entire field had come down into the pits right before the caution was called, with many drivers opting to stay on the dry tyre compound as they felt as though the track was still too dry. A handful of drivers, including former race-leader Scott Dixon, would pit for wet tyres, which ultimately proved to be the right decision.

Credit: Chris Owens / Courtesy of IndyCar

Whilst the field was still circulating behind the safety car, the rain got heavier, prompting the dry-tyre runners to pit once again to switch to the wet tyres for the ensuing restart. When the race restarted with seventeen laps to go, Dixon would take the green flag first, pursued by the ever-impressive Jack Harvey, Spencer PigotMatheus LeistEd Jones and Simon Pagenaud.

A battle royale would soon begin between Pigot, Leist and Jones, which allowed the more experienced Pagenaud to quickly scythe his way through into third place. He would then set about hunting down Harvey, with Simon needing to pass the Meyer Shank Racing driver as quickly as possible if he were to have any chance at chasing down Dixon for the win.

After several laps of sizing up Harvey, Pagenaud would make a bold move down the inside at turn one to take over second place, but there was a five-second gap to the race-leader with six laps remaining. It looked to be a tall order for Simon to catch Scott, but he soon proved he had the pace to do so.

With four laps to go, Pagenaud had decimated Dixon’s advantage down to two seconds. Another lap later, he was within a second of the reigning champion. Despite the fact that Simon had no push-to-pass boost remaining, the Frenchman’s sheer pace in the #22 Penske Chevrolet looked to be more than enough to put him in contention for the victory.

Dixon and Pagenaud remained essentially nose-to-tail for the next two laps, with Pagenaud finding it difficult to pull off his favoured dive into turn one for one last time. However, the door for the race lead was opened with just a lap and a half to go, when Scott would go wide at the end of the back straight into turn seven. Pagenaud moved to the outside of Dixon for the entry into the turn eight and nine chicane, with Simon holding it around the outside of turn eight to give himself in the inside line for turn nine. The pair made slight contact in the process, but rubbing is racing as Pagenaud had done enough to take the lead.

Credit: John Cote / Courtesy of IndyCar

From there, there was no looking back for Pagenaud. In the few corners after his overtake, he built up a lead of one second over Dixon to deny the New Zealander any chance of fighting back with push-to-pass on the last lap. At the end of the eighty-fifth lap, Pagenaud would cross the line to take the chequered flag and, with it, his first NTT IndyCar Series victory since the 2017 Grand Prix of Sonoma.

The win was an important one for Simon, who has felt a lot of pressure during his winless streak. Now, with the monkey off of his back once again, we could be seeing the return of the man who took the championship by storm to win the title back in 2016.

Additionally, Simon was able to keep Penske’s consecutive run of Indy Grand Prix race victories going, with Penske now having won the last five races on the road course in a row. The win is also Simon’s third in the event, putting him equal with team-mate Will Power for the most Indy GP wins in the event’s six-year history.

Scott Dixon also kept a streak going at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. His second-place finish is his third consecutive runner up finish on the Indy road course. Despite the disappointment of losing the lead on the penultimate lap, the win means that he has now jumped into the lead of the championship heading into the next race, the Indianapolis 500. The reigning champion has yet to pick up a race win, but he is still a force to be reckoned with as he looks to defend his title.

The 2019 Grand Prix of Indianapolis arguably saw the breakout performance for Meyer Shank Racing’s Jack Harvey. After qualifying an impressive third place yesterday, Jack was quick to move into second place at the start of the race; a position he would go on to hold for much of the remaining laps. In the end, Pagenaud’s pace in the closing laps was too much for the British driver to hold off, but he would still hold on to take his and Meyer Shank Racing’s first IndyCar podium finish; a massively impressive performance for the single-car, part-time outfit.

Credit: Joe Skibinski / Courtesy of IndyCar

Another somewhat surprising finish came from A.J. Foyt Enterprises‘ Matheus Leist. A great strategy saw the Brazilian move onto the wet tyres at just the right time to find himself right toward the sharp end of the grid for the final race restart. He would take fourth place at the chequered flag, with the result being his first finish inside the top ten in IndyCar. Hopefully, Leist’s strong finish will be the start of a turnaround in form for the struggling A.J. Foyt Enterprises team heading into the rest of the season.

