May Has Gotten Off To A Penske Kind Of Start

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, May 14 2019
Simon Pagenaud hopes to follow his champagne shower with a milk bath at Indy this month. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

A week of practice for the 103rd Indianapolis 500 is scheduled to begin Tuesday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where one driver is poised to sweep the Month of May.

Naturally, he’s employed by Team Penske.

Simon Pagenaud scored his third victory in the six-year history of the INDYCAR Grand Prix Saturday afternoon, tying the Frenchman with Will Power in what has morphed into the Team Penske Invitational.  Power followed his third win on IMS’ road-course with his first Indy 500 victory on the famed 2.5-mile oval last May to hand team-owner Roger Penske his record 17th win in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Pagenaud now is halfway there after passing five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon for the lead during the next-to-last lap on a rain-soaked, 2.439-mile/14-turn layout. Pagenaud, the 2016 series champion, pulled away to collect the 12th victory of his Indy car career and first in a 23-race span.

“What a way to start May!” said Pagenaud, who won by 2.0469-seconds. “The car was fantastic; the car was awesome all day. We had something for everybody.”

Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud is off to a fast start at Indy.

The win was No. 205 for Team Penske in its 51-year Indy car history. It also was the team’s 24th victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a list featuring the aforementioned 17 in the Indianapolis 500, five in the INDYCAR Grand Prix and two in NASCAR competition. While Pagenaud and teammate Power own every win in the Grand Prix’s brief history, Pagenaud’s first victory in 2014 came with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

“Well, I think the Grand Prix has really taken its position within the month,” said Pagenaud, driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet. ”The Indy Grand Prix, which is obviously some of what INDYCAR _ a lot of what INDYCAR is. We have a championship, we race 18 races a year. There’s a champion crowned at the end. It’s fantastic that we get to showcase what our Indy cars can do on the road-course, and quite frankly this road course is pretty awesome. It’s an exciting racetrack because you can pass people…and it showcases what INDYCAR is all about. You can start eighth and win a race.

“We go into the Indy 500 and we have two weeks of running, a lot of people showing in the evening to see us run in the pack, and it builds up. There’s a lot of energy that builds up during those two weeks, and qualifying day is an amazing weekend, another weekend that’s full of adrenaline. And then you get into ‘The Big One’ and ‘The Big One’ obviously is always going to be special. There’s never going to be anything like it. People come to it, it’s our Super Bowl, and it’s just phenomenal to be part of it.”

Starting eighth in the 85-lap race that ran from start to finish in varying levels of rain, Pagenaud charged from sixth place during the final 18 laps to collect his first win since the 2017 season-finale. With all running cars on rain tires for the final stint, Pagenaud passed Matheus Leist of AJ Foyt Racing for third place with 10 laps to go and Meyer Shank Racing’s Jack Harvey for second position five laps later.

The reigning series champion, Dixon slid a little wide exiting Turn 7 allowing Pagenaud to dive inside of his No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. The two cars made light side-to-side contact in the series of corners before Pagenaud exited Turn 9 in front.

“It was a matter of being in the right position,” Pagenaud said. “I pushed all race. When the rain came, I wasn’t sure it was going to work. Surprisingly, it was just the best out there. When Dixon was really struggling with his tires, you could see that.  I was just braking as deep as I could to catch him. I wasn’t really planning on passing him there. He made a slight mistake.

“I honestly always hope for rain because I love driving in the rain. It’s such a fun exercise. You can’t calculate as much. You really have to balance the car with your feet, your hands and play with it, dance with it, and instinct driving comes out, where on a dry track it’s very much repetitive.

“It’s just a lot of fun in the rain. But I honestly didn’t know if we were going to be good. It very much depends on your car, too, in the wet, but I felt like I had to seize my opportunity today, and I definitely had the right mix and used it.”

Dixon finished second in the event for the third consecutive year. It also was the reigning champion’s 43rd career runnerup result, ranking second only to the 56 of open-wheel icon Mario Andretti.

