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Top Moments of 2019 - #2: Pagenaud Sweeps May

Editor’s Note: This is the ninth of a series of 10 vignettes in which IMS Senior Communications Manager Paul Kelly picks his top 10 moments of 2019 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Simon Pagenaud made the ultimate legacy play during the Month of May in 2019 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The Frenchman became just the second driver to sweep the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on the Brickyard oval in the same year, following Team Penske teammate Will Power in 2018.

That challenge of sweeping the road course is beyond daunting. It requires vastly different car setups. Different driving styles. Different approaches for a two-day event and a two-day event.

Just because a driver has completed the feat two years in a row doesn’t mean it should ever be considered routine.

Pagenaud methodically attacked the challenge with his usual good spirits, talent and focus, and he ensured a spot in IMS history and, just maybe, secured his status on the Team Penske roster.

The Month of May opened with Pagenaud’s victory on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile IMS road course in the INDYCAR Grand Prix.

He delivered the clutch victory Saturday, May 11 to end a 22-race NTT IndyCar Series drought by passing Scott Dixon with less than two laps to go after a stirring charge in the rain during the closing laps. That victory also silenced a few whispers that his status with Penske may be in jeopardy for 2020 and beyond without a victory in 2019.

Pagenaud beat Dixon to the checkered flag by 2.0469 seconds in the 85-lap race. It was his first victory in the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet since the 2017 season finale at Sonoma Raceway.

“I answered it,” Pagenaud said about increasing questions about his winless spell. “I know what I’m worth. I’ve got to get everything right, and we did that this weekend.”

Dixon led Jack Harvey by 5.5257 seconds with 10 laps remaining, with Pagenaud running third, 6.0122 seconds behind the leader.

Pagenaud passed Harvey for second in Turn 1 with five laps remaining, trailing Dixon by 3.9666 seconds as the rain intensified.

The gap evaporated to 1.8388 seconds just one lap later. With three laps left, Pagenaud closed to within .5404 of a second and drove into the rooster tail of spray from Dixon’s car. 

Pagenaud closed the gap to .5167 of a second with two laps to go. On Lap 84, Dixon ran slightly wide in Turn 7 in his No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, and Pagenaud dove under him in a bid for the lead. The cars made light contact, and Pagenaud drove past Dixon for the lead in Turn 9.

“What a way to start May,” Pagenaud said. “The car was fantastic. The car was awesome all day. We had something for everybody.”

That continued Sunday, May 26 in the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.

Pagenaud passed 2016 Indy 500 winner with less than two laps remaining to earn his first victory in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

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.

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 in the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet.

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.

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

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