Simon Pagenaud, Alexander Rossi return to Indy to celebrate epic battle


They re-created one of the most thrilling finishes in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history by driving inches apart across the famous Yard of Bricks.

They also recounted the epic battle while sitting 6 feet apart (properly social distanced) and having to don masks during a shoot at the track’s iconic Pagoda.

For Simon Pagenaud and Alexander Rossi, two Indianapolis 500 winners whose connection is both intensely fierce and extraordinarily friendly, it was one of many moments of juxtaposition while filming “Back Home Again,” the special hosted by Mike Tirico that will showcase their stirring battle last year.

‘BACK HOME AGAIN’: Sunday at 2 p.m. ET, NBC

“It was awesome to be back there in a race car,” Rossi told “It didn’t feel like we were in this weird void of nothingness anymore. It felt like things were back to normal at least for a couple of laps.”

Said Pagenaud: “It’s a bizarre time, but we managed to get some amazing footage.”

The program, which also will honor the race’s military traditions as well as health-care workers battling the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), will air Sunday on NBC at 2 p.m. ET during the original time slot of the 104th running of the Indy 500 (which has been postponed to Aug. 23 because of the pandemic).

Reliving the 2019 Indy 500 through exclusive commentary on the race replay and an interview with Tirico, the winner and runner-up from the 2019 race alternated between images that were both comfortably familiar and strikingly odd.


“From a visual standpoint, it’s very impactful to see that (the track) was just empty,” Rossi, who won the race in his 2016 debut, said. “The fact that it was the middle of May, and there were Indy cars on the track, and there were maybe 20 people there, was really surreal and a very unique experience.

“It’s a sad story as to how we got to this point, but from a drama perspective, the whole point of this special is capturing how 2020 is going to be very different than years in the past. It’s tied to the legacy of this race and the importance of the fans and the community that make it what it is.

“As a racetrack and an event by itself, it’s awesome, larger than life. But you really miss a really key element when there’s not people there. I think that was all too clear when we were there and just a reminder of how important the fans are to our sport. And to the Indy 500 in particular.”

Pagenaud, the Frenchman who became a popular first-time winner from the pole position of last year’s Indy 500, also would have preferred a full grandstand “but we’re doing the best we can to represent our sport and give something to the fans.” During the COVID-19 era, that required necessary adjustments for sanitary precautions.

“We were wearing masks, and everybody was,” Pagenaud told with a laugh. “Obviously, it’s not easy to understand the commands, especially for me, when people are wearing masks. So it is an adjustment, but we’re all getting used to the situation. The thing I’m really proud about is how IndyCar is reacting to it, being so proactive with NBC Sports. As partners, we’re able to showcase our sport, and that’s amazing to me in these times. I’m very proud to be part of it.

“Mike Tirico obviously is a really good host. And with Rossi, we have such respect with each other that we’re able to talk about things we never had the opportunity to before, so that was a really good time.”

It also was a fun return trip because the 2016 IndyCar champion had gone nearly a year since setting foot at IMS (which since has been purchased by his team owner, Roger Penske). The highlight was getting behind the wheel of his bright yellow No. 22 Dallara-Chevrolet to turn laps with Rossi.

“The filming on the track was awesome,” Pagenaud said. “Alex and I were inches apart trying to give the best footage we could. The camera was inches away from the nose of my car sometimes.”

Rossi joked that his No. 28 Dallara-Honda wasn’t quite close enough.

“It was annoying because in a lot of the camera shots, my car was behind the 22,” he laughed. “I didn’t love that as much as Simon probably did. But yeah man, it was cool to not only be in a car, but then to hear the other noise of the car and to have a small little bit of slipstream going on. I think some of the shots that we got required a little bit of some dancing and precision, so I’ll be interested to see how they turn out.

“From the inside, it looked pretty awesome.”

Despite engaging in such a rousing duel on Indy’s largest stage (trading the lead five times in the last 14 laps), it would seem odd to describe Pagenaud and Rossi as a rivalry. Their friendship features healthy respect that often crosses into admiration.

