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Pagenaud Went To Attack Mode To Conquer Indy

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 27 2019
Frenchman Simon Pagenaud gave Roger Penske his 18th Indy 500 victory on Sunday. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

INDIANAPOLIS – Simon Pagenaud spent the last 16-days at Indianapolis Motor Speedway reminding the racing universe how and why he drives for Team Penske.

“I was never going to give up, I’ll tell you,” Pagenaud said Sunday afternoon in the aftermath of his victory in the 103rd edition of the Indianapolis 500. “That’s pretty much my trait, that’s my character is I can never give up until it’s over _ even if I’m eighth, ninth _ you never see me give up.”

Capping a day that saw him lead a race-high 116 of 200 laps, Pagenaud outhustled 2016 Indy 500 champion Alexander Rossi over the final 14 circuits around the 2.5-mile oval to claim his first win in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Pagenaud and Rossi swapped the lead five times during the closing laps, the last when Pagenaud roared outside of and past Rossi heading into Turn 3 on the 199th of 200 laps.

“It’s amazing. It’s another dream come true, and the biggest dream of my life come true,” said Pagenaud, a 35-year-old native of Montmorillon, France. “It’s hard to fathom, really. It’s really hard to process it right now, but I’m just filled with a lot of joy.”

Simon Pagenaud and Alexander Rossi dash past the yard of bricks.

The 13th win of Pagenaud’s NTT IndyCar Series career also delivered a record 18th Indy 500 victory to team-owner Roger Penske, along with his organization’s second consecutive sweep of the two Month of May events at IMS. Will Power accomplished that feat last May for “The Captain.”

Pagenaud ended a personal 23-race winless streak May 11 with a victory in the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS road-course. He followed that by qualifying on-pole during the Fast Nine Shootout on May 19, the record-extending 18th P1 Indy 500 start for Team Penske. Pagenaud also topped the speed chart in last Monday’s post-qualifying practice, during which he correctly tabbed Rossi as potentially his fiercest race-day competitor.

While forecasts of thunderstorms and possible delays dominated Sunday’s early morning paddock chatter, Pagenaud and strategist Kyle Moyer defined/refined their race plan.

“Today was about attacking,” said Pagenaud, driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet. “We had our strategy meeting this morning and we decided we were going to attack, we were going to control the day and we were going to take our fate in our own hands. Destiny is what we decided to control. It was pretty cool. Obviously, everything played for us really well. The stars, as I’ve been saying, have aligned this month, incredibly, but especially today.”

For all his domination, Pagenaud was forced into being his fiercest and finest following his final pit stop for four tires and fuel on Lap 168. The ensuing cycle of lead changes elevated Spencer Pigot of Ed Carpenter Racing into the lead on Lap 176. Two laps later, the day’s fourth and final caution flag flew for a six-car accident in Turn 3 triggered by contact between the cars driven by Sebastien Bourdais and Graham Rahal. Rossi was second at that moment, followed by Pagenaud, Ed Carpenter and Josef Newgarden.

The debris field prompted INDYCAR officials to red flag the race to allow the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team and track workers to clear the mess. That process took 18 minutes. Rossi was in first place on the final race restart on Lap 187, but Pagenaud bolted ahead by the time they reached the iconic yard of bricks at the start/finish line to complete the lap.

Simon Pagenaud celebrates the big one.

The pair exchanged the lead twice on Lap 189 before Rossi swept back in front on Lap 198 heading into Turn 1. On the ensuing lap, Pagenaud made a similar outside pass, this time going into Turn 3, to take the lead for good. Rossi attempted several overtakes over the last one-plus laps but was thwarted each time. Pagenaud’s margin of victory of 0.2086-seconds was the seventh-closest finish in Indy 500 history.

Rossi, who won the 100th edition of the Indy 500 in 2016 as a rookie, wanted to use the track’s inside lane to his advantage. Pagenaud basically kept that door bolted shut, legally.

“Yeah. I think you all saw it,” said Rossi, driver of the No. 27 Honda. “We just didn’t have the straight-line speed. There’s not much we can do about that from my side inside the car. Obviously the No. 22 guys fully deserve it. They were on-pole. He led probably 70 percent of the laps. Yeah, I mean, he was a deserving winner for sure.

“But that last yellow (starting on Lap 138) really hurt us because we were doing a lot better on fuel mileage than he was, so that was the first kind of nail in the proverbial coffin. And yeah, the second one (on Lap 178) was just…we didn’t have the speed out front. I mean, I was flat for the last 15 laps and there’s not much more you can do.

“I mean, it was pretty inevitable. I think you saw on the last restart, like he just drove by us. There was the opportunity there to get the lead. I had been working on it for 12, 13 laps, and it finally came, and I didn’t have a choice, I just had to hope that maybe he would lose so much behind me and that Takuma (Sato) or Josef (Newgarden) or whatever would get him, and I would be able to have enough of a cushion for the final two laps. But I passed him in Turn 1 and he was straight back by me into Turn 3, so there was nothing I could do.”

