Pagenaud’s grit, aggression, determination fuel pivotal Mid-Ohio win

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“Aggressive,” “gritty” and “determined” aren’t words we ordinarily use to describe Simon Pagenaud.

But those descriptors are probably the best three to explain how the Verizon IndyCar Series points leader not only survived the Honda Indy 200 weekend, but thrived in a steely performance that saw him take one pretty big step towards securing his first series championship.

Pagenaud, who ironically made a fill-in appearance at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the late Justin Wilson when Wilson sustained a back injury after running off at Turn 1 in 2011, let slip that he’d had back pain of his own sustained on Friday of this weekend.

The driver of the No. 22 PPG Automotive Refinish Chevrolet for Team Penske then apparently decided to turn into Iron Man for the rest of the weekend, because what he did from there was extraordinary.

We’ve written a lot this year about what Pagenaud’s wins mean. There was his Barber coming full circle after making his return to IndyCar there in 2011, his three-in-a-row run after the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis, and where he stood at the halfway mark with this being his title to lose, albeit before some poor luck and mechanical woes cost him some extra points.

Mid-Ohio on Sunday though, might have been a career defining victory.

POLE BOOST PUTS PAGENAUD BACK IN WIN FRAME

On Saturday, with Scott Dixon having been the proverbial pole position favorite and with Pagenaud typically lurking in the third to fifth range but not the out-and-out fastest, a mix of key strategy and typically good setup from Pagenaud’s longtime engineer Ben Bretzman fueled a pole position – Pagenaud’s sixth of the season (and seventh time he’s started first, after St. Petersburg).

The result was yet another confidence booster in a year of them. Pagenaud did the business of outqualifying teammate Will Power for the eighth time in 12 completed races this year. The pole was his first on a road or street course since his Detroit doubleheader pole sweep in June, and first overall since securing Team Penske’s 500th overall pole in all series earlier in July at Iowa.

ATTACK MODE FOR PAGENAUD ON SUNDAY 

And then on Sunday, something unusual for him but welcome happened: Pagenaud got aggressive with the race, and potentially the championship, on the line.

Power had gotten back around Pagenaud following the second round of green flag pit stops, but both drivers were the ones pushing surprise leader Mikhail Aleshin, who proved a formidable opponent as he gapped them both by more than 10 seconds.

Once Aleshin fell by the wayside and Conor Daly assumed the lead following the second caution and the final round of stops, the No. 12 crew had again, only slightly, edged Pagenaud’s No. 22 crew.

Power had finished ahead of Pagenaud the last four races with his run of first, first, second and first since Detroit race two.

And losing more points after conceding 90 to Power since his last win at the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis back in May was not looking like a good option for Pagenaud.

What was a 137-point gap over his teammate in mid-May was now 47 here, and potentially down to 38 if Power got another 10 or more points.

So it left the 32-year-old Frenchman with a decision – do I accept the fact that I’m running behind Power, take my lumps and lose more points?

Or, do I risk the car being penalized post-race for being overweight, because of the giant stones attached that come with making a passing attempt on Power at a track where overtaking is limited, and at a corner where the number of successful attempts is in single digits?

The new, 2016 version of Pagenaud showed the same level of commitment and bravery he did on another permanent road course this year, in a similar “pass for the win or bust” situation at Barber Motorsports Park back in April.

If Pagenaud’s final 10-lap duel with Graham Rahal was the finish of the season, then Pagenaud’s first inside at Turn 11, then switch back right to the inside of Turn 12 at Mid-Ohio pass of Power was the pass of the season – and it will go down as the defining move of the season if in fact Pagenaud hangs on for the title.

THE PROTAGONISTS REFLECT

“I knew that my only chance was really going to be on the restart,” Pagenaud said.

“I knew that was going to be my chance. And I tried to set him up in four; didn’t work out. Tried for five, and six, didn’t work out. And again, he made a little mistake on nine.

“So then it was my chance for 11, which is a very tricky corner to pass, but we managed to make it side-by-side. And then I crossed him in 12, and that was it for the pass.

