Simon Pagenaud believes he would have had Alexander Rossi covered even without the final yellow that set up a shootout for the win in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.
A multi-car accident caused a late stoppage, and set up a restart with 13 laps remaining. Rossi had been leading prior to the yellow, but when the race went green again, Pagenaud was able to assert himself and passed Rossi for the final time with one lap to go.
“He was a deserving winner for sure,” Rossi said afterward. “But that last yellow really hurt us because we were doing a lot better on fuel mileage than he was, so that was the first kind of nail in the proverbial coffin. The second one was, we didn’t have the speed out front. I mean, I was flat for the last 15 laps, and there’s not much more you can do.”
Pagenaud however, believed he would have taken Rossi’s number regardless.
“[The yellow] actually helped him,” he said. “The crash happened, it was such a big crash, they needed to clean the track. So if they didn’t go red flag, we would have had an eight-lap shootout. I had plenty of fuel for that, no problem. And when I went by I was planning on saving fuel to attack him at the end, and as you could see, no problem repassing him. I think… obviously it was a position race. You had to be assertive when you needed, and we just had a better package today.”
Pagenaud said that whatever concerns he did have about Rossi were rooted more in not knowing how his own car would behave in traffic: the Frenchman spent a vast amount of the race out in front and in clean air
“Except when I was passing backmarkers, I didn’t have a big knowledge of my car in traffic,” he said. “Obviously at one point we ran so much up front we didn’t save enough fuel. When I let Josef (Newgarden) by, I ran behind Josef for the entire stint and the car was phenomenal. So we adjusted the car really well during the race. Obviously Kyle Moyer and Ben Bretzman, my engineer, were giving me the perfect information. I think we had the perfect amount of downforce on the car — all the right decisions were made. The car was just fantastic, and I realized that I could run second as long as I wanted and pass people when I wanted.
“As you saw before one of the pit stops, I regained the lead on Josef just to make sure I wasn’t losing too much time in the sequence. Rossi, I knew, was going to be the biggest threat for a while, because he looked really strong. He came back from the back and he’s always really strong in these races, so he was a bit of a concern.
“I let him by to save fuel again just before the yellow came out, so that was a bit of a bummer. But we were able to get him back. Quite frankly, I wasn’t really worried about getting back, I was just worried about the rhythm, when to get him back to finish first. There was a lot of planning, a lot of brake drafting, as well. It was a lot of fun. My teammates, Juan [Pablo] Montoya, Gil de Ferran, especially Rick Mears, as well, they’ve been teaching me so well the intricacy of driving on an oval, and I applied it today, and it worked.”
What also worked was the strategy that Pagenaud and his team had mapped out earlier that day, which was basically to capitalize on the pole position and set an aggressive pace from the first lap.
“Today was about attacking,” he said. “We had our strategy meeting this morning, and we decided we were going to attack — we were going to control the day, and we were going to take our fate in our own hands. Destiny is what we decided to control. It was pretty cool. Obviously everything played for us really well. The stars have aligned this month, incredibly, but especially today
“It’s amazing. It’s the biggest dream of my life come true. It’s hard to fathom, really. It’s really hard to process it right now, but I’m just filled with a lot of joy. I drove really spirited today, but it’s just incredible. I can’t take all the credit because – and I think it showed – I had the best car out there. What a day. Wow, incredible.”