The day after, it still has yet to sink in for Simon Pagenaud.
The greatest spectacle in racing, the Indianapolis 500, is over. The countdown for 2020 begins, 364 days to go. Before that, Simon’s face will go on the Borg-Warner Trophy, and there is a possibility that he may be able to arrange for the trophy to visit France. For him, this is all a dream come true.
At IMS (Indianapolis Motor Speedway), May is a never-ending adventure. The Indy Grand Prix opens the racing on the oval, and it was the start of a winning streak for Pagenaud when he crossed the finish line in first place on May 11th.
For Pagenaud, the Indianapolis Indycar Grand Prix was his 12th career win, and helped him set his sights on the upcoming Indy 500.
As practice days for the 2019 Indy 500 began, Team Penske’s No.22 was up with the fastest group of cars. On the first day of practice, Pagenaud had the 2nd best speed with 229.703 mph. He was 15th and 10th on practice days 2 and 3, and back in the top ten on Fast Friday with a 7th fastest lap at 230.326 mph. During the first practice week, the fastest laps were posted by Power, Newgarden, Jones, and Daly.
On day 1 of qualifying, he posted the third best speed, behind Spencer Pigot and Will Power, and secured himself a run for the Fast 9. While positions 10 (Marco Andretti) to 30 (Pippa Mann) were locked in, the Fast 9, along with the contenders for the last row, had their shootout on Sunday.
When Sunday arrived, it was time for the yellow Team Penske Chevrolet to shine. Simon Pagenaud drove four consistent laps with an average speed of 229.992 mph and won the pole for the Indianapolis 500, narrowly edging out Ed Carpenter and Spencer Pigot.
Circuit rookie, Colton Herta, winner of the first Indycar Classic at COTA, qualified 5th, sharing second row with Ed Jones and Will Power. The third row included Bourdais, Newgarden, and Rossi.
While the Fast 9 drivers were deciding the order of the first three rows, Sunday’s real drama unfolded in the last row shootout, set to decide positions 31-33.
James Hinchcliffe, after a horrific accident on Saturday, had made a few unsuccessful attempts to qualify the car. Likewise, Patricio O’Ward was trying to qualify with a different car after a close encounter with the wall in turn 2 during practice.
Completing the last row shootout hopefuls were Kyle Kaiser, Sage Karam, Max Chilton, and surprisingly, Team McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.
Through the drama of bump day, Karam, Hinchcliffe, and Kaiser earned their spots on the last row, leaving O’Ward, Alonso, and Chilton out of the 2019 race.
With the final grid set, it was time for week 2, and for two more practice sessions on Monday and Friday (Carb Day). On Monday, Simon Pagenaud posted the fastest speed with 228.441 mph, followed by Newgarden and Hinchcliffe. On Friday, Tony Kanaan topped the speed chart, ahead of Santino Ferrucci and Takuma Sato.
On Media Day, Pagenaud told reporters that the key to the Indianapolis 500 is the desire to win, and that he desired first place more than anyone else on the grid. A few other drivers, including the fastest on Carb Day, Tony Kanaan, stated that they believed every single car in the field of 33 had a chance. At the press conference, Kanaan admitted that this was probably the tightest field he had ever raced in, and that each driver on the grid believed they could win the race.
Pagenaud’s teammate Helio Castroneves, a 3 time Indy 500 winner, was in the field as a one-off driver with Team Penske for the second year in a row. After several full seasons in Indycar, Castroneves was on the team for the two Indianapolis races in 2018 and 2019 – the Indycar Grand Prix on the road course and The Indianapolis 500 on the oval. On a quest for the 4th win, ‘spiderman’ Helio had made several qualifying attempts to improve his position, but remained outside of the Fast 9 with a final spot of p12 on the grid.
On race day, it was a battle between Rossi and Pagenaud, and after they exchanged the lead a few times, Pagenaud held on for the win. Takuma Sato, who had started in 14th position, fell back after an issue during the first pit stop and then began reclaiming positions. After the six-car incident that put Veach, Bourdais, Rahal, and Rosenqvist out of contention, he reclaimed fifth place before passing Carpenter and Dixon to take 3rd. Sato then started charging after Rossi and Pagenaud, but there was not enough race left for him to improve his position and he crossed the finish line in third place.
Kanaan and Hinchcliffe finished in 9th and 11th respectively, and Pippa Mann took 16th place with the Clauson-Marshall Team, followed by Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves.
As Pagenaud crossed the yard of bricks under the checkered flag, the crowd exploded. This was the 18th victory for Team Penske on the IMS oval, and Pagenaud’s first. His desire to win had paid off.
Simon’s family was there to celebrate with him at the brickyard. His mother Sylvie later said to reporters that his story is one of hard work and passion, and he clearly showed his passion and joy during the celebration – savoring every moment of the coveted Brickyard traditions.
The day after, as we all lined up for the traditional winner photoshoot, he was still celebrating and enjoying the moment. For him, as he said during the last press conference – it had all been an amazing month. Winning the Grand Prix on the road course, earning the Pole, and then winning the Indianapolis 500.
May 2019 was indeed the month of Simon.