How foolish were we to write off Simon Pagenaud again. Heading into the fourth race of the NTT IndyCar Series season, everyone pretty much assumed that 2019 would be the Frenchman’s last with Team Penske. He was 12th in the season standings and coming off of two top 10 finishes in three races, but none of which being in the top five. While he was a top 10 machine, contending for wins wasn’t happening anymore.
Plus, with Alexander Rossi a free agent at seasons end, the hot rumor was Rossi would replace Pagenaud with the organization. What Pagenaud did next was dispel any rumors.
He started fifth and finished sixth in Long Beach to enter the Month of May 11th in the points standings. Then, he won not just the INDYCAR Grand Prix, but started on the pole and won the Indianapolis 500 as well. He jumped from 11th to first in the points leaving Indy.
Roger Penske gave Pagenaud the assurance then that he’d be back in his No. 22 Chevrolet for 2020. But, with how things were going, that No. 22 could very well become the No. 1 again.
Then, the Indy 500 winners hangover occurred. Pagenaud, entered Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto without a top five finish since his ‘500 triumph on May 26. He had three top 10’s in four tries, but none resulted in a finish better than sixth.
With how well Rossi and Josef Newgarden were driving since Indy, they had pulled away from the field. The championship race looked to be between the two of them moving forward.
How dare us count Pagenaud who sat third in the standings out again.
Pagenaud, had a perfect weekend in Toronto. He was quickest in practice on Friday. He was quickest in practice on Saturday. He won his