Paganeud Can Do No Wrong
Indy 500 win completes historic May
ELIZABETH WYMAN | For The Journal Gazette
INDIANAPOLIS – Simon Pagenaud could do whatever he wants to right now.
Run for President? Maybe.
Take LeBron James one-on-one? Maybe.
Own the Indianapolis Motor Speedway? Maybe.
That's how much confidence Pagenaud had Sunday. The Frenchman went from pole to checkered, winning the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500, fighting off Alexander Rossi by two-tenths of a second and Takuma Sato by three-tenths.
“I want many Indy 500s and more championships,” Pagenaud said of what comes next.
“It's another dream come true, and the biggest dream of my life come true,” he added. “It's hard to fathom, really. It's really hard to process right now, but I'm just filled with a lot of joy. I drove really spirited today, but it's just incredible."
It's Pagenaud's first Indianapolis 500 win, Team Penske's 18th and the 35-year-old became the first pole winner since 2009 to win the 500-mile, 200-lap race.
After teammate Will Power became the first driver to sweep the month of the May at IMS last year, winning the Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500, Pagenaud joined him.
“What (Pagenaud) did this month, certainly he achieved records in his own personal life, and certainly what he was expected to, and the run today, it's a history book run for me,” team owner Roger Penske said.
Pagenaud led an incredible 116 laps, but it took some work.
After Graham Rahal and Sebastien Bourdais collided on lap 177, a five-car pile-up, including Charlie Kimball, Zach Veach and Felix Rosenqvist ensued. All five saw their days end, bringing out a red flag. Bourdais was assessed a penalty and all were checked and cleared by medical personnel. The red flag set up a thrilling 14-lap finale that brought out the best of Pagenaud and Rossi. The two exchanged the lead multiple times in the final laps but with two to go, the No. 22 Menards car took back the lead and wasn't going to relinquish it.
“I was never going to give up on that one,” Pagenaud said. “The same with the Grand Prix. That's pretty much my trait, that's my character is I can never give up until it's over. Even if I'm eight, ninth, you never see me give up. That's what saved me, saved my career at one point. That's what always helped me and I always believed.”
Prior to Pagenaud's IndyCar Grand Prix win May 11, the 2016 NTT IndyCar series champion hadn't won in 22 races. He was in a slump and many thought his job was in jeopardy.
“You're on this team for a reason, and the reason is to win,” Kyle Moyer, Team Penske team strategist said. “Team Penske has always been winners, that's why I came here. that's why Simon is here. That's why all our drivers, everybody that works here is here for a reason, and that is to win.
“When you're not (winning), you've got to figure out a way to do it. Simon has done that. I think in this month he actually forced it on you show you that he can win.”
Pagenaud had the dream day while rookie favorite Colton Herta, who started fifth, experienced a nightmare. The Harding Steinbrenner driver suffered a gear box issue on the third lap, ending his day prematurely and was the first to exit the race.
Santino Ferrucci was the top rookie finisher, placing seventh after starting 23rd.
“Racing with other drivers was actually a lot more fun than I had ever hoped it to be,” Ferrucci said. “I got to battle it out almost the entire race with Hunter-Reay (Ryan), who's a champion here, and I can't thank him enough because the experience that you get racing someone like that and the enjoyment and excitement of racing other competitors like him, it was just a blast.”
Rookie Ben Hanley became the second driver to exit the race. He suffered mechanical issues during a pit stop on lap 54 and had to retire from the race.
Turn 4 of lap 73 brought Kyle Kaiser and Juncos Racing's storybook Indianapolis 500 to a screeching halt.
Kaiser, who started 33rd on the day, after bumping tow-time Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso out of the race on Bump Day, slammed into the wall and it was over.
“Not the result we were hoping for but can't hold our heads down,” Kaiser said. “Everyone can be so proud. This team has made great strides, and only positive things ahead for us moving forward.”
NTT IndyCar series points leader entering the race Josef Newgarden finished fourth, Power finished fifth, Ed Carpenter sixth, Ferrucci seventh, Hunter-Reay eighth, Tony Kanaan ninth and Conor Daly rounded out the top 10.
Pagenaud now leads the series with 250 points, Newgarden has 249 and Rossi with 228.