INDIANAPOLIS — During his time with Peugeot Sport’s sportscar program, Simon Pagenaud was forced to test in wet weather conditions (be it natural or manually wetting the track) to practice racing in the wet.
“…we did days and days of reliability just going around the circle, and we would do days in the rain, days in the dry, days on soft tires, days on medium, days on hard,” Pagenaud said. “It was amazing the amount of testing we did and the laps. So I did drive a lot in the rain in my career, but quite frankly, in France, it rains all the time, especially where I’m from. So I’ve done a lot of laps in the rain in my career. I always loved it. The first few laps I did in rain I crashed a lot, but I was fast, so I just had to figure out how to dial it back a little bit, and it’s working.
He demonstrated the results of said testing, as he went from fifth to first in the final 17 laps on the Grand Prix course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Following the final restart of the sixth annual IndyCar Grand Prix, Pagenaud commenced his drive through the field. With six to go, with only three seconds of push to pass (P2P) remaining, Pagenaud used it, outbraked and overtook Jack Harvey heading into Turn 1.
“…when it started raining, obviously had no knowledge of the track, no knowledge of our setup in the rain,” he said. “I thought, okay, the sports cars have been racing a lot in the rain, a lot of racing in the rain, so I thought I’m just going to attack right away and see. And right away I noticed our car was much better now that it’s on the braking, so I could really attack and get the tires hot quickly, and that’s how I jumped a lot of people right away, and then I gained confidence.
“Then I noticed that other people were struggling with tire wear, and we didn’t. So then I kept on pushing but was still trying to keep the tires underneath me. But yeah, it was just incredible to see the pace we had in the rain conditions. I took a lot of risks for sure, maybe more than Dixon needed to take some risk because we were in a position where I can take some risks right now and the car was so good that I just gave it 100 percent, 100 percent every lap.
Then he turned his attention to race leader Scott Dixon. He cut the lead from 5.1 seconds with six to go to 3.9 with five to go, then 1.8 with four to go and half a second with three to go.
With two to go, he pulled to Dixon’s bumper at the end of Hullman Boulevard (Turn 7). As they rounded Turn 8 and 9, he powered around Dixon’s outside and usurped the lead and drove on to his 12th career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series.
“Honestly in the last two laps to go, I almost started out saving second, and then all of a sudden I realized, wait, I’ve got too much pace for this, and we caught Scott by a lot, and I guess you call it the penultimate lap, the one before the last, and when I realized that I had a shot, but I was out of Push-to-Pass, so my only chance was to get him on the infield,” he said. “But quite frankly, none of the passes I made today I planned. I just drove with full instinct mode, and it worked out.”
It’s his third career victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and first since Sonoma Raceway in 2017 (snaps a 22-race winless streak).
Dixon, who led a race high of 41 laps, finished second for the 43rd time in his career.
“…it was generally a pretty good day,” Dixon said. “We had some good pace.
“Conditions were really tricky all day, but a lot of fun actually. I think it’s always hard to tell with a circuit like this, especially after the kind of sealant they put on some of the portions of the oval, how tough it’s going to be once you start to get some moisture on there. But all in all, the Firestone red tires, I never got to the blacks, had a ton of grip and it was a lot of fun.”
Harvey, who’s previous career best finish was 10th, rounded out the podium in third.
“It was a bit more of a handful than I probably would have hoped for,” Harvey said. “It looked like we were running pretty good in the dry. I mean, I thought it was the best start I’ve had in IndyCar, too; to be able to split Felix and Scott at the start was pretty solid. And then I think we ran on pace, top 3 in the dry. Car was great.
Matheus Leist and Spencer Pigot rounded out the top five.
Ed Jones, Will Power, Felix Rosenqvist, Graham Rahal and Santino Ferrucci rounded out the top 10.
Rosenqvist led the field to green at 3:50 p.m. After a caution for a wreck in Turn 14, Dixon bested his teammate on the restart and took the race lead.
“The start was a little tricky, kind of misjudged it with Felix, and actually the 60 car had a great start,” Dixon said. “So kind of just fought in line there and was seeing how it was going to play out. The restart we got that really good jump, got both the 60 and the 10, kind of set us out.”
From there until the final caution, drivers pitted for new tires at random intervals to maintain as much grip as possible, with the threat of rain looming.
Tony Kanaan was the first to jump to full wets on Lap 55, but was roughly 30 seconds slower than the race leader.
Helio Castroneves followed suit on Lap 60, but spun on pit exit and stalled his car in the grass in Turn 1. Everyone ducked onto pit road within seconds of his spin to switch onto wets, before the caution flew on Lap 61. This set up the run to the finish.
Who had a good day
After starting 21st, Matheus Leist earned his career best finish with a fourth.
Who had a bad day
It wasn’t a great day for the two drivers at the top of the standings.
Alexander Rossi’s day was all but ruined on the start, after contact with Patricio O’Ward.
Later in the race, points leader Josef Newgarden’s crew lost control of a tire and it rolled out of the box and stopped next to the outside pit wall.
He was sent to the tail-end of the field on the ensuing restart, as a result.
Nuts and bolts
The race lasted two hours and 26 seconds, at an average speed of 103.254 mph.
There were 10 lead changes among six different drivers and three cautions for 15 laps.
Newgarden leaves with a six-point lead over Dixon.