Completing the top five would be Ed Carpenter Racing‘s Spencer Pigot. The American has shown strong pace throughout the weekend so far, with Spencer bouncing back from a somewhat lacklustre qualifying position of twelfth to take fifth place, just ahead of team-mate Ed Jones in sixth place. The month of May is usually a strong one for Ed Carpenter Racing, but the team’s pace is usually found on the oval rather than the road course. Today’s result could be a good omen for the rest of the month for the team.

Heading into the weekend, much of the focus was on Penske’s Will Power; the defending race-winner of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. After qualifying sixth yesterday, many expected him to soon be in the mix for the win. However, his #12 Chevrolet never looked to have race-contending pace, with the Australian tumbling down the order in the closing stages. Will would end up finishing the race in seventh place, a decent comeback from his earlier position, but he will most likely be disappointed given what he and many others expected from him this weekend.

Pole-sitter Felix Rosenqvist will also have been hoping for better things when the green flag dropped. After a decent first stage of the race, Felix would slowly fall further down into the realms of the top ten. Additionally, Felix would also suffer numerous issues on the pit-lane, with a seemingly faulty fuel hose causing two fires at the conclusion of pit-stops. Thankfully, on both occasions, the fire would be put out when Felix pulled away.

Ultimately, Rosenqvist would take eighth place at the end of the race, with the Swedish driver potentially rueing what could’ve been an opportunity at his maiden IndyCar victory. Just behind Rosenqvist, completing the top ten would be ninth-placed Graham Rahal and tenth-placed rookie Santino Ferrucci; with Santino’s team-mate Sebastien Bourdais just outside of the top ten in eleventh place.

Credit: Walter Kuhn / Courtesy of IndyCar

Further back, after a difficult qualifying yesterday, it was a difficult race as well for a number of the usual front-runners. Josef Newgarden entered the weekend with the championship lead but would start the race down in fifteenth. He would find himself back in contention numerous times due to his team’s alternate pit strategy, but a mistake from his pit-crew on the final pit-stop would see a stray tyre roll across the pit-lane, earning Josef a penalty that would put him at the back of the pack for the final restart. In the end, Newgarden would finish the race down in fifteenth, just ahead of fellow usual front-runners James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay in sixteenth and seventeenth respectively.

Newly announced Red Bull Junior Team driver, Patricio O’Ward, would have a weekend to forget in the #31 Carlin. At the drop of the green flag at the start of the race, O’Ward would run into the back of Andretti’s Alexander Rossi, with Rossi suffering rear toe-link damage as a result.

O’Ward would be awarded a drive-through penalty as a result and would ultimately finish down in nineteenth, despite finding himself inside the top five on numerous occasions due to his alternate strategy. Rossi, meanwhile, would finish the race four laps down after his team made extensive repairs to his #27 Honda. He would take the finish in twenty-second place; classified just behind twenty-first placed Helio Castroneves.

Only two drivers would fail to finish the race. Despite qualifying in fourth place, it was a disastrous race for Harding Steinbrenner Racing‘s Colton Herta, who was forced to retire from the race after spinning early at turn one and sustaining damage due to contact from Hunter-Reay, who was unable to avoid the rookie. The retirement means that Herta has failed to finish every race since his historic victory back at the Circuit of the Americas in March. He will be hoping that his fortune turns around at the Indy 500 in a few weeks time.

The final non-finisher of the race was the aforementioned Marcus Ericsson, who was impressively able to get his #7 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Honda back to the pits after his early spin into the wall, but the team would ultimately find that his car was beyond repair.

The NTT IndyCar Series field will be back in action on Tuesday, May 14 for the first day of practice for the 2019 Indianapolis 500. The two-day qualifying process will take place next weekend from Saturday, May 18 to Sunday, May 19; with the race itself, the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500, being run on Sunday, May 26.

Credit: James Black / Courtesy of IndyCar

2019 NTT IndyCar Series – Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – Race results:

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Reporter from the East of England. Covering the NTT IndyCar Series for The Checkered Flag. Also an eSports racing driver on iRacing.
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