“It was an interesting lap, too. I was out of breath at the end of the lap. But it was great racing. Will raced me hard and fair as usual, and I thought it was really good for the fans. Thanks to Penske for letting us race like this.

“I was calculating in my head, if I finish second to Will, I lose ten points, and that’s only 38 (gap). You don’t know what’s going to happen in the next four races. So I thought this is my time to go because I didn’t have much to lose. It was my time to be aggressive. The car was just fantastic to drive on the attack more and I took a chance and it worked out. So that was the right approach, and when it works out, it’s great; it’s just one of these days.”

Power rued his mistake for not restarting as strong as he wanted to, but then admitted he had to back out by way of Pagenaud’s forceful move.

“I just blew it. I should have done a much better job on that restart,” he said. “I kick myself for not being on top of it more. It’s a situation of trying to defend and getting in marbles and eventually getting passed.

“I got pickup on the tires and kind of went wide and got more pickup. I was quite slow. So you know, I just made a dog’s breakfast of the bloody restart, which allowed him to get into the position to have a shot. And if you have a shot, of course you can’t pass it; you’ve got to go for it, and he did.

“Actually in the last turn, had I not backed off, we would have crashed. He was quite aggressive the way he threw it in there. At that moment, I thought of it being just — I didn’t want to say — Roger would have been pretty mad if we had taken each other out of first and second potentially. At that point I decided to lift, because he was not going to.”

WHY NOT TAKE THIS ALL ON WITH A BACK ISSUE?

Pagenaud did all this, again, mind you, with a back issue that he barely wanted to discuss. Except once it was out in the open, it meant he had to go out and explain it.

But in typical Pagenaud form, he minced no words and was typically candid in describing what he was going through.

Here’s what Pagenaud said after qualifying on the pole on Saturday:

“I’m struggling. But this morning the pain was 10 out of 10. I didn’t know if I was going to be doing qualifying to be honest. But the doctors took good care of me, and I managed to get in the car, and once the adrenaline got in, it was better, but I’m really struggling sitting here, so we should get done pretty quickly here. I’m kidding.

“I pulled — we don’t know yet what it is exactly. I was in Turn 1, the third lap in on Friday, and then all of a sudden it was like somebody jammed a knife in my back. I’ve been struggling to drive, honestly. I haven’t been doing much, letting my teammate get the car sorted, and I’ve been trying to rest as much as possible. But the doctors took good care of me and tried to have the muscle relax. We’ll see what it is on Monday. I guess I’m going to race anyway, so we’ll see.”

After Sunday, here’s how he felt:

“I was going to go on vacation, but time on the plane is not a good thing. Sitting down is not a good thing. I’ll be lying down for the next week and try to get better. We have four more races and of course the championship, and that’s my main priority, so I might have vacation at home.

“Yes, actually my guy is here on every race. It’s unfortunately it comes from my dad. He’s having the same issues. Unfortunately that’s how I was born. I’ve had this issue since I was a little kid, and it can happen. One time it happened when I was cleaning my car at home. It’s just one of these things you’ve got to deal with it.”

BONUS POINTS PALOOZA 

Here’s another thing to note as Pagenaud stretched his points lead back from 47 to 58 points over Power – he’s chalked up an insane amount of bonus points this year.

Pagenaud has six pole positions, has led at least one lap in 10 of 12 completed races (Phoenix, where he finished second, and the Indianapolis 500 are the only two he hasn’t), and led the most laps in five races (St. Petersburg, Barber, Indianapolis GP, Detroit 1 and Detroit 2).

That means we’ve calculated Pagenaud has scored some 26 bonus points in 12 races this year – the six for pole, 10 for leading at least one lap and 10 more from the five races he’s led the most laps, as you get two bonus points for leading the most laps. Bonus points were also awarded for qualifying for the Indianapolis 500.

“Pole position is just an advantage you are going to get at the start. Like here, it was a huge advantage. So just work as hard as I can,” he said.

“I just think we have a really good understanding of what we need now for the Red tires, for the Red Firestone tires with Ben, my engineer. And I think that’s why we’ve been able to be so strong in qualifying lately. But certainly six points we got in qualifying, so that’s tremendous for sure, and at the end of the year, it’s important.”

