Simon Pagenaud wins Indy 500 thriller, completes sweep of May

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INDIANAPOLIS – Pole-sitter Simon Pagenaud outdueled Alexander Rossi to win the 103rd Indianapolis 500 in a breathtaking finish Sunday.

Pagenaud and Rossi traded the lead five times after a restart with 14 laps remaining at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Pagenaud took the lead for good with a lap left (on the last of 29 lead changes) and then darted all across the 2.5-mile oval on the final circuit to hold off a charge by Rossi.

“It’s hard to believe right now, to be honest with you,” Pagenaud told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider in the Winner’s Circle after leading 116 of 200 laps. “It’s been such an intense race. The car was just on rails. The yellows came out perfectly. The stars are aligned.

FULL INDIANAPOLIS 500 COVERAGE: All of NBCSports.com’s 2019 stories over two weeks in May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 

“It’s pretty amazing. It’s a dream come true, a lifetime of trying to achieve this. I’m just speechless. I never expected to be in this position. … When you have a car like this, a team like this, it’s about executing at the end, and we did execute perfectly. We did it, baby!”

Takuma Sato finished third, followed by Josef Newgarden and Will Power

Pagenaud completed a sweep of May for Team Penske in his No. 22 Dallara-Chevrolet, having qualified first for the Indy 500 last weekend after winning the IndyCar Grand Prix two weeks ago.

He joined teammate Power in sweeping the IndyCar Grand Prix and Indy 500 for the second consecutive season.

“What a job Simon’s done this month,” team owner Roger Penske, whose cars now have a record 18 wins in the Indy 500, told NBC Sports. “Did you see that race? Rossi is one of the best, Simon one of the best. Safe race, great day. What a guy! Can you believe it? He won that thing.”

It’s the 13th IndyCar victory for Pagenaud, who is the fifth French-born driver to win the Indy 500 (the last was Brazilian Gil de Ferran, who was born in Paris). Pagenaud is the first Frenchman to win Indy since Gaston Chevrolet in 1920.

Rossi finished 0.2086 seconds behind in second place and said that “horsepower” was the reason even though the Andretti Autosport star thought he was faster overall than Pagenaud’s Chevrolet.

“That’s unfortunately the way it is,” Rossi told Kelli Stavast on NBC Sports. “They did a great job.  Obviously, he was on pole and led the most laps, but I think we had the superior car. We just didn’t have enough there at the end. Hats off to the entire NAPA Andretti Autosport team. They’ve been a 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.”

Ed Carpenter, Santino Ferrucci, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan and Conor Daly rounded out the top 10.

A wreck involving Sebastien Bourdais and Graham Rahal during the end of a green-flag pit cycle changed the complexion of the race, putting Rossi in the lead after a major pit stop problem 40 laps earlier.

But Pagenaud snatched the lead from Rossi with an outside pass on the Lap 187 restart, setting up a spirited battle between the two over the final 35 miles.

Rossi had seemed in control in search of his second Indy 500 win, but disaster struck when he pitted from the lead on Lap 137. Because of a problem with a fuel probe, his team took several extra seconds fueling the No. 27 Dallara-Honda, knocking him from the lead.

The Andretti Autosport driver caught a break when the caution flew shortly afterward for a spin in the pits by Marcus Ericsson, leaving Rossi in fifth on the restart.

He gunned it on the outside, trying to pass Bourdais on the outside into Turn 1. But Rossi was unable to complete the pass and fell to sixth behind Andretti teammate Conor Daly.

After getting up to fourth, Rossi’s strategist, Rob Edwards, gambled with a short-pitting strategy and brought the car in with 32 laps to go, a lap after Pagenaud pitted from the lead.s

The first half of the race was relatively free of attrition.

Rookie sensation Colton Herta triggered the first yellow when the gearbox broke in his No. 88 Dallara-Honda on the opening laps. Unable to get into sixth gear, Herta’s engine quit while coming to the pits.

Kyle Kaiser, who was among the big stories in qualifying after bumping Fernando Alonso, was involved in the race’s first crash when he spun by himself at the exit to Turn 3. The Juncos Racing driver was checked and released from the care center after his second wreck of the month.

“We were coming out of the pits, and I made the wrong decision to go high and caught the marbes in Turn 3, and the car just spun around on us,” said Kaiser, who finished 31st.

Click here for full results from the 103rd Indianapolis 500.

Click here for the leader of each lap of the Indy 500.

Click here for the points calculator for each Indy 500 finisher.

NTT IndyCar points standings (through six races after the Indy 500): Pagenaud 250, Newgarden 249, Rossi 228, Dixon 203, Sato 203, Power 184, Hunter-Reay 157, Hinchcliffe 145, Pigot 133, Ferrucci 129.

Rossi remains ‘The Story’ in IndyCar in 2019

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ELKHART LAKE, Wisc. – Alexander Rossi’s greatness was on full display Monday at Road America.

He started on the outside of the front row, drafted behind pole sitter Colton Herta at the drop of the green flag, pulled out a perfectly timed move to race side by side with Herta going into Turn 1.

By Turn 2 of the first lap, Rossi’s No. 27 NAPA Honda was out front and drove away from the field, easily winning the REV Group Grand Prix of Road America by nearly 30 seconds over Team Penske’s Will Power.

