INDIANAPOLIS – The winner of the Indianapolis 500 is often the best driver with the strongest car.
On Sunday, Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud had both.
His victory in Sunday’s 103rd Indianapolis 500 completed a month of May sweep at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the second-straight year. He joins teammate Will Power as the only drivers to win the IndyCar Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500 in the same season.
The victory was the 18th Indianapolis 500 win for Team Penske and his third in the last five years.
Pagenaud led 116 laps – the most of any driver in an Indianapolis 500 since Dario Franchitti led 155 laps in 2010.
However, the Frenchman had another driver that was fighting for the title of best in the field. That was Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport, who turned Sunday’s race into an epic duel to the checkered flag.
Because of that, the 2019 Indianapolis 500 will go down as another great race in a long line of fantastic finishes at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
There were 29 lead changes in the race, an impressive number with the current Dallara chassis, although below the drafting days of the Dallara DW 12 chassis with the rear wheel pods.
Pagenaud pitted on lap 169 with a flawless final stop. Rossi pitted one lap later and was in and out after just nine seconds.
On lap 178, Rossi passed Pagenaud for the lead. Moments later, a huge crash in turn three involving Graham Rahal, Bourdais, Charlie Kimball, Felix Rosenqvist and Zach Veach brought out the red flag for 18 minutes.
During the red flag, Rossi radioed to his crew that he was, “Angrier than any other driver.”
When green flag racing resumed, there were 13 laps left and Rossi was determined to win. The battle between Rossi and Pagenaud was epic.
On lap 187 Rossi was the leader and Pagenaud passed him for the lead on the frontstretch. Rossi returned the favor to regain the lead in turn one on the next lap. One lap later, Pagenaud passed Rossi on the frontstretch.
At that point, Rossi decided to stay as close to Pagenaud’s rear as he could, waiting for the right moment to make what he hoped would be the race-winning pass.
With two laps remaining in the race, Rossi made the pass for the lead in turn one. But he couldn’t build a large enough gap over Pagenaud.
On lap 199, Pagenaud passed Rossi for the win in turn three. Next time by was the white flag and the lap after that, Pagenaud took the checkered flag in the Indianapolis 500 for the first time in his career by just .2086 of a second.
“We were able to get him back,” Pagenaud said. “Quite frankly I wasn’t really worried about getting back, I was just worried about the rhythm, when to get him back to finish first. There was a lot of planning, a lot of brake drafting, as well. It was a lot of fun, and obviously my teammates,
“I think about Juan Montoya, I think about Helio Castroneves, I think about Josef and Will (Power), and I think about Gil de Ferran, especially Rick Mears, as well, they’ve been teaching me so well the intricacy of driving on an oval, and I applied it today, and it worked.”
As Pagenaud celebrated the victory to the cheers of the huge crowd, Rossi spoke about his determined battle.
“We had the superior car, we just didn’t have it at the end,” Rossi said. “It’s going to be hard to get over, but it was a great day. Earlier in the race, there were a lot of lapped cars that wouldn’t move over. Fortunately, it didn’t make a difference in the end result.
“Blocking is disrespectful, but we will take care of that another day.”
Pagenaud kept his cool and knew he had better straight-line speed and horsepower when it mattered the most at the end of the race.
“Today was about attacking,” Pagenaud said. “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, like I’ve been saying, have aligned this month, incredibly, but especially today.”
Takuma Sato, the winner of the 101st Indianapolis 500 in 2017, was third followed by Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden and 2018 Indianapolis 500 winner Power.
After a winless and woeful 2018 season, Pagenaud has turned into a fighter this month of May at Indianapolis. It’s like someone flipped the switch and the driver from France is racing like a champion again.
“I think it’s fate, quite frankly,” Pagenaud said. “Obviously in racing you need a little bit of luck on your side. You need everything to go your way. So, it did today. I could do nothing wrong, quite frankly. Sometimes I can’t do anything right.
“That doesn’t mean I lost my talent, that doesn’t mean my team is not doing a good job. It’s just you have to accept that there’s a little bit of mystery out there that you can’t control. All you can do is the best you can and extract the best out of yourself in every situation. “
“The rest, it sorts itself out.”