With a 58-point lead on Power and everyone else 111 or more points back, the final four races of the year set up as the showdown that pits the two longtime friends and occasional rivals – who are now teammates at Team Penske – head-to-head for this year’s title fight.

Pagenaud’s aggression has served him well this year, and it may be the single biggest reason it could clinch him his first series title.

‘Baby Borgs’ bring special Indy 500 bonds, memories for Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi

Ganassi Ericsson Indy
Mike Levitt/LAT Images/BorgWarner
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THERMAL, Calif. – Winning the Indy 500 is a crowning achievement for driver and car owner, but for Chip Ganassi, last May’s victory by Marcus Ericsson had meaning even beyond just capturing one of the world’s greatest sporting events.

When Ganassi was 5 years old and growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, his father, Floyd, attended a convention in Indianapolis in 1963. Floyd went to Indianapolis Motor Speedway to tour the track and visit the former museum that used to stand next to the main gate on 16th and Georgetown.

Ganassi’s father brought young Chip a souvenir from the gift shop. It was an 8-millimeter film of the 1963 Indy 500, a race won by the legendary Parnelli Jones.

“I must have watched it about 1,000 times,” Ganassi recalled. “More importantly than that, something you did when you were 5 years old is still with you today.

“I was 50 years old when I celebrated my Thanksgiving with Parnelli. It dawned on me that something I did when I was 5 years old took me to when I was 50 years old. That’s pretty special.”

Ericsson and Ganassi were presented with their “Baby Borgs,” the mini-replicas of the Borg-Warner Trophy, in a ceremony Feb. 2 at The Thermal Club (which played host to NTT IndyCar Series preseason testing). The win in the 106th Indy 500 marked the sixth time a Ganassi driver won the biggest race in the world.

Ganassi will turn 65 on May 24, just four days before the 107th Indianapolis 500 on May 28. The 2023 race will mark the 60th anniversary of the victory by Jones, who is now the oldest living winner of the Indianapolis 500 at 89.

Jones wanted to do something special for Ericsson and Ganassi, so each was given framed photos personally inscribed by Jones.

Parnelli Jones (Steve Shunck Photo For BorgWarner)

“Congratulations Marcus Ericsson and my good friend Chip Ganassi on winning the 2022 Indianapolis 500,” Jones said in remarks conveyed by BorgWarner publicist Steve Shunck. “There is no greater race in the whole world and winning it in 1963 was by far the biggest thrill in my life.”

Ganassi’s relationship with his racing hero began 60 years ago, but the two have shared some important moments since then.

It was Jones that signed off on Ganassi’s first Indianapolis 500 license in 1982. Jones was one of the veteran observers who worked with Ganassi and other rookie drivers that year to ensure they were capable of competing in the high-speed, high-risk Indianapolis 500.

When Ganassi turned 50, he got to celebrate Thanksgiving dinner with Jones.

“We’ve been friends over the years,” Ganassi told NBC Sports. “He wrote me a personal note and sent me some personal photographs. It really says what this race is all about and how important it is to win the biggest auto race in the world.”

Michelle Collins, the director of global communications and marketing for BorgWarner, presented the “Baby Borgs,” first to Ganassi and then to Ericsson.

“More special is winning the Indianapolis 500,” Ganassi said during the presentation. “It’s been a big part of my life. I want to call out my buddy, Roger Penske, and thank him for the stewardship of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and what it means to us. It’s about the history, the tradition and, to me, it’s about the people that have meant so much in my life.

“Thanks for the trophy, Marcus.”

Marcus Ericsson and Chip Ganassi hold their Baby Borgs while posing with the Borg-Warner Trophy (Bruce Martin).

The Baby Borg presentation also came on the birthday of sculptor William Behrends, who has crafted the Bas-relief sterling silver face of each winner on the Borg-Warner Trophy since 1990. The “Baby Borg” presents each winner with a miniature of one of the most famous trophies in sports.

“I have to thank BorgWarner for everything that has happened since winning the Indianapolis 500, including the trip to Sweden,” said Ericsson, who took a November victory lap in his native country. “I’m very thankful for that because it’s memories that are going to be with me for the rest of my life.