During a replay of the Indy 500 on NBCSN’s “Racing Week in America” last month, they live-tweeted the race and traded congratulatory musings that revealed a deeper level to a relationship that sprouted when they were teamed on Penske’s Acura sports car program for the Rolex 24 the past two years.

Both agree that the 2019 Indy 500 finish strengthened that bond. Rossi is an introverted sort who doesn’t socialize much but makes an exception for Pagenaud.

“I don’t go out of my way to spend extra amounts of time with people at the racetrack, except for my very close friends and teammates at Andretti,” Rossi said. “But Simon always was kind of an outlier from that standpoint. I always was happy to talk to him and just share in experiences and opinions, whether good or bad, with what was going on from a current events standpoint.

“I think he’s a great guy. There’s probably more to that. I really enjoy racing with him on the track but also the opportunities here and there to have conversations with him away from the track.”

Alexander Rossi and Simon Pagenaud chatted before a championship contenders news conference Sept. 19, 2019 in Monterey, California. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

Pagenaud, who is more outgoing, appreciates Rossi’s simplicity when it comes to a love of racing.

“I think he’s very reserved, but he’s got a very strong fire inside that’s boiling and ready to go at anytime when he sits in a race car,” Pagenaud said. “It’s very interesting to see. I think he’s most comfortable in his race car. And he’s a true racer, whether whether Baja off-road, or sports car racing, V8 Supercars or IndyCar.

“He’s able to compete in all these different categories, which is fun to watch. He’s an old-school kind of guy caring more about driving than anything else.”

Though they have a tenacity to how they fight for positions (Pagenaud describes them as a couple of Jack Russell terriers), there is a dichotomy to their driving approach.

Simon Pagenaud and Alexander Rossi shared a pace truck ride before the 2018 IndyCar Grand Prix (Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

“It’s almost they are very similar in style but different,” three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, who is teamed with both as an IMSA driver for Acura Team Penske, told “Simon is very detailed in his comments. Rossi also has great comments, but it’s more, ‘Just give me the car and I’ll drive.’ Very straightforward. But on the racetrack, they look very similar and close to each other, and that’s why they finished first and second last year.”

Castroneves was singled out by Rossi as one of the only drivers who is similar to his unorthodox style for IndyCar.

“There’s not many people who drive a car like I do,” chuckles Rossi, who prefers a looser rear end that often can mean dazzling displays of catching his car while oversteering through the corners.

Pagenaud, on the other hand, likes “a very positive” front end.

Having won multiple times in the NTT Series last season, both make it work.

“From a sheer internal competitive standpoint, I think Simon and I are probably close to the top from that standpoint,” Rossi said. “Where Simon is so impressive is his ability to articulate really small details. We can often have on the same feedback on a lot of things that go on throughout a race or qualifying lap, but he really differentiates himself with this minute level of detail. So that’s impressive to watch, and I think I’ve learned some things from him from that standpoint.”

Tim Holle/IndyCar

Pagenaud said he’s picked up things from Rossi’s often mesmerizing performances, such as last year’s comeback from a slow pit stop for fueling problems at the Brickyard.

“He’s relentless; I love the way he drives,” Pagenaud said. “His car control is something I admire. I always inspire myself from my competition. Certainly I think Alex has qualities that I don’t have, so I try to emulate what I don’t have and try to understand how I can get better by embracing what they’re doing. I think Rossi and I are very different styles, but we have the same driving side.

“He seems a lot more aggressive than I am. I’m more like the stealthy one that’s just going to be under cover even though my car is really bright. All of a sudden I pop up front, and people don’t know where I come from. Rossi is one of those guys that you know is going to do something spectacular, so you want to watch it. I’m not the same, but my consistency has brought me championships and a lot of very good wins.”

With 14 wins and a series title over 138 starts and eight full seasons in IndyCar, Pagenaud, who turned 36 on Monday, has been around twice as long as the 28-year-old Rossi (seven wins in 67 over four seasons).

