Pagenaud earns 3rd IndyCar GP win with splashy move in rain
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Simon Pagenaud ended his victory drought Saturday with a splashy move — and a rooster tail celebration.
He completed a daring three-turn pass on the second-to-last lap and sped away from Scott Dixon for his third IndyCar Grand Prix victory and first series win since the 2017 season finale at Sonoma. Pagenaud beat five-time series champion Scott Dixon by 2.0469 seconds.
"I always look for rain because it's fun driving in the rain," he said. "It's a fun exercise. On a dry track, it's very much repetitive. The wet is what I used to grow up on racing. It's just a lot of fun in the rain."
While other drivers struggled with tire wear on the wet road course, Pagenaud got even more aggressive — a trick he learned driving in his home country of France.
Pagenaud said he experimented with the braking, threw in some fakes and took advantage of other drivers' second thoughts.
The result: He erased a six-plus second differential with Dixon in the final five laps and there was nothing the five-time series champion could do to stop the hard-charging Pagenaud.
"I knew, with about 10 laps to go, we're going to get hosed here," Dixon said after finishing second for the 43rd time in his IndyCar career. "The front tires, we just didn't have — I don't know if we changed the front wing, or whatever we did, but we just had no front grip."
But as easy as Pagenaud made it look in the closing laps, that certainly wasn't the case earlier in the race.
He qualified eighth, barely avoided a loose tire from teammate Josef Newgarden following a pit stop and ran out of push-to-pass time while getting by Jack Harvey for second.
Yet somehow, he still managed to give Team Penske its fifth consecutive win on Indianapolis Motor Speedway's 2.439-mile, 14-turn course. Pagenaud and teammate Will Power are the only drivers to win this race, each three times.
"We kept it in the Penske family," Pagenaud said.
It's the first time this season an IndyCar team has won two races.
Dixon led for most of the second half of the 85-lap race but couldn't hold off Pagenaud, who moved into fourth with 15 laps to go and then passed Matheus Leist with 11 to go before weaving his way past Jack Harvey, leaving only Dixon in front of him.
Pagenaud passed Dixon by going wide into the seventh turn, bumping wheels with the New Zealander in the eighth and speeding away in the ninth.
Dixon has finished second three times this year for Chip Ganassi Racing — and has three straight runner-up finishes on Indy's road course.
Harvey, of England, wound up a career-best third for Meyer Shank Racing in his first career race in the rain. Leist, of Brazil, was fourth — also his best career finish.
All 22 drivers still on the track at the end were running on rain tires.
"(The rain) was a bit more of a handful than I would have hoped for," Harvey said. "When the track was really wet, I think we lacked a little bit of raw pace. Hopefully, this is just a springboard for us. To share the podium with both of those guys was pretty special."
Alexander Rossi came into the race second in points but lost major ground after finishing 23rd, four laps down.
The American's fate was sealed right from the start — when rookie Patricio O'Ward hit him in the front straightaway as the green flag waved. O'Ward, of Mexico, was assessed a drive through penalty and Rossi couldn't make up the difference.
Rossi, who won the previous race at Long Beach, wasn't the only one Andretti Autosport driver having trouble.
Ryan Hunter-Reay finished 17th after getting hit by James Hinchliffe on the first turn of a restart on Lap 16. Hinchcliffe was assessed a drive-through penalty.
The rookie drivers had additional problems.
After qualifying fourth, Colton Herta was forced out of the race after Harvey hit him on the Lap 16 restart.
Sweden's Marcus Ericsson went out with a broke suspension 11 laps into the race. He skidded through Turn 14, across the grass, across the speedway's oval course and into a concrete wall.
Pole-winner Felix Rosenqvist's had the best of the newcomers, eighth, but the Swedish driver had other issues. Harvey and Jones passed him, to the left and right, early in the race and twice his car caught on fire as he drove out of his pit.
Track workers will convert the speedway from a road course to the traditional 2.5-mile oval in preparation for the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500.
Practice for the May 26 race begins Tuesday.
The top 30 qualifiers will be established next Saturday while the nine-car pole shootout and the new last row shootout will be held May 19.