Simon Pagenaud led 26 laps and held off Alexander Rossi for second place Saturday night, but it almost felt like a victory considering how 2018 has gone.
“We needed it,” said Pagenaud, who entered the night 10th in the points and scored his first podium of the season. “I think the No.22 team needed a break and I think we got one tonight.
“It was a good night. We started really strong, really loved the car to start in the heat. As the temperature dropped, it got a little bit more difficult for us. We adjusted the car the wrong way as the temperature dropped. Got pretty loose for us midway through.
“It was fun. I mean, I had a lot of good battles, especially with Alexander at the end.”
Rossi has become the master of ballsy passes, and he did everything but pass Pagenaud.
“I knew he was really strong off Turn 4,” said Pagenaud. “I knew he was getting really good restarts also. The way the Honda restarts, really strong, I knew I had to cover the inside. I knew I wouldn’t have a chance on the outside. I tried earlier, it didn’t really work.
“But he (Rossi) gave me some grey hair [during] the last 30 laps. But we managed to hold him off. That was really cool.”
Even though Team Penske suffered severe blistering compared to everyone else, the 34-year-old Frenchman drove around it and drove smart and made a nice recovery after dropping to 14th midway through the race.
“It was a pretty fast-paced race as well, quite physical,” he said. “I was just trying to manage the balance. It was quite fun, actually. We had to keep up with the tires, keep up with the balance of the car throughout the stints, and also relay to the pit what you needed for the next one.”
Pagenaud had predicted the race wouldn’t be as bad as some of his fellow drivers anticipated, and he was right.
“I feel like the racing is always better than what we expect, especially tonight,” he said. “I thought racing was good. There was quite a bit of passes. The interesting parts were the pit sequence, a lot of good passes on new tires. To me, that was good racing.”
“It was obviously difficult to make it work. It’s not supposed to be easy.”