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IndyCar Season in Review: Simon Pagenaud’s triumphant comeback

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Josef Newgarden may have stolen the headlines when he won his second NTT IndyCar Series championship last month at Laguna Seca, but the man who finished second to him in the points standings deserves an equal amount of praise for his phenomenal 2019 performance. 

That man is Newgarden’s teammate, Simon Pagenaud, who made a triumphant comeback this season after a lackluster 2018 campaign that saw the Frenchman fail to win a single race.

Though every driver experiences a lengthy winless streak at some point in their career, Pagenaud entered this year’s IndyCar Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course having not won a single race since September 2017 – disappointing to say the least considering that he races for Team Penske, the most sucessful team in IndyCar history. 

If there was any time for Pagneaud to win, it was then, and he did just so by passing Scott Dixon for the lead with two laps remaining to end a lengthy 21-race winless streak. 

“I know what I’m worth,” Pagenaud told NBC Sports following his first victory of 2019. “The stars just didn’t align before, but the performance has always been there this year. The team has been fantastic at giving me what I need, so here we are.”

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The stars continued to align for Pagenaud through the remainder of the month of May. One week later, he won the pole position for the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500, a race he went on to win the following weekend after a memorable battle with Alexander Rossi for the checkered flag.

Pagenaud wasn’t just done after Indy, however. He would win once again on the streets of Toronto in July, and finished no worse than seventh in the final six races. Pagenaud showed consistency all season, finishing outside of the top 10 only twice in the 17 races contested this year.

Though he didn’t win the series championship, Pagenaud’s consistency allowed him to remain in the title hunt all year, and he even briefly took the points lead following his win in the Indy 500.

For Pagenaud, his 2019 performance was more satisfying than his 2016 championship season.

“2016 was pretty awesome, but I think I’m having the most fun I’ve ever had,” Pagenaud told NBC Sports. “Winning Indy really allowed me to just step back and enjoy things a bit more.”

Indeed, winning Indy gave Pagenaud plenty of opportunities to celebrate his accomplishment. In June, Pagenaud and his crew were invited to the White House to meet President Donald Trump – becoming the first Indy 500 winner to visit the White House since Sam Hornish, Jr. in 2006.

Later in August, Pagenaud also had the opportunity to return to his native France to celebrate his Indy triumph with his fellow countrymen.

“Winning the race [as a Frenchman] for the first time in almost a century was very special for people, and it meant a lot to them,” Pagenaud said. “Racing still means a lot to people over there.”

Though Indy cars have never raced in the country, Pagenaud stated that those he met in France expressed a significant amount of interest in the series, and he feels the need to continue to further educate European audiences about the sport that has given him so much. 

“I feel like it’s a duty,” Pagenaud said. “I’m faithful to IndyCar and I will continue to be faithful. I’ve loved it. 

“IndyCar has really helped my career take off. The Indy 500 has changed my life and made my career what I wanted it to be. Now my goal is to try to be more present in Europe educating people and letting them know what the Indy 500 and IndyCar is.”

If Pagenuad’s comeback performance this season was any indication of future success, expect to see the No. 22 car up front once again in 2020.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter 

Steve McQueen’s famous Porsche 917K displayed in new museum

Photo courtesy of the Brumos Collection
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One of the most famous race cars in film history will be featured in a new automotive museum in Florida.

The legendary Porsche 917K driven by Steve McQueen in the 1971 film ‘Le Mans’, which was last seen in 2017 when it sold for $14 million in an auction, will be one of the prominent pieces in the Brumos Collection, a new automotive museum in Jacksonville.

Widely considered the most famous Porsche 917 ever built, the historic race car initially was used for Le Mans testing before being featured in the McQueen film. The car was housed in a barn for more than two decades before re-emerging fully restored in 2001.

The car was unveiled as the newest member of the Brumos Collection during a special event signifying the museum’s grand opening on Monday.

With more than three dozen vehicles, the Brumos Collection provides museum guests an up-front look at racing and automotive history.

Notable race cars in the collection include:

  • 1968 Porsche 908: In the second track appearance ever for Porsche’s then-new 908, drivers Jo Siffert and Vic Elford tackled the notorious Nürburgring’s 1000 km in this yet-unproven model. Starting in the 27th position, Siffert guided the 908 to second at the end of the first lap and into the overall lead after the second lap, setting a lap record. This historic 908 persevered through a grueling 44 laps around Nürburgring’s 14-mile course, skillfully navigating a 1000-foot elevation change and 160 turns through the forest.
  • 1979 Porsche 935: This #59 Brumos Porsche 935 is shown exactly as it raced when it won the 1979 IMSA Championship with Peter Gregg behind the wheel. It is authentic in every detail, down to his distinctive tartan seat upholstery. Arguably the finest season of his career, Gregg won eight races and eight consecutive pole positions in 1979. The car won 53 percent of the races it entered, carrying Gregg to 20 percent of his total career IMSA victories.
  • 1972 Porsche 917-10: The first 917/10 was produced in 1971. This Can-Am Racer had a twin-turbocharged engine capable of 200+mph speeds at 1100 hp. Peter Gregg raced the car to a 9th place finish in the 1972 Can-Am Championship, followed by Hurley Haywood’s 3rd place finish in the 1973 Can-Am Series season. The Brumos Porsche 917-10 was the first race car to carry what has now become the iconic and recognizable white, red and blue livery with the famous Brumos Racing “sweeps.”
  • 1923 Miller 122 Grand Prix: Miller was the first American race car bought solely to race in Europe. This 1923 Miller 122 Grand Prix was driven by Bugatti racer Count Louis Zborowski, who raced it in England, Spain and France. Returned to the United State 89 years later, this is considered one of the most complete surviving Millers.

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