Simon Pagenaud finished where he started in a 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500 that featured epic on-track battles, dangerous pit lane mishaps, a head-to-head manufacturer duel and the notable absence of inclement weather.
The Frenchman’s start from the pole position gave him the best opportunity to spend the day’s 200 laps as a member of the lead group, which he successfully did while even his closest competitors faced troublesome visits to pit lane and poorly timed full-course cautions.
Keeping his Menards-themed Chevrolet in contention was the Team Penske pilot’s first task, and one that lasted 180 laps. When contact between Graham Rahal and Sebastien Bourdais caused a multi-car crash so near to the checkered flag, INDYCAR elected to display the red flag and park the field single file on pit lane, giving Pagenaud a break before the second phase of his journey to victory lane.
The nearly 20-minute red-flag period was followed by several laps under yellow behind the safety car while lapped cars were moved to the back of the field, setting up a 12-lap sprint to the checkers with Alexander Rossi in the lead but closely pursued by Pagenaud and sudden arrival Takuma Sato.
Pagenaud spent minimal time between the two former Indianapolis 500 winners, putting Rossi’s No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts Honda behind him almost immediately and igniting a mano-a-mano scrap between NTT IndyCar Series engine manufacturers Chevrolet and Honda.
Rossi enjoyed superior fuel economy with his Andretti Autosport-prepared, Honda-powered Indy car during the two-hour, 50-minute contest but would have much preferred the power advantage of the Bowtie brand during the final dozen laps.
The former Formula One driver and winner of the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 kept Pagenaud in his sights as the laps clicked off, but the Menards Chevrolet was wide as it swerved twice during its final trip down the backstretch and Pagenaud maintained his advantage as the leaders hurtled to the Yard of Bricks for the 200th and final time.
Pagenaud delivered Penske its 18th Indy 500 triumph by a margin of 0.2086 seconds over Rossi while collecting the 13th victory of his IndyCar career and following up his INDYCAR Grand Prix win in the most successful way possible.
The 206th Indy car win for Roger Penske’s empire comes 50 years after the name first appeared on an Indy 500 entry list and marks the second consecutive May sweep for the team after Will Power also won on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, won the Indy 500 pole and won the race itself a year ago.
Pagenaud led 116 laps, or 58% of the race.
Sato fell out of contention for the win but held on for third, giving Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing something to celebrate after one-off driver Jordan King hit and injured a member of his crew and Rahal was knocked out in the race’s most serious crash.
Josef Newgarden, Will Power and Ed Carpenter were noteworthy frontrunners, despite a drop to the back of the field for Power when he too hit a crew member in an early pit stop. Power benefitted from the timing of the final caution — which became the event’s first red flag since Scott Dixon’s airborne crash in 2017 — while Newgarden and Carpenter simply lacked the track position to be in the mix at the end.
Santino Ferrucci used attrition and comfort in his Dale Coyne Racing Honda to his advantage en route to becoming the top-finishing rookie ahead of former “500” champions Ryan Hunter-Reay and Tony Kanaan. Conor Day’s Andretti debut culminated in a 10th-place finish.
Beyond the top 10 which included five former winners, front-row starter Spencer Pigot came home 14th after being caught out by the timing of the crash as he was yet to make his final pit lane visit. Ed Jones started one spot behind Pigot in fourth but took the checkered flag one spot ahead in 13th.
On the 50th anniversary of his grandfather’s lone “500” win, Marco Andretti was last among the 26 cars that made it to the end. That end came after Lap 200 rather than sometime around the halfway mark — feared to be as long as the race would last given the 80% chance of rain.
Rahal, Felix Rosenqvist, Zach Veach, Bourdais, Kyle Kaiser, Ben Hanley and Colton Herta had their races end early.
The IndyCar field has only a few days to leave the half-month in Speedway, Indiana behind as the seventh and eighth races of 2019 await at the Raceway at Belle Isle Park. The Chevrolet Dual in Detroit will include two full-length IndyCar races on the weekend of May 31 to June 2.
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