By: Zach Catanzareti, Staff Writer
While the top three drivers seemed to be settling Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 for themselves, Simon Pagenaud laid in the weeds and looked to pounce.
With fresher tires and a heavy tow ahead, Pagenaud’s No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet made it a four-car fight for the win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway when he caught the trio of Alex Palou, Helio Castroneves and Patricio O’Ward.
With enough speed to get it done, the only problem was the number of laps.
“One more lap. That’s all I needed,” Pagenaud said. “I was going to get Pato [O’Ward] by Turn 1 on the last lap, so then I’m behind Helio [Castroneves]. And I could pass any car I wanted. If there was only one guy in front of me, I could get him.”
Pagenaud managed to pass O’Ward on the backstretch on the final lap, coming home third. And leading for the fourth straight year in the 500, this running wasn’t straightforward, having to come from a career-low 26th on the starting grid.
Additionally, an early caution for Stefan Wilson’s pit road accident brought Pagenaud in for an emergency stop. With drivers like Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi running out of fuel, Pagenaud dodged a bullet, yet still took a hit.
“What really cost us was that early yellow — that put us at the back of the field,” he said. “We only had 156 laps to get to the front, but we did it.”
After placing second quickest on Carb Day, Pagenaud noted his confidence in race pace entering Sunday.
“The car hasn’t changed all that much since the first day we put it on the track,” he said. “We were very happy, we made a lot of changes that didn’t go in the right direction. We knew we had a very strong race package. I’ve been saying it every day. Chevy did a great job with the race engine, providing us with more horsepower.
“I think we had the racecar to get it done today. I was pedal to the metal. I thought I might have had a shot in Turn 4, but [Palou] was too fast. But we did a great job today, I think we had the best car out there: one more lap and we may have had a shot at Helio.”
Leaving with his second podium both at Indy and of the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series campaign, Pagenaud made clear that Indy, despite its other benefits, is all about that victory.
“The championship points are great, but it’s the one place in the world that you want to win,” he said. “Second and third don’t matter.”
Pagenaud gave credit to Castroneves, a long-time teammate of Pagenaud’s at Penske who won for a record-tying fourth time in the famed race.
Pagenaud only hoped he was able to race him for the win.
“This place chooses you, quite frankly,” he said. “He knows where to position the car, he knows how to play the game. The last 15 laps he wasn’t even trying to pass Palou. Helio was just watching. It was cool to see from behind. I was trying everything to join him because I knew what he was doing.
“Nobody else could do it four times. We needed someone from our generation to join [the four-time winners club] to keep the history going. And he just did it. It’s massive.”
I was coming for you but if it couldn’t be me, I’m so happy for you! pic.twitter.com/JmuIVe3tgt
— Simon Pagenaud (@simonpagenaud) May 30, 2021