Simon Pagenaud came into the 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500 on quite the roll. The 2016 series champion left it that way too, but not without surviving a breathtaking shootout to the checkered flag with Alexander Rossi.
Leading more than half the laps on Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Pagenaud’s numbers might suggest his first Indy 500 triumph was easy. It was anything but, as he and Rossi exchanged the lead several times during the race’s thrilling conclusion — and with 2017 race winner Takuma Sato lurking right in their wake to boot. Pagenaud’s winning move came with just over a lap remaining, as he drafted up to Rossi and went quickly to the outside to complete the pass.
Even while leading most of the first half of the race, Pagenaud appeared he might be out of luck as his Team Penske Chevrolet was making worse mileage than the other contending cars all afternoon. But a multi-car wreck touched off by contact between Sebastian Bourdais and Graham Rahal with 20 laps to go put his fuel concerns to rest, making his duel with Rossi his lone concern.
“It’s hard to believe right now, to be honest with you,” Pagenaud said in victory lane. “It’s been such an intense race. I believe we led most of the race. The car was just on rails, the yellows came out perfectly. Seeing myself on TV with this, it’s pretty amazing.”
Rossi had his own obstacles to overcome, including a fuel probe issue that led to a lengthy pit stop just when it appeared he might be taking control of the race. He also had frustrations with lapped drivers, memorably shaking his fist at Oriol Servia while passing him at 230-plus miles per hour.
It was Rossi who was in front for the final restart, but though he got by Pagenaud twice during the race’s final segment, he simply didn’t have enough speed to hold onto the lead when he got it. While he’ll leave Indy with more fans thanks to some of his daring passes, it might not make up for the fact that he came so close to his second Borg-Warner Trophy but ended up second-best.
“Unfortunately, nothing else matters here except winning,” Rossi said during his post-race TV interview. “This one will be hard to get over.”
In contrast, Pagenaud’s Indianapolis 500 triumph caps off a Month of May he won’t soon forget, as he becomes the second straight Team Penske driver to pull off the feat. He’ll also head to the Detroit doubleheader with the series point lead, though it’s likely he’ll be spending too much time savoring Indy to think about that any time soon.
“It’s a dream come true, a life of trying to achieve this,” Pagenaud said. “I’m just speechless, it’s so incredible.”