Despite the slick track, no team opted to change from Firestone’s dry-condition tires to the wets until past the halfway point. “It was tough,” said Dixon, who nevertheless led a race-high 39 laps. “I knew kind of from the get-go that I was going to be struggling with the front end, and I don’t know why it was balanced that way, but it just felt like I needed about six turns of front wing. I thought we could maybe hold the gap (over Pagenaud), but the harder I pushed, the worse it got. 

“It sucks to obviously lead that many laps and come up short, but again, congrats to Simon. He drove a hell of a race and it’s nice to see him back in Victory Lane.”

Harvey finished a career-best third in the No. 60 AutoNation/Sirius XM Honda for the Meyer Shank Racing with Arrow SPM team that’s scheduled to run 10 races this season as it builds toward a fulltime NTT IndyCar Series program.

“I will remember this day for a long time,” said Harvey, a native of Great Britain who reached the podium for the first time in his 14th series race. “It was just so awesome that we finally got this podium. I feel like we’ve been right on the edge of having something like this for a while. Hopefully, it’s just the first of many for this Meyer Shank Racing team. It’s such a great day for the whole team.”

Leist, a native of Brazil, finished a career-best fourth in the No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet. Ed Carpenter Racing teammates Ed Jones and Spencer Pigot completed a solid weekend by finishing fifth and sixth, respectively. Power, a native of Australia, placed seventh.

Point-leader Josef Newgarden struggled to a 15th-place finish in the No. 2 Fitzgerald USA Team Penske Chevrolet but retains the championship lead by six over Dixon after five of 17 races.

Daily practice on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval will lead into Fast Friday and qualifying on Saturday and Sunday.


Saturday afternoon’s INDYCAR Grand Prix from Indianapolis Motor Speedway _ first IndyCar Series race to air on the NBC broadcast network _ was the most-watched version of the event in five years. The race averaged a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of 1.072-million viewers, up 37 percent compared to last year’s coverage on ABC, according to Nielsen and Adobe Analytics.

The TAD of 1.072-million viewers for the sixth Grand Prix was the best since the inaugural race in 2014 (1.244-million viewers) and up 37 percent compared to last year (781,000). Viewership for the race peaked with a TV-only audience of 1.414-million viewers during the final laps of Simon Pagenaud’s victory (5:45-5:52 p.m. ET). Indianapolis led all markets with a 6.65 local rating.

Through five races, the 2019 IndyCar Series has averaged a TAD of 536,000 viewers across four races on NBC Sports Network and one on NBC, up 51 percent vs. NBC Sports’ first five races of 2018, all on NBCSN (354,000).


IndyCar Series rookie Patricio O’Ward has joined the Red Bull Junior Team, a driver development program that could lead to a career in the FIA Formula One World Championship. O’Ward, who is running a partial INDYCAR schedule this year for Carlin, started and finished Saturday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix in 19th.

“This is a great opportunity for me,” said O’Ward, a native of Monterrey, Mexico, living in San Antonio, Texas. “Naturally every racing driver has their eye on F-1 and would give anything to be world champion, so to join the Red Bull Junior Team that has provided that F-1 possibility to so many drivers is fantastic for me.”

The reigning Indy Lights champion, O’Ward originally signed with Harding-Steinbrenner Racing for the full 2019 INDYCAR schedule alongside fellow-rookie Colton Herta, but funding issues forced O’Ward to exit that program. He subsequently was signed by Team Principal Trevor Carlin, with whom he’s expected to compete in 13 INDYCAR events this year, including the Indianapolis 500 alongside teammates Max Chilton of Great Britain and Charlie Kimball.

The Red Bull Junior Team program lists a number of prominent alumni, including four-time Formula One World Driving Champion Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Formula One winners Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Max Verstappen of Belgium. The list also includes Californian Scott Speed, another former F1 driver.

O’Ward captured the 2018 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires crown, earning a scholarship to advance to the NTT IndyCar Series with three guaranteed races including the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, May 14 2019
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