After claiming his third win of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series, Team Penske‘s Simon Pagenaud has stated that he needed to win yesterday’s Honda Indy Toronto to put him back on the right track to contend for the championship. Pagenaud dominated the race from pole position but was made to work for it in the closing stages after a late charge from reigning champion, Scott Dixon.
Pagenaud entered the Honda Indy Toronto weekend with a sizable points deficit to the two championship leaders, Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi. Having briefly taken the lead in the championship after winning both the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis 500 in May, a seventeenth place finish in the second race at Detroit saw him fall back down into third in the standings. If Pagenaud wanted to seriously get into the mix for the title, with seven races remaining, he would need to start clawing back points as soon as possible.
The event in Toronto started off well for Pagenaud in Friday practice. After the two practice sessions, Pagenaud had the fastest time of the day after finishing the second session as the quickest driver. His advantage continued into Saturday, with Simon qualifying his #22 Chevrolet on pole position; his second Toronto pole in the last three years. His lap time of 58.4293 was enough to beat Scott Dixon to pole position by just over a tenth of a second. What’s more, his closest team-mate, Josef Newgarden, was almost a second slower in the final round of qualifying.
After the session, Pagenaud praised his team for giving him the car to take pole position with. He also said that he “had so much fun” pushing the limits throughout qualifying.
“It was a great day, really,” Pagenaud said on Saturday, “Great weekend so far. I’ve had the most fun ever in Toronto. The car has just been amazing.”
“The engine, Chevrolet, provided us with a bit of an update this weekend and I think it’s really showing. I think the horsepower down Lake Shore [Boulevard] really helped to get pole. But also, just tying every corner so well together. It’s so exciting in the car. I just had so much fun just being on the limit and finding further limits every lap.
“It was just a great lap. We really put down a big lap and I’m really proud for the DXC Technology people that are here this weekend. It’s a big event for them and I love this track, so it’s great to really be able to kick it to the next gear for the end of the championship.”
Pagenaud got off to a great start when the green flag dropped on Sunday. He quickly held off the early advances from Dixon and did so once again when the race restarted after the early caution period. After the first pit-stops were completed later in the race, Pagenaud had a lead of over eight seconds. He maintained that advantage throughout the second stint of the race, emerging from his final pit-stop with just over thirty laps remaining.
Things would get a little tenser as the race drew to a close. Pagenaud seemed to lose pace when he caught up to lapped traffic. What’s more, second place Scott Dixon started to up his pace. The Ganassi driver’s speed, coupled with Pagenaud being stuck behind the likes of Tony Kanaan, Zach Veach, Max Chilton and Ryan Hunter-Reay, meant that as the race entered it’s final ten laps, Dixon was now within a second of Pagenaud.
Once Pagenaud had cleared Hunter-Reay, his lap-times improved. He was able to once again pull away from Dixon to create a one and a half second gap between them. Now, his major focus was on hitting a fuel target to ensure he could make it to the end of the race. Simon would start the final lap with a lead of just over a second, but a caution later in the lap for the crashed car of team-mate Will Power would end the race with a few corners to spare.
Pagenaud would cross the line to take his third win of the season and his fourteenth in the NTT IndyCar Series. What’s more, with Rossi and Newgarden finishing in third and fourth respectively, Simon has decreased the gap to the top of the championship to thirty-nine points with six races remaining.
After the race, Pagenaud stated that he had used the last few weeks between Road America and Toronto to “refocus” on the championship. He also went on to hail the result as “a team effort.”
“I needed that time off [between Road America and Toronto] to just reorganize my team around me – my personal team, not Team Penske – and find time for myself to refocus on the game and we did just that,” Simon said after Sunday’s race, “Ben Bretzman [Simon’s engineer] has been really good at steering me in the right direction, also.
“I think it was a team effort, really. It looked like we were dominating today and I can’t thank these guys enough because they come in in the morning with big smiles on their face, every day same thing. We just are working together and that is why you have days like today.
“The whole race I was waiting for that yellow. For sure there is going to be a yellow with five laps to go; we’re going to have a restart. But no matter what, we had the best car. When we had to push, we could go faster than (Scott) Dixon, match anyone, save the fuel. It was just an amazing day. Dixon made it interesting in the end and that was fantastic for the fans.”
Pagenaud would finish by talking about how happy he was to win on Bastille Day, the national day for his home country of France. Now, Simon says that he needs to be “aggressive” in the next few races to try and secure his second IndyCar championship.
“I also want to say a special “Hi” to France, it’s obviously Bastille Day and I’m so proud to fly the French flag so high this year. It’s time. It’s time to go and we need to be aggressive now. This race we had to win and we did it. I think this team shows when it’s time to execute, we’re always there. There’s no question about that.”
Pagenaud will hope to make further inroads on the championship leaders in the next round of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series. The 2019 Iowa 300 will take place this Saturday at Iowa Speedway on July 20.