There can only be one winner in any competition. One and only one. At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on a sun-kissed Memorial Day Sunday, that winner was Simon Pagenaud, who completed a sweep, sitting on pole position for both the INDYCAR Grand Prix and 103rd Indianapolis 500, as well as winning both races.
That supremacy ended a season-plus of failure to secure a victory that had left Pagenaud’s future with Team Penske in doubt. The former Honda racer looked ready to return to the Honda camp in 2020, but then Indy happened and his job security, according to Roger Penske, is no longer in doubt. Pagenaud’s is a great story of resilience, one that will be told when discussions of the Indy 500 are enumerated over the years. Pagenaud pocketed $2,669,529 for his efforts.
There were 32 other racers vying to secure their places in the pantheon of Indy 500 winners on the famous BorgWarner trophy and, while they were unsuccessful, there were tales of those who reached beyond what others thought were their capabilities. There were drivers who disappointed with their lack of success on the 2.5-mile historic Brickyard oval.
Other winners were the persistent Alexander Rossi, whose second place payday came to $759,179. The Californian, winner of the 100th Indy 500, has never finished worse than seventh here in four attempts and has completed every lap. Rossi failed by a nose to take his second 500, while 3rd finishing Takuma Sato, the 2017 Indy 500 winner, hit the bricks less than a third of a second behind Pagenaud. They were worthy competitors, Sato pocketing $540,454.
The biggest failure, of course, was McLaren Racing’s inability to secure a spot on the grid for two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso. Alonso drove like the champion he is but the equipment and support he was given by the UK-based team was inexcusable at best. McLaren were unprepared for the 103rd Indianapolis 500 and it showed from their first test to their final qualifying attempt.
That an emerging team like Juncos Racing, who had zero backing until after qualifying weekend, could topple the vaunted McLaren squad was one of the happier stories of the month. During the race driver Kyle Kaiser remained in the rear of the field and was caught out by his inexperience in the 3rd turn, bringing the Chevrolet-powered car home in 31st after a spin and contact. Hey, that result was better than their 33rd starting position.
Dale Coyne Racing’s Santino Ferrucci earned Rookie of the Year honors at the race. He came to the NTT IndyCar Series with a bit of baggage from his European racing, but has shown that there are many sides to all stories by being competitive on the track during the early parts of the 2019 season. Ferrucci’s drive from 23rd to seventh place earned him the $50,000 honor, bumping his pay-day to $435,404.
Before the race began, that Rookie award was a slam-dunk for second generation racer Colton Herta, who has already earned a race win this year at Circuit of the Americas. Since that second contest of the year, Herta’s results have been disappointing and Indy was no exception when the 19-year-old exited the contest after coasting to a halt in the fourth turn after only four laps. Mechanical failures aren’t always something you can control…
Hello Castroneves’ quest for a fourth Indy 500 victory went the same way the last nine have gone – unsuccessfully. The Team Penske veteran, currently racing for Acura Team Penske in IMSA’s premier DPi class, will have to wait another year. If the Captain and his backers see viability in that quest.
Chip Ganassi Racing’s lackluster Indy results continues with five-time and reigning champion Scott Dixon starting 18th and finishing 17th. Yes, the Kiwi had both the fastest lap of the race at 226.006 mph and fastest leader lap (224.250 mph) during his 13 tours pacing the field, but both he and we expected more. Teammate Felix Rosenqvist has been a qualifying sensation in other races, but he ended up 29th on this grid and finished 28th after being part of the Sebastien Bourdais-Graham Rahal squabble.
It’s easy to place blame for an incident on the track – drivers do it all the time – and in the case of the two guys just mentioned, this incident is the result of poor choices by both. Yes, it was late in the race, aka “go time,” but arguing for racing space that close to the track’s white line is sure to get anyone in trouble. Both of them should know better and should recover this coming weekend in Detroit.
When you combine all the pertinent details of this race, a 50th anniversary for the winning Team Penske, the 50th anniversary of Mario Andretti’s single victory at the Brickyard, then take a look at how long John Menard has been trying to get to Victory Lane at Indy. According to his recounting, it’s been 40 years. The home improvement empire he owns has sponsored open wheel cars for years and, of course, backed son Paul, a winner in NASCAR’s 2011 Brickyard 400 at this track.
Menard finds Simon Pagenaud “the real deal” and, since Menard has French lineage, it’s a natural for him. This victory marks this duo’s third victory at Indianapolis together, beginning with the INDYCAR Grand Prix in 2016 on Menard’s return to open wheel racing, together with the two victories to sweep the month of May this year.
Menard first put his name on the side of an Indy car in 1982 with Herm Johnson, also from Wisconsin. While Paul’s 2011 Brickyard win is his most personally satisfying victory at Indy, his partnership with Team Penske and three visits to Victory Lane with Simon Pagenaud make Menard one of the biggest winners on Sunday.