Rossi was so good, it appeared he was running on a different race course than the other 23 competitors. There was some outstanding racing throughout the field with 191 total passes, including 175 for position, but none of those passes were at the front.

According to Rossi’s engineer, Jeremy Milles, there was just one thing kept Rossi’s race from being deemed complete perfection.

“It we had stayed out two laps longer on the last pit stop, we would have led every single lap instead of Graham Rahal leading one lap,” Milless told NBC Sports.com. “It’s good to see when we give him a proper car, he puts it to work.

“He’s not like a lot of drivers.”

Rossi led 54 of the 55 laps in the race and defeated Power by 28.4391 seconds – a huge margin of victory by today’s standards. Back in 1982, Hector Rebaque defeated Al Unser by a full lap at the 4.014-mile, 14 Road America road course, but those were far different times than today’s very deep field in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Although it was Rossi’s second victory of the season and the seventh of his career, the 27-year-old from Nevada City, California, has been the driver everyone talks about in 2019. The win snapped a four-race streak where he finished second three times and fifth in the other.

Simon Pagenaud won the 103rdIndianapolis 500 on May 26, but the fans and media were talking about Rossi’s bold, daring moves, including some wildly aggressive passes down the front straight and to the outside in Turn 1.

Rossi had a fantastic car the next week in the first race of the Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle but was burned by the timing of a caution period for a crash as his main challenger, Josef Newgarden, dove into the pit area to make a stop just before pit lane closed because of the caution.

Rossi had to wait until the pits were reopened to make his stop, and that put him behind Newgarden and ultimately decided the race.

After a fifth-place finish the following day in Race No. 2, Rossi was once again standing up in his seat and on top of the steering wheel in a tremendous battle with Newgarden at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8. Rossi tried his best to make his car stick on the outside lane going into Turn 1, but when he discovered the risk was much higher than the reward, he had to begrudgingly settle for second, finishing 0.816 seconds behind the current NTT IndyCar Series points leader.

Rossi left no doubt on his Sunday drive through the Wisconsin woods as he never was challenged.

In just three short seasons, Rossi has developed into one of the greatest drivers in a generation in IndyCar. He doesn’t even have 10 victories yet, and he already had the makings of a legend.

“It’s almost like Juan Pablo Montoya, when he arrived as a rookie, he was great immediately,” Rossi’s team owner Michael Andretti told NBCSports.com after the race. “Juan is one of the greats, and I think as time moves on, Alex will prove to be one of the greats.

“He is very aggressive, very calm, very confident, everything you want in a driver. He wasn’t racing anybody all day; he was just racing himself not to make any mistakes.”

For Andretti, this is a very important time in his relationship with Rossi. The driver’s contract concludes at the end of this season, and he is the focal point of speculation on where he will race in 2020.

Before Pagenaud revived his career with a sweep of the major events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Month of May, Rossi looked like “Penske Material” as the driver that would take over the No. 22 Chevrolet. After Pagenaud won the Indy 500, team owner Roger Penske assured him he would be back on the team in 2020.

Rossi’s loyalties lie with Honda. Both he and his father, Pieter, share a close relationship with the engine manufacturer that helped the former Formula One test driver at Manor find a full-time home in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Andretti told NBCSports.com on Friday that he was “optimistically confident” that he will re-sign Rossi once a sponsorship agreement with NAPA is completed.

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones

Andretti remains confident after Rossi’s win on Sunday.

“We’re getting there,” Andretti said. “I think we’re getting there. We are feeling pretty good about it.”

There are others, however, that aren’t as optimistic.

If Roger Penske wants a driver, who turns down an opportunity like that? After all, Team Penske is far and away the winningest team in IndyCar history, including a record 18 Indy 500 wins.

Think of these scenarios.

What if McLaren makes a substantial offer to align with Andretti Autosport for a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team in the future after McLaren’s debacle in this year’s Indy 500?

In order for that to happen, though, Andretti would have to switch to Chevrolet, because Honda ‘s parent company in Japan will no longer do business with McLaren.

The last time Andretti considered leaving Honda for Chevy, Rossi was set to leave Andretti to join another Honda team, Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports in 2017.

If Andretti Autosports and McLaren joined together, that would also mean the Andretti-aligned Harding Steinbrenner Racing would become a Chevy operation.

Honda could keep Rossi as one of its drivers by leading him to Chip Ganassi Racing. Five-time Cup Series champion Scott Dixon remains on top of his game, but it’s unlikely he will be racing Indy cars 10 years from now.

Barring unforeseen circumstance, Rossi will still be in the cockpit and winning races in a decade, and that would position Ganassi’s team for the future. The team’s second driver is rookie Felix Rosenqvist, who is currently racing with a one-year contract.

Even Rossi knows his situation for next year is complicated, which is why he chooses not to talk about it. He has developed a strong bond with Milless as his engineer and Rob Edwards (white shirt on left) as his race strategist.

Do both of those key members end up on a different team with Rossi? Edwards is a key member of management at Andretti Autosport as the Chief Operating Officer.

Rossi is as cerebral as he is aggressive. After his victory, when pressed upon his next contract, he concluded the conversation perfectly.

“I have no considerations,” Rossi said regarding his contract status. “It’s in God’s hands.”