But in taping “Back Home Again,” Pagenaud said he had witnessed growth in Rossi as “a very good ambassador of the sport. I feel like he sometimes hides that because he can seem so shy. But actually I learned a lot from him when we did that filming because the way he expressed his first win at Indy was spectacular.”

Like their driving approaches, there were both parallels and striking contrasts to their Indy 500 wins, which came four years apart with different circumstances and meanings.

Pagenaud had dreamed since childhood about becoming the first Frenchman to win the Indy 500 in nearly 100 years, and he celebrated with a victory tour of his home country.

Alexander Rossi celebrates after winning the 100th running of the Indy 500 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

Rossi was thrust into the spotlight much more abruptly as a rookie who won with a brilliant and perfectly executed fuel strategy in the 100th running of the race in 2016.

At the time, the Andretti Autosport driver only recently had left behind a longtime goal of becoming a star in Formula One, and with little oval experience, his IndyCar future didn’t seem certain.

He since has become a series fixture, re-signing a long-term deal last year with Andretti and Honda after a few months of being courted as the most coveted free agent (including being mentioned as a Penske candidate in place of Pagenaud, who re-signed with Penske after his Indy win).

The love affair with Indy bloomed in his unexpected victory.

Alexander Rossi does interviews after the 2019 Indy 500 Carb Day (Stephen King/IndyCar).

“Like Simon, I was blown away that I was in this position as an Indy 500 winner, but it wasn’t for the same reasons,” Rossi said. “His reasons were because of all the time it took and the dream, the desire, the effort and the failed attempts, etc. But for me, the fact I couldn’t believe it was because I didn’t ever imagine that a) I’d be participating in the Indy 500, but b) it didn’t even occur to me going into it that (winning) was even a remote possibility.”

The laid-back Californian took some criticism for a subdued victory celebration.

“When I got to the Victory Circle, I had no idea how to react,” Rossi said. “Because there wasn’t that thought process that went into it of, ‘Oh, this time that I win, I’m going to do this and feel that, and it’s going to be this culmination of all these years of finally coming through.’ It was like, “What the hell? What just happened? How did that happen? Why did that happen?” sort of reaction.

“So I think that was misinterpreted by a lot of people as a non-appreciation for it. I guess you could say that, but it wasn’t a non-appreciation for it because I wasn’t appreciative of the event or what the event meant. It was because I do not feel deserving to be in that position.”

Scott Dixon congratulates Simon Pagenaud after his Indy 500 win last year (Joe Skibinsk/IndyCar).

Pagenaud’s life-changing victory, which cemented his future at Penske, drew a long receiving line of former Indy winners that included Rossi, Takuma Sato, Scott Dixon, Will Power and Tony Kanaan.

“That was a surprise to see how many of my peers came to congratulate me,” he said. “I’m certainly one of the fiercest competitors out there, and it’s not like we’re old best friends, but there’s such respect. I really felt full inside when I realized the respect that I had from so many other competitors. So that was amazing.

“I think that’s the key in IndyCar racing. You have to look at the others to improve, and I think that’s why there’s such respect. Obviously at the speedway, it’s the fastest race in the world, so there is a need for respect that all the drivers have.”

Just being included in “Back Home Again” made Rossi feel respected.

“Obviously the 500 really ultimately rewards the winner,” he said. “So to be able to be a part of the special during these crazy times hopefully provides something fans can really be excited about with a memorable look back on last year that was really cool.”

Kyle Larson wins third consecutive High Limit Sprint race at Eagle Raceway, Rico Abreu second again

Larson High Limit Eagle
High Limit Racing - Twitter

It took four attempts for Kyle Larson to win his first High Limit Sprint Car Series race in the series he co-owns with brother-in-law Brad Sweet, but once he found victory lane, he has been undefeated with his win at Eagle (Nebraska) Raceway. For the second week, Abreu led early only to fall prey to Larson.

The win was Larson’s third straight victory and the fifth consecutive top-five, giving him a perfect sweep of the season after finishing 10th in last year’s inaugural race at Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville, Indiana.