Rossi’s frustration was compounded by two lengthy pit stops due to refueling issues, forcing him to charge back from mid-pack. Rossi also faced the proverbial moving chicane in the person of Oriol Servia  of Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

“I think it was one of the most disrespectful things I’ve ever seen in a race car, to be honest,” said Rossi, who shook his fist at the veteran Spaniard after finally passing him on Lap 162. ”He’s a lap down and defending, putting me to the wall at 230 miles an hour. It’s unacceptable. It’s unacceptable for him, and it’s unacceptable that INDYCAR allowed it to happen as long as they did.”

Nevertheless, Rossi recorded his third top-five finish in four Indianapolis 500 starts. Rossi, a 27-year-old native of Nevada City, Calif., has not finished outside the top-10 at IMS.

Takuma Sato finished third in the No. 30 Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, the 42-year-old Japanese star’s second podium Indy 500 result. Taku’s “other” podium was his Indy 500 victory in 2017.

“My race, (at) one stage it looked really tough,” Sato said. “We got some little issues after the first pit stop, so we had to come back. I think it’s still great result to the team, especially considering we were a lap down in 31st. I think it was great.”

Pagenaud is the fifth French-born driver to win the Indy 500. The last French-born driver to win was Gil de Ferran, also with Team Penske, in 2003. De Ferran is a Brazilian citizen but was born in Paris. Pagenaud also is the first Frenchman to win here since Gaston Chevrolet in 1920.

“I’m just so, so proud,” Pagenaud said.” Obviously, flying the French flag like this, there hasn’t been a winner in a long, long time, almost a century. Being the next one is just phenomenal. But I also want to thank America for welcoming me here and making me feel like home.”

The 2016 series champion in his second season with Team Penske and point-runnerup in 2017 to Newgarden, Pagenaud went winless in 2018 amid questions about his job security. Those inquiries, he insisted Sunday, did not motivate him.

“I’m just focused on the job, man,” said Pagenaud, first driver to win the Indy 500 from pole since Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves in 2009. “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.”

Penske subsequently dismissed a question about Pagenaud’s position with the team for next year. “What do you think? Do you want to answer that question for me? Absolutely!” Penske said.  “Simon wasn’t going to be beat today. He raced clean, and that’s what I have to say about Rossi also. The two of them for the laps that they ran side-by-side was as good of racing as you’ve ever seen here.”

Moyer made it clear he is working with a driver whose focus has remained single-minded. “You’re on this team for a reason, and the reason is to win,” said Moyer, who collaborated with Pagenaud to give Penske his 206th overall Indy car victory. “Team Penske has always been winners, that’s why I came here. That’s why Simon is here. That’s why all of our drivers, everybody that works here is for a reason, and that is to win, because that’s our brand we’re putting out there, you know? Penske, Team Penske, all of them are winners.

“So when you’re not, you’ve got to figure out a way to do it. Simon has done that. I think in this month he’s actually forced it on you to show you that he can win. A month ago, I said if he wins one, there’s no reason he can’t win five in a row, because he’s that type of driver _ once he gets the confidence built, the GP really gave him confidence, and then the pole did, and so now you’ve got the race.”

With double points available Sunday, the win vaulted Pagenaud into the series championship lead by a single marker over teammate Newgarden, who finished fourth in the No. 2 Shell V-Power Nitro Plus Team Penske Chevrolet. Newgarden scored his fifth top-four finish in six races this season. Power, driver of the No. 12 Verizon 5G Team Penske Chevy, finished fifth in his effort to become the first back-to-back Indianapolis 500 winner since Castroneves in 2001-02.

Connecticut resident Santino Ferrucci was the highest-finishing rookie, taking seventh in the No. 19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Honda for Dale Coyne Racing. Ferrucci’s day featured an excursion through the grass in the middle of the aforementioned six-car wreck in Turn 3 on Lap 178.

“I saw a little bit of the grass stuck up getting towards the corner and the spotter comes on the radio and says, ‘All right, just don’t go high! Don’t go high!’^” said Ferrucci, competing domestically after climbing the Formula One career ladder as a development driver with American-owned Haas F1 Team the last three seasons.”Then I see everybody starting to wreck and I’m just like middle of the track. I floored it because I thought it was the smart thing to do, then I saw the grass, which to me was the only hole, and that looked like the most intelligent place to go.

“So we mowed the lawn in retrospect and we came out just fine. That’s an experience of a lifetime that you just can’t beat, especially at 20-years-old.”

The race featured 29 lead changes among 10 drivers. Pagenaud’s 116 laps-led were the most in the race since Dario Franchitti paced 155 laps in his 2010 win.

There were five caution periods for 29 laps, including the Lap 178 incident involving Bourdais, Rahal, 2008 Indy 500 champ Scott Dixon, Felix Rosenqvist, Charlie Kimball and Zach Veach. It began when the cars of Bourdais and Rahal made contact in Turn 3, with the others collected in the aftermath. All drivers were checked and released from the IU Health Emergency Medical Center at the track, though Veach was scheduled to undergo further examination for soreness in his right knee.

