With 10 laps to go in Saturday’s IndyCar Grand Prix, leader Scott Dixon held a six-second advantage over third-place Simon Pagenaud. In basketball parlance that’s a slam dunk because the five-time champion is pretty much untouchable when he’s out in front.
But on a wet IMS track, Pagenaud put on a show for the ages. The soon-to-be 35-year-old Frenchman began running laps a second quicker than Dixon and bolted into the top spot with one lap to go with a nifty outside pass in Turn 8, completing one of the most remarkable rallies in modern IndyCar history.
“I think it’s my greatest victory,” said the ecstatic veteran following his drive from eighth place to Victory Lane in the Menard’s Chevy. “I always hope for rain. I love the rain because it’s a dance where your driving talent comes out.”
Running down Dixon required all the talent he had, but even Pagenaud wasn’t sure he had enough in the end.
“With two laps to go I didn’t think I was going to be able to catch him and was just about ready to settle for second,” he explained. “Then I thought, ‘I’ve got too much pace to give up,’ so I kept pushing. I didn’t have any push-to-pass left so I knew the infield section was my only shot at overtaking Scott.
“I took a lot of risks, for sure — probably more than Scott — but I couldn’t believe our pace. I didn’t plan that pass in Turn 8, it just happened. He had trouble coming off Turn 7 and I got a good run. I could see he was struggling, so I just went for it.”
The 2016 IndyCar champion hadn’t won a race since the 2017 finale at Sonoma and there have been persistent rumors that Roger Penske was going after Alex Rossi to replace him for 2020.
“I think I’m driving better than I did in 2016 and I thought the results would come. You just have to be patient,” Pagenaud continued. “Last year our whole team struggled to understand the new car, so we went back to the basics. We’ve had some bad luck in qualifying this year but I knew we had good pace.”
Asked about the criticism, Simon smiled and said: “I answered it. I know what I’m worth. I just have to get everything right. We did that this weekend, slowly and surely. The stars just didn’t align. The performance has always been there this year. The team has been fantastic giving me what I need, so here we are.”
It was the third win in this race for Pagenaud, which tied him with teammate Will Power, and gave Team Penske its fifth triumph in six starts in the May opener.
“It’s great to win again for Roger and let’s be honest, it was good for me as well.”