INDIANAPOLIS — No one will ever forget the name Simon Pagenaud again. He is now an Indianapolis 500 champion who, after Sunday’s heroics at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, will soon be immortalized on the legendary Borg-Warner Trophy.
And boy did he earn it. After winning the IndyCar Grand Prix earlier this month, Pagenaud took the pole for the 500 and led 116 laps en route to his first Indy 500 crown and the first for a pole winner since 2009.
Alexander Rossi, the 2016 Indy 500 champion, nearly overcame the Frenchman late as the two exchanged the lead multiple times in the final laps, but as Rossi would later say, he just didn’t have enough horsepower to make the last pass.
Pagenaud’s win gives team owner Roger Penske his 18th victory at the 500. Penske also swept the month of May last season with Will Power.
On the podium: First thing’s first, there is no podium at the Indianapolis 500. But this category is a tradition, and the 500 is all about traditions, so we’re sticking with it. Alexander Rossi gave it everything he had, ultimately coming up two-tenths of a second short. It will be of little solace to Rossi, but he enjoyed one of the best races of his life, recovering from a pit-lane blunder to seize the lead multiple times with a few laps to go.
Takuma Sato, meanwhile, continues to enjoy incredible success at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Two years after winning the 500, Sato charged to the front late and nearly had something for Rossi and Pagenaud but had to settle for third.
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Unforgettable: After 178 laps of relatively clean racing, Sebastien Bourdais and Graham Rahal bumped wheels and started a collision that collected three more cars — Zach Veach, Charlie Kimball and Felix Rosenqvist — ending all of their days. Race stewards immediately threw a red flag to stop the race and clean up the track, setting the stage for an incredible 20-lap finish. Fortunately, all drivers escaped the wreck with out injury.
Bourdais was cited for avoidable contact.
“I was lifting a little bit to manage my gap,” Rahal said later. “You can see (Bourdais) turning inside squeezing in front of me, and there was nothing I could do.
“I respect Sebastien a lot. I don’t respect that move. I’m just not a fan of squeezing people and putting them in that position. That’s how you kill people here.”
Before the mega crash on Lap 177, problems in pit lane stole the headlines for the first three quarters of the race. Helio Castroneves started it off by ramming into the back of an indecisive James Davison and incurring a penalty that cost him chance at becoming the fourth four-time winner. Davison never recovered either.
Rahal reported via his radio that the outside pit lane was slick, and many drivers felt the effects.
Will Power slid in the pits at one point, as did Alexander Rossi later on.
Jordan King’s car endured one of the worst pit lane slip-ups as his resulted in an injured crew member. As he collided with crew members, a tire shot into the lower body of Chris Minot, who was hospitalized with a leg injury.
With about 60 laps to go, Marcus Ericsson lost control of his car in pit lane before spinning out and hitting the wall. At the same time as Ericsson’s spin, Rossi’s crew could not remove a fuel hose during his late pit stop, costing him a chance at winning this race for the second time.
Seems strange to say, but at times it felt like there was more action on pit lane than there was on track.
Drive another day: Colton Herta’s quest to become the youngest Indianapolis 500 winner ever ended early on Sunday. On just the fourth lap of the race, Herta’s No. 88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing car came to a halt with what the team would later discover was a gearbox issue.
Outside of his historic victory at Circuit of the Americas, where he became the youngest winner in IndyCar history, Herta had endured a frustrating season. He has failed to finish the four races since COTA.
On the plus side for Herta, he still has three more chances at making history.
At just 19 years and 57 days old, he still has three years to become youngest 500 winner and breaking Troy Ruttman’s record (22 years, 80 days old).
Quote of the weekend: “I dream, and I believe my dream is possible.” — Simon Pagenaud