INDIANAPOLIS – It’s not the day he wanted, but Simon Pagenaud made the most it.
Coming into the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil as the defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion and 2017 points leader, Pagenaud was expected to contend for the win despite starting 23rd.
Instead, he found himself fighting to avoid disaster, hanging on for a 14th-place finish Sunday and falling 11 points behind Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves in the overall standings after six of 17 races.
“I had a lot of near-misses the whole race, really,” said Pagenaud, driver of the No. 1 Menards Chevrolet. “We were in the wrong place, wrong time, a lot of the time. I just couldn’t get my way out of it.
“Sometimes it’s just difficult when you run in the back like this; it’s difficult to get into a good rhythm. The car was pretty good, but most of the time is momentum being broken (by traffic in front). I had to choose on the racetrack and I just didn’t make the right decision most of the time. However, we didn’t lose too much in the double-points race.”
The thrilling Indy 500 lived up to the hype with a record 15 different leaders. Restarts created close-quarter racing that saw drivers spread five-wide battling for position at one point. Pagenaud was fortunate to dodge five cars caught in a Lap 184 incident on a restart that collected two of his teammates – Josef Newgarden and Will Power.
The 33-year-old Frenchman said the intense restarts were a product of drivers making the most of their chances to gain positions on track at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.
“You have to keep the momentum going in the draft,” said Pagenaud. “If you don’t, you lose it and then you’re done. So, it’s basically the most brave, courageous guy that’s going to take a big chance and get the big position. Maybe that’s what I didn’t do (Sunday). Certainly, a lot of drivers were willing to take a lot of risks. Can’t blame them, that’s the game.
“I guess I didn’t do that.”
Slight contact from another car midway through the race didn’t help Pagenaud’s effort.
“The car was good,” he said. “We had good balance. We got hit on a restart by someone and that damaged our rear aero in the car, so we gained drag, unfortunately, and we needed to trim. We were probably the lowest downforce out there to just keep up on speed, so that really hurt us. That was around (Lap) 100, so halfway through.
“The beginning of the race was just me losing momentum on restarts and not taking enough risks. Just one of those days where it’s wrong place, wrong time. It happens.
“I think I had one of these days today. Nothing to dwell on, just move on to the next race.”
That “next race” happens to be the 10-time Verizon IndyCar Series race winner’s bread and butter, the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear. Pagenaud collected his first career win on the raceway at Belle Isle Park street circuit in 2013 one win and three other podium finishes in nine starts.
“Street course, our backyard at Penske and Chevrolet is very strong with the heavy downforce aero kit,” said Pagenaud. “We’re going to be at a bit of an advantage, which we didn’t have here.
“So, for sure, we’re back on the championship run and hopefully we can be really strong in Detroit, get some more points and take the championship (lead) away.”
Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix action begins with two 45-minute practices Friday (10:20 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. ET). Saturday’s schedule features qualifying at 10:05 a.m. and the first race of the weekend doubleheader at 3:30 p.m. On Sunday, qualifying for the second race is at 10:45 a.m. and the race at 3:30 p.m.
All practice and qualifying sessions will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. The races air live each day on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.
For more information about Team Chevy, visit https://www.facebook.com/TeamChevy/.