INDIANAPOLIS – Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske made more on-track passes than any driver in Sunday’s 105th Indianapolis.
Pagenaud, the pilot of the No. 22 Menard’s Chevrolet, made 26 on-track passes and was the highest climber in the race, going from 26th to third.
But it wasn’t enough for the 2019 Indianapolis 500 winner.
“I’m hurting,” he admitted. “I’m hurting in my heart. I drove my heart out and my soul out of this race car. My team did such a great job. I need a little bit of time to digest, switch my mind over to Detroit next week. At the moment my mind is solely on Indy. I want to come back and win this again.
“But for sure it’s going to give us a boost in the championship. It’s always a good thing.”
Pagenaud’s third-place finish in the double points Indianapolis 500 has moved him up to fourth in the championship, 47 behind the leader, Alex Palou, who finished second to race winner Helio Castroneves.
Pagenaud doesn’t believe it’s time to think about the championship race as he chose to digest the race that he just participated in at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Although he qualified poorly, his race car was phenomenal in the 500 mile race.
“I thought it was great racing,” Pagenaud admitted. “I thought I could pass people. I thought it was a matter of having the right adjustment done during the pit stops. It was a matter of being aggressive also.
“I took a lot of risks today, more risks than I usually take, because it’s such an incredible race. I could smell the blood. Just wanted to get to the front.
“I knew the more cars I was going to pass, the better it was going to be. Certainly, at the end you saw how fast the Menard car was. Yeah, just came up a little short. It hurts a little bit, I got to say.”
There were moments that helped change the dynamic of the race, including the first caution of the race when Stefan Wilson spun out and crashed while entering the pits on lap 33. That created major problems for race contenders Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi, who had to make an emergency pit stop when the pits were closed because they were about to run out of fuel.
Pagenaud was also part of that group, but his car was able to overcome the timing of the caution period.
“The big thing for us is obviously we got caught up in the first yellow,” Pagenaud said. “We hadn’t pitted, so we had to take an emergency pit stop after lap 44. From there we got sent back to the back of the field because of the emergency pit stop. We had 156 laps to come back to the front.
“What a shame. I really think we had the race car to get it done today. Certainly, Chevy amazing job with the engine power and the race was amazing. Handling was phenomenal all day. We managed to really adjust the car through the beginning of the race. At the end I was pedal to the metal. I didn’t care. Just wanted to get to these guys and have some fun with them. I could see Helio was playing a very smart game. Obviously, he knows how to win the race. Alex was trying his best to hold him off. Helio was just biding his time.
“Because of that the draft was difficult in fourth place. It was difficult to get through Pato O’Ward. We did on the last lap. I thought I may have had a shot in turn four, but Helio was too fast.
“Congrats to him. He’s writing a huge page of the 500-mile history here. Finally, a guy of our generation is going in the ‘four’ club. That’s very special. He’s a great friend. He just gave me 10 more years in my career to go catch him.
“Thank you, Helio.”
Despite starting the race with too little downforce that left Pagenaud struggling to pass cars on the first stint, he believed the chassis was fantastic and just needed a little more downforce.
The crew was able to make adjustments during pit stops including rear win and front wing at the same time.
That is when the car was optimal.
“Then we kept adjusting through the race,” Pagenaud said. “At the end there it was loose. That’s what I needed to be good in traffic. It was definitely difficult for me when I had clean air. My car was very loose. That was the only way I could go through traffic.
“I think it really the fact that I started at the back really helped me at the end to go through the pack, get to the front. I could see I was more ready than the others at positions the car, knowing what to do with it. Had been aggressive for 200 laps.
“Great job. The whole 22 team did fantastic today.”
Pagenaud gave it a valiant fight in the Indianapolis 500, but now the battle moves on to the championship, which picks back up with a doubleheader in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle.
“It’s a silver lining, but it hurts,” the one-time NTT IndyCar Series champion said. “All I’m thinking about is the 500-mile race I just lost. Like I said, no disrespect to Helio Castroneves. I’m super happy for him and he deserved it, but I do believe I had the chance.
“I need to just – how do you say – mourn my loss tonight and get back into the championship rhythm. It’s obviously great to be fourth, I think that’s what I heard. That’s definitely going to help me going forward.
“We’ve got some great things for Detroit coming up. We know we have a strong car, street course. Excited about that. But Indy to me is the one off. I don’t really put it in the championship.”