Larson started third behind Abreu and Brent Marks but was embroiled in a fierce battle with Anthony Macri for third during the first dozen laps. Larson slipped by Macri in traffic until a red flag waved for a flip by Lachlan McHugh.

Meanwhile at the front of the pack, Marks retook the lead from Abreu on Lap 18. Larson followed one lap later and then caution waved again. Tyler Courtney lost power and fell to 24th after starting eighth.

Marks scooted away on the restart but tragedy struck in Lap 26. Leading the race, Marks hit a pothole in Turn 1, bicycled and then flipped, handing the lead to Larson.

Abreu caught Larson again during the final laps and in a reprise of their battle at Tri-City Speedway, the two threw sliders at one another for several laps until Larson built some separation and ran away to the checkers.

“I didn’t feel like my pace in [Turns] 1 & 2 slowed down a ton,” Larson said from victory lane. “I missed it once there and then I saw his nose in 3 & 4. I didn’t know if he nailed the bottom that well behind me and I think he might have slid me in the next corner, so he was definitely on the top.

“I was nervous to move up there because my car was really pogoing up in the entry of 1. I got up just in time, made a few mistakes and he threw a couple more sliders at me but he was just a little too far back and I was able to squirt around him. Then I really had to commit to hitting my marks – back my effort down a bit to avoid mistakes.”

After leading early, Abreu fell back as far as sixth, but faith in his car kept hope alive.

“I just needed to do a few things a few laps before I did and fix some angles, then my car got a whole lot better,” Abreu said. “I’m thankful for this team; they do an amazing job. They don’t give up on me. I know my car is going to be there right at the end of these races, so it’s just the discipline of being patient.”

For Abreu, it was his third near-miss this season. He was leading at Lakeside in the 2023 opener until a tire went flat in the closing laps and he lost the lead to Larson late in the Tri-City Speedway race. Abreu has finished sixth or better in his last three High Limit races with each result being progressively better until his pair of runner-up results.

Third-place finisher Scelzi was the hard charger, advancing from 17th.

“I had a very specific plan; don’t go near [the hole in Turn 1],” Scelzi said. “It worked out. No one wanted to start on the top. I think I gained a couple of rows there on the choose cone and ran the middle, which seemed to be better than right around the bottom.”

Michael “Buddy” Kofoid in fourth and Macri rounded out the top five.

World of Outlaws star and former NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne was one of 41 entrants, but he was not among the 26 starters. He failed to advance to the Main after finishing eighth in the B Main and seventh in his heat.

Feature Results

A Feature (40 Laps): 1. 57-Kyle Larson[4]; 2. 24-Rico Abreu[1]; 3. 18-Giovanni Scelzi[17]; 4. 71-Michael Kofoid[5]; 5. 39M-Anthony Macri[3]; 6. 9-Chase Randall[9]; 7. 26-Zeb Wise[14]; 8. 1X-Jake Bubak[15]; 9. 8-Aaron Reutzel[10]; 10. 14D-Corey Day[18]; 11. 11-Cory Eliason[12]; 12. 5T-Ryan Timms[11]; 13. 88-Austin McCarl[13]; 14. 21H-Brady Bacon[22]; 15. 48-Danny Dietrich[16]; 16. 7S-Robbie Price[19]; 17. 21-Brian Brown[23]; 18. 22-Riley Goodno[26]; 19. 52-Blake Hahn[25]; 20. 15H-Sam Hafertepe Jr[21]; 21. 3J-Dusty Zomer[6]; 22. 14-Cole Macedo[7]; 23. 19-Brent Marks[2]; 24. 7BC-Tyler Courtney[8]; 25. 25-Lachlan McHugh[20]; 26. 53-Jack Dover[24]

2023 High Limit Sprint Car Series

Race 1: Giovanni Scelzi wins at Lakeside Speedway
Race2: Anthony Macri wins at 34 Raceway
Race 3: Kyle Larson wins at Wayne County Speedway
Race 4: Kyle Larson wins at Tri-City Speedway