Pagenaud: “It was incredible to see the pace we had in the rain”
IndyCar Grand Prix winner Simon Pagenaud said that his car was “amazing all day” but that he was still astonished by the rate at which he closed down Scott Dixon in the final wet laps on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
In the final and wet restart on the 68th of the race’s 85 laps, Team Penske-Chevrolet driver Pagenaud ran sixth but passed the Ed Carpenter Racing cars of Spencer Pigot and Ed Jones in consecutive laps, stalked the AJ Foyt Racing machine of Matheus Leist for six laps before outbraking him, and then closed in on Jack Harvey’s Meyer Shank Racing machine.
The 2016 IndyCar champion outbraked Harvey with a brilliant move into Turn 1 on Lap 80, and immediately started slashing into Dixon’s five-plus second lead.
As the five-time champion’s front tires lost grip, Pagenaud closed in and when the Chip Ganassi Racing driver ran wide exiting Turn 7 on the penultimate lap, the Penske machine got alongside him and muscled past on the outside of Turn 8.
“The car was just amazing all day,” said the Frenchman who also looked strong in the dry first two-thirds of the race. “It was really weird. At times I thought people were saving fuel, and they weren't saving fuel, so I didn't understand why we had so much pace at times.
“And then when it started raining, obviously I had no knowledge of the track, no knowledge of our setup in the rain. I thought, ‘OK, the sportscars have been racing a lot 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 on 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.
“Honestly in the last two laps, I almost started out saving second [place], and then all of a sudden I realized, ‘Wait, I've got too much pace for this,’ and we caught Scott by a lot. The one before the last, I realized that I had a shot, but I was out of Push-to-Pass [60hp extra boost], so my only chance was to get him on the infield.
“But quite frankly, none of the passes I made today I planned. I just drove in full instinct mode, and it worked out.”
Asked if he had been hoping for rain before the race started, he commented: “I honestly always hope for rain because I love driving in the rain. It's such a fun exercise. You can't calculate as much. You really have to balance the car with your feet, your hands and play with it, dance with it, and instinct driving comes out, where on a dry track it's very much repetitive.
“In the wet it's more like what I used to grow up on dirt racing. It reminds me of my childhood, and passion comes back out, and it's fun. But I honestly didn’t know if we were going to be good. It very much depends on your car, too, in the wet, but I felt like I had to seize my opportunity today, and I definitely had the right mix and used it.”
Pagenaud said some of the lines he was taking through corners were a case of him seeking grip in the wet – offline, where the track is less worn – but that it was under braking where he was making up most of the time on his rivals.
“Each of the corners was a bit different because obviously we have a new sealant on part of the track [the parts that use the oval], and the sealant reacts very differently.
"There's a patch in Turn 1, there's a patch in Turn 12 in the mid-corner, and I was trying to avoid those patches that were a bit slippery to carry that speed through, so I was trying a different line.
“But my car was just very, very good on the braking, so I could really experiment with that and fake some moves on people, and by doing that, they were thrown off their game. I would gain time mid-corner and get them on the exit.
"So that's what I was playing with really. And the car is very bright, too, so when you're threatening someone, you get in their mirrors, they look in the mirror, so you know you can play with that!”
Describing his crucial pass on Harvey, when he used his last three seconds of push-to-pass down the front straight, Pagenaud said: “He was struggling with his front tires, I could see that from afar. I wasn't, so… with that Push-to-Pass, that was my only chance.
"I guess he had a lot of downforce on his car, too, so at the end of the straightaway I was gaining and I faked the outside, went to the inside, and quite frankly it was late braking –avoiding him basically! – and I passed him.”
It was the 12th IndyCar win of Pagenaud career, his first since the 2017 season finale, and moves him to fourth in the championship, behind Josef Newgarden, Dixon and Alexander Rossi.
The result, in which IndyCar had its fifth winner in five races, means that Will Power and Simon Pagenaud remain the only drivers to have won in the six editions of the IndyCar GP on the IMS road course.
IndyCar GP: Pagenaud scores brilliant win in dry-wet race
Grip issues hurt Ganassi hopes in IndyCar GP