Crewman Chris Minot was taken to IU Health Methodist Hospital for further evaluation of a leg injury after he was struck in a pit-lane incident involving his driver, Jordan King, in the No. 42 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. 

Appropriately, Sunday’s Indy 500 also marked the 50-year anniversary of Team Penske’s first Brickyard entry with the late Mark Donohue. In 1972, Donohue scored the first of Penske’s record 18th victories here.

Well, you know, Mark Donohue was special,” said Penske, 82. “We came here in ’69, 50 years ago, and our goal was to win the race. Mark was an engineer. I think we brought a lot of different thoughts to the Speedway as far as technology and aerodynamics. We won it in ’72 and then Rick Mears in ’79 and that kind of started us. But it’s hard…the only thing I remember about ’72 is I lost Mark Donohue. That’s a big difference in winning the race here.”

Donohue lapsed into a coma and died from a cerebral hemorrhage on Aug. 19, 1975, one day after a tire failure sent him into a catch fence during practice for the Formula One Austrian Grand Prix at the Osterreichring in Graz. Donohue was driving for Penske, who talked him out of a self-imposed retirement after the 1973 Can-Am season to compete for Penske’s F1 team, Penske Cars Ltd., beginning with the final two races of the 1974 FIA World Championship and continuing fulltime in 1975.

Donohue, named 1969 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year after his seventh-place finish in the No. 66 Sunoco-Simoniz Lola/Offy, won the 56th edition of the race on May 27, 1972 at an average speed of 162.962 mph in the No. 66 Sunoco McLaren/Offy. That speed record stood for 12 years.

Donohue was 38-years-old when he died. “I guess you’d have to say I’d rather him back than win a race. So to me, this is tough,” Penske said. “But this win here today for Simon and our 50th, it goes down in the record book. But as I say, it’s not me, it’s all the people that we work with day-in and day-out that make it so good.”

The NTT IndyCar Series returns to action May 31-June 2 with the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear, the only doubleheader weekend on the 2019 schedule. The races will air live on NBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network at 3 p.m. (EDT) both Saturday, June 1 and Sunday, June 2.

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Results Sunday of the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge NTT IndyCar Series event on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 200, Running

2. (9) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 200, Running

3. (14) Takuma Sato, Honda, 200, Running

4. (8) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 200, Running

5. (6) Will Power, Chevrolet, 200, Running

6. (2) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 200, Running

7. (23) Santino Ferrucci, Honda, 200, Running

8. (22) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 200, Running

9. (16) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 200, Running

10. (11) Conor Daly, Honda, 200, Running

11. (32) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 200, Running

12. (15) James Davison, Honda, 200, Running

13. (4) Ed Jones, Chevrolet, 200, Running

14. (3) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 200, Running

15. (24) Matheus Leist, Chevrolet, 200, Running

16. (30) Pippa Mann, Chevrolet, 200, Running

17. (18) Scott Dixon, Honda, 200, Running

18. (12) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 199, Running

19. (31) Sage Karam, Chevrolet, 199, Running

20. (21) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 199, Running

21. (25) Jack Harvey, Honda, 199, Running

22. (19) Oriol Servia, Honda, 199, Running

23. (13) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 198, Running

24. (26) Jordan King, Honda, 198, Running

25. (20) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 196, Running

26. (10) Marco Andretti, Honda, 195, Running

27. (17) Graham Rahal, Honda, 176, Contact               

28. (29) Felix Rosenqvist, Honda, 176, Contact 

29. (28) Zach Veach, Honda, 176, Contact

30. (7) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 176, Contact

31. (33) Kyle Kaiser, Chevrolet, 71, Contact

32. (27) Ben Hanley, Chevrolet, 54, Mechanical 

33. (5) Colton Herta, Honda, 3, Mechanical 

Race Statistics

Winner’s average speed: 175.794 mph

Time of Race: 2:50:39.2797

Margin of victory: 0.2086-seconds

Cautions: 4 for 29 laps

Lead changes: 29 among 10 drivers

Lap Leaders:

Pagenaud, Simon 1-31

Power, Will 32-34

Carpenter, Ed 35

Sato, Takuma 36-37

Rosenqvist, Felix 38-41

Pagenaud, Simon 42-63

Carpenter, Ed 64-66

Power, Will 67

Rossi, Alexander 68-69

Dixon, Scott 70-72

Pagenaud, Simon 73-98

Carpenter, Ed 99-100

Newgarden, Josef 101

Rossi, Alexander 102-105

Dixon, Scott 106-110

Rosenqvist, Felix 111-112

Pagenaud, Simon 113-128

Rossi, Alexander 129-137

Dixon, Scott 138-142

Pagenaud, Simon 143-150

Newgarden, Josef 151-170

Carpenter, Ed 171

Ferrucci, Santino 172

Power, Will 173-175

Sato, Takuma 176

Pigot, Spencer 177-180

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 27 2019
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