Simon Pagenaud’s 22-race victory drought came to a spectacular end as the Team Penske Chevy driver stalked and passed the day’s most dominant driver, Scott Dixon, claiming the Indianapolis Grand Prix lead with just over one lap left to run.
Relieved, after months of questions as to whether he still had to goods to remain in Roger Penske’s good graces, the Frenchman left no doubt about his capabilities as an elite IndyCar driver.
“It was amazing. The whole race,” he said of adding to the Indy GP wins he earned in 2014 and 2016. “Chevy did a fantastic job; third time in Victory Lane at the Grand Prix. I can’t believe it. What a race. This is the sweetest win I’ve ever had. I answered all the questions today. The stars just didn’t align before.”
For Dixon, a third consecutive second-place result on the Indy road course rang a bit hollow after leading 39 of the 85-lap event. Sweeping past his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate and polesitter Felix Rosenqvist at the start, Dixon was in command in the dry, held a comfortable lead in the wet once the field switch to Firestone’s rain tires, and appeared to be on the way to his first win of the season. But a chassis imbalance that consumed his front tires at an advanced rate would eventually make him easy prey for Pagenaud.
“It was tough. I knew from the get-go I’d be struggling with the front end,” he said. “We needed about six turns of front wing and we blitzed the tires off the front end. It sucks to lead that many laps and lose. But, congrats to Simon. He drove a helluva race and it’s nice to see him back in victory lane.”
Despite the unexpected loss, Dixon had one positive outcome as his 33-point deficit to championship leader Josef Newgarden, who had a nightmarish race, was drawn down to six ahead of the double-points Indianapolis 500.
In the race for happiness and excitement among race results, Meyer Shank Racing’s Jack Harvey challenged Pagenaud as his career-best third-place start was matched with a career-best third-place finish. Like Dixon, Harvey was forced to concede his position in the final moments of the race, but the long run in second and eventual visit to the podium in third was a momentous occasion for the part-time driver and team.
“I’ve believed in this team from 2017 and knew this weekend would happen eventually,” he said. “We put on a great show for everybody. [A win] is where we’re going.”
Behind the top three, a wild array of positive outcomes — led by A.J. Foyt Racing’s Matheus Leist who improved from 21st to fourth — were countered by those whose hopes were dashed almost from the outset.
Felix Rosenqvist turned his first pole position into a decent lead to start the Indianapolis Grand Prix. Next to him, Dixon faced immediate pressure for his front-row starting position as third-place Harvey swept past and settled into pursuit mode during the opening fuel stint.
While the start was error free, the same could not be said as the field prepared to take the green. The highs experienced by Pato O’Ward with news of his signing as a Red Bull junior driver earlier in the week was met by a weekend full of lows. Electrical issues prior to qualifying, a poor qualifying session, and a return of electrical problems in the warm up paled in comparison to ramming Alexander Rossi from behind on the run to the starter’s stand. Damaging the Andretti Autosport driver’s left-rear suspension with the nose of his No. 31 Carlin Racing Chevy, O’Ward ruined Rossi’s race and served a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact. Rossi, who crawled his way around the circuit and made it to pit lane, would be credited with 22nd at the finish through no fault of his own.