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Pagenaud Finishes Magical Month with Indianapolis 500 Victory after Duel with Rossi

Simon Pagenaud completed a magical Month of May by passing Alexander Rossi with less than two laps remaining to earn his first Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge victory Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Pagenaud, from Montmorillon, France, completed a sweep of both NTT IndyCar Series races this month at IMS in the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet. He also won the INDYCAR Grand Prix on Saturday, May 11 on the road course.

The victory was the 18th for Team Penske in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” extending its event record. Pagenaud also became the first pole sitter to win this race since Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves in 2009.

“It’s hard to believe right now, to be honest with you,” Pagenaud said. “It’s been such an intense race. The car was just on rails. The yellows came out perfectly. The stars are aligned. It’s a dream come true, a lifetime of trying to achieve this. So I’m just speechless.”

2016 Indy 500 winner Rossi finished second in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda, .2086 of a second behind Pagenaud. 2017 winner Takuma Sato placed third in the No. 30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Honda, .3413 of a second behind the winner.

2017 NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden was fourth in the No. 2 Shell V-Power Nitro Plus Team Penske Chevrolet, .8979 of a second behind. The top four cars finished within less than a second of each other, with Pagenaud’s winning average speed of 175.794 mph.

Defending winner Will Power rounded out the top five in the No. 12 Verizon 5G Team Penske Chevrolet, as Team Penske placed three drivers in the top five.

A five-car incident on Lap 178 spawned a red flag on Lap 180, setting up a scintillating dash to the finish after the restart on Lap 187.

Rossi charged toward the restart as the leader, but Pagenaud passed him for the top spot on the frontstretch. But Rossi regained the lead on Lap 188, with Pagenaud returning the favor one lap later.

Pagenaud and Rossi then marched in unison around the 2.5-mile oval for the next eight laps, with Sato threatening to join the high-stakes dance. On Lap 197, Pagenaud led Rossi by .0077 of a second at the line before Rossi then passed for the lead on the outside in Turn 1 on Lap 198, reminiscent of Rick Mears’ famous pass of Michael Andretti for victory in 1991.

But Pagenaud tucked in behind Rossi and passed him for the lead entering Turn 3 on Lap 199. As they drivers took the white flag, Pagenaud snaked his bright yellow machine on the back straightaway, trying to break the draft to Rossi’s car. Rossi never could make a final challenge for victory exiting Turn 4.

“Obviously, he was on pole and led the most laps, but I think we had the superior car,” Rossi said. “We just didn’t have enough there at the end. Huge hat’s off to the entire No. 27 NAPA Andretti Autosport team. They’ve been fantastic all month, and I’m happy to get them a result.

“But unfortunately, nothing else matters here but winning. This one will be hard to get over, but at the end of the day, it was a great showing for the team and good for the points overall. But today will suck for a while.”

Pagenaud led 116 laps. He led just 36 total laps in his seven previous “500” starts.

“When you have a car like this, a team like this, you just work your way,” Pagenaud said. “It’s all about achieving and executing at the end, and we did execute perfectly today. No mistakes. Here we are, Victory Lane, man. We did it!

“I thought we had the best car. We consumed a lot of fuel by being up front all day. Kyle Moyer told me to let Josef (Newgarden) go by in one of the last stints to see if I can save fuel. That was the key of the race for us. We saved so much fuel trailing Josef there, and I could follow him easily, as well. It was the best car I’ve ever driven on an oval. No weaknesses. I was so spirited today. It was my time.”

Rossi’s rally to contend for the victory was remarkable considering he was slowed by a pit stop miscue on Lap 137. The Andretti Autosport crew struggled to insert the fuel hose into his car, and fuel initially didn’t flow freely. The stop lasted 23 seconds, dropping Rossi down the running order.

The race featured 29 lead changes among 10 drivers. Just four caution periods slowed the racing in almost perfect conditions, as the air temperature was 78 degrees when Academy Award-winning actors Matt Damon and Christian Bale waved the green flag to start the race.

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