After claiming an incredible win in the thrilling 2019 Indianapolis 500, Team Penske‘s Simon Pagenaud has hailed the victory as “a dream come true.” The Frenchman edged out former winner, Alexander Rossi, to take the victory yesterday, his first in the famous race.
Pagenaud’s month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was already looking to be one of the best of his entire NTT IndyCar Series career even before he kissed the famous yard of bricks after his Indy 500 victory. After snapping a year-long winless streak by winning the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the road course, Pagenaud used his positive momentum to take a sensational pole position for the Indy 500.
For over half of yesterday’s race, Pagenaud looked imperious. Pagenaud led every lap of the first hundred except for the laps during green flag pit-stop phases. Leading so dominantly came at a cost, however, as Pagenaud was burning much more fuel than those running in the slipstream behind him.
Fuel looked to be Simon’s number one issue as the race wound down. After the final pit-stops of the race, Simon was on course to remain in the hunt for the victory, but he would need to save fuel compared to those around him. Shortly after losing the lead to Alexander Rossi on lap-177, Pagenaud’s prayers were answered when a caution came out for a multi-car wreck at turn three.
The ensuing laps under caution and a red flag to clear debris put Pagenaud in the safe zone on fuel, meaning that he could focus entirely on the battle for the race win. On the race restart with thirteen laps remaining, Pagenaud was quick to sweep around the outside of Rossi to re-take the lead, with the pair going on to pass and re-pass each other over the next few laps.
After a few laps of holding station, Rossi took the fight back to Simon with just three laps to go, passing the Frenchman around the outside of turn one once again. Pagenaud was not done, however, as he made a move around the outside of turn three to re-take the lead on the penultimate lap.
On the final lap, Rossi tried his hardest to get back on terms with Pagenaud, but the superior top speed of Simon’s #22 Penske Chevrolet was enough to keep him ahead when Rossi contemplated a move into turn three. From there, it would be a drag race to the finish line, a drag race that Pagenaud would win by just two-tenths of a second. Simon would take the chequered flag to win the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500, with Rossi having to settle for second after the pair’s titanic duel.
After going through the numerous post-race ceremonies that come with winning the historic Indianapolis 500, Pagenaud would tell reporters during interviews that the race had been “intense” and that his #22 Chevrolet was “on rails” throughout the event.
“It’s hard to believe right now, to be honest with you,” Pagenaud said after his incredible victory, “It’s been such an intense race. I believe we led most of the race. The car was just on rails. The yellows came out perfectly. The stars are aligned.
“Man, wow, I’m seeing myself on TV with this. It’s pretty amazing. It’s a dream come true, a lifetime of trying to achieve this. So I’m just speechless. It’s just incredible. I never expected to be in this position, but I certainly was trying to make it as hard as I could. I want to thank the fans. The fans are amazing. It was awesome to share that with you guys on the Yard of Bricks. You’re the best, Indianapolis.”
Pagenaud’s win in both the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis 500 have propelled him to the top of the standings after six rounds of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series. Over the last year, Pagenaud has had to deal with criticism after failing to match his Penske team-mates, who were in contention for wins week in, week out last year. After doing the Indianapolis double, however, those hard times must seem a world away for Simon.
After yesterday’s race, when asked about the criticism he had faced in the previous year, Simon said that it had not motivated him any further to succeed.
“I’m just focused on the job, man,” Pagenaud said yesterday. “When you have a car like this, a team like this, you just work your way. It’s all about achieving and executing at the end, and we did execute perfectly today. No mistakes. Here we are, Victory Lane, man.”
Pagenaud went on to speak about what he felt was “the key to the race” for him. After leading so much of the race early on, Simon dropped behind team-mate Josef Newgarden and was able to save enough fuel to put him back on the right track with his rivals around him.
“I thought we had the best car,” Simon said, “We consumed a lot of fuel by being up front all day. Kyle Moyer [Simon’s engineer] told me to let Josef [Newgarden] go by in one of the last stints to see if I can save fuel. That was the key to the race for us. We saved so much fuel trailing Josef there, and I could follow him easily, as well.
“It was the best car I’ve ever driven on an oval. No weaknesses. I was so spirited today. It was my time.”
“Being aggressive for us made the difference today,” Simon continued, “and we attacked the whole race, and we got it. The Menards Chevy was so fast all day, and we did it. The team made no mistakes. Great stops all day. Everything worked out perfect.”
Pagenaud’s win yesterday made him only the fourth French driver to win the Indianapolis 500. What’s more, it was the first win for a French driver in the race since Gaston Chevrolet took the win in 1920. After the race, Pagenaud would pay tribute to his country, saying that he was “glad” to give France something to smile about after a difficult few months.
“I’m so proud of my flag and country. Happiness,” Simon said. “After the Notre Dame tragedy, the French people needed something like this. And I’m so glad I can do that for them. I’m proud to be French and proud of the support from everyone here in America.”
Pagenaud now leads the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship standings after his double win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this month. He leads by just one point over team-mate Josef Newgarden heading into the two races that will make up the 2019 Detroit Grand Prix this weekend.
Race one of this year’s Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader will take place on Saturday, June 1, with the second race following on the next day on Sunday, June 2.