“To bring the Borg-Warner Trophy to my hometown, seeing all the people there on the city square on a dark day in the middle of November. It was filled with people and that was very special.

“I’m very proud and honored to be part of Chip Ganassi Racing. To win the Indianapolis 500 with that team is quite an honor. It’s a team effort and a lot of people worked very hard to make this happen.

“Our focus now is to go back-to-back at the Indy 500.”


If Ericsson is successful in becoming the first driver to win back-to-back Indy since Helio Castroneves in 2001-02, he can collect an additional $420,000 in the Borg-Warner Rollover Bonus. With Castroneves the last driver to collect, the bonus has grown to an astronomical amount over 21 years.

Ericsson is from Kumla, Sweden, so the $420,000 would have an exchange rate of $4,447,641.67 Swedish Kronor.

“It’s a nice thing to know I could get that if I do win it again,” Ericsson told NBC Sports. “But the Indianapolis 500 with its history as the biggest and greatest race in the world, it doesn’t matter with the money, with the points, with anything. Everyone is going to go out there and do everything to win that race.

“It’s great to know that, but I will race just as hard.”

Marcus Ericsson points at the newest face on the Borg-Warner Trophy (Mike Levitt/LAT Images/BorgWarner).

A popular slogan in racing is “Chip Likes Winners.” After winning the 106th Indy 500, Ganassi must really love Ericsson.

“It doesn’t get much bigger than that, does it? I’m very thankful to be driving for Chip,” Ericsson said. “He likes winners and winning the Indianapolis 500, it doesn’t get better than that.”

When Ericsson was presented with his Baby Borg, he stood off to the side and admired it the way a child looks at a special gift on Christmas morning. The wide-eyed amazement of his career-defining moment was easy to read and met with delight by executives of BorgWarner (an automotive and technology company that has sponsored the Borg-Warner Trophy since its 1935 debut).

“I noticed that immediately and I was watching him look at it wishing I had a camera to capture that,” Collins told NBC Sports. “But maybe not because we always have our phones in front of us and it’s nice to take in that moment as it is. That is what makes the moment well worth it.”

Marcus Ericsson (Bruce Martin)

Said BorgWarner executive vice president and chief strategic officer Paul Farrell: “It’s very special to have the big trophy that has been around since 1935 and to have a piece of that. Hopefully it’s something that (Ericsson) cherishes. We think it’s special, and clearly, Marcus Ericsson thinks it is very special.”

The trophy process begins shortly after the race as the winner has the famed Borg-Warner Wreath placed around his neck, and the Borg-Warner Trophy is put on the engine cover. The next morning, the winner meets with Behrends, who has been sculpting the faces on the trophy since Arie Luyendyk’s first victory in 1990. Later in the year, the winner visits Behrends’ studio in Tryon, North Carolina, for a “Live Study.”

The process takes several more steps before the face is reduced to the size of an egg and casted in sterling silver. It is attached to the permanent Borg-Warner Trophy and unveiled at a ceremony later in the year. Ericsson’s face was unveiled last October during a ceremony in Indianapolis.

That’s when it hit Ericsson, a three-time winner in IndyCar after going winless in Formula One over 97 starts from 2014-18.

“Until then, it was strange because you are so busy with your season right after the Indy 500 you don’t really get much time to sit back and think about what you had accomplished,” Ericsson said. “It was the offseason before I really realized what I had done.”

The permanent trophy remains on display at Indianapolis Motor Speedway but has been known to travel with the winning driver on special tours, such as the Nov. 3-7 trip to Sweden.

“It’s been incredible to see the amount of interest in me and the IndyCar Series and the Indy 500,” Ericsson said. “The trophy tour with the Borg-Warner Trophy we did in November really made a huge impact in Sweden. I was on every TV show, morning TV, magazines, newspapers, everywhere. People are talking about IndyCar racing. People are talking about Marcus Ericsson. It’s been huge.

“I was back in Sweden last month for the Swedish Sports Awards and I finished third in the Sports Performance of the Year. Motorsports is usually not even nominated there, and I finished third. That says a lot about the interest and support I’ve gotten back home in Sweden.”


Ericsson continued to reap the rewards of his Indianapolis 500 victory last week at the lavish Thermal Club, about a 45-minute drive from Palm Springs, California.

Earlier in the day before the Baby Borg presentation, Ericsson, and Chip Ganassi were among the 27 car-driver combinations that completed the first day of IndyCar’s “Spring Training” on the 17-turn, 3.067-mile road course. The next day, Ericsson turned the test’s fastest lap.

The 32-year-old still seems to be riding the wave, along with his girlfriend, Iris Tritsaris Jondahl, a Greece native who also lived in Sweden and now lives with Ericsson in Indianapolis.

“Today, receiving my Baby Borg, it was another thing of making it real,” Ericsson said. “It’s not a dream. It’s reality. To get the Baby Borg and bring it home. My girlfriend, Iris, and I are house hunting, looking for a house in Indianapolis. It will definitely have a very special place in our new home.”

Marcus Ericsson and girlfriend Iris Tritsaris Jondahlc share a kiss at the Baby Borg presentation (Mike Levitt/LAT Images/BorgWarner).

Ericsson told NBC Sports his most cherished trophy before getting his Baby Borg was for his first NTT IndyCar Series win in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix in 2021.

“It was such a huge win for me and such a huge breakthrough for me and my career,” he said. “After that, it catapulted me into a top driver in IndyCar.”

The Brickyard win was another level for Ericsson, who moved to Ganassi in 2020.

“Marcus kept himself in the race all day,” Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull told NBC Sports. “Anybody that ran a race like Marcus ran, maybe you deserve the race win, but you don’t always get it. Marcus did everything that it took, and we are really, really proud of him.”

Ericsson also proved last year to be one of the best oval drivers in the series, a much different form of racing than he experienced until he came to the United States.

“Racing in Europe and around the world, I always liked high-speed corners,” he explained. “It was always my favorite. I always had this idea if I go to IndyCar and race on the ovals, it is something that would suit me and my driving style. I was always excited to try that. When I came to IndyCar and started to drive on ovals, I liked it straight away. It worked for me and my style.

“The first few attempts at Indy, I had good speed, but it was always some small mistakes that got me out of contention. I learned from them. I’m very proud I was able to pull it off, but it was a lot of hard work behind that.”

Michelle Collins of BorgWarner presented Baby Borgs to Marcus Ericsson and Chip Ganassi at a ceremony also attended by Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull (Mike Levitt/LAT Images/BorgWarner).

The victory in the Indianapolis 500 is etched in history, as is Ericsson’s face on the trophy.

“It’s such a special thing,” the driver said. “The BorgWarner people and IndyCar and everyone at IMS, I get to experience so many cool things since winning the Indy 500. It’s a win that keeps on giving. It never ends. It still does.

“I can’t wait to get back to Indianapolis, the month of May, as the champion. I still have to pinch myself. It’s a dream, for sure.”

Ganassi doesn’t have to pinch himself — all he needs to do is look at his collection of Baby Borgs.

His first Indy 500 win — as a team co-owner with Pat Patrick — came in 1989 with Emerson Fittipaldi’s thrilling duel against Al Unser Jr.

In 1990, Ganassi formed Chip Ganassi Racing. Juan Pablo Montoya won the Indianapolis 500 in 2000, Scott Dixon in 2008, Dario Franchitti in 2010 and 2012 and Ericsson in 2022.

“It’s a feather in the team’s cap for sure just to have our representation on the Borg-Warner Trophy with five other drivers,” Ganassi said. “It’s a testament to the team, a testament to Mike Hull that runs the team in Indianapolis. I just feel really lucky to be a part of it. It’s great to work with a great team of great people.

“Just to relive that moment again and again never gets old; never goes away. I’m really lucky to be in the position I’m in. It’s an honor to represent the team with the great people that it took to bring Marcus across the finish line. He and I get to celebrate events like this, but it’s really about the people at Chip Ganassi Racing in Indianapolis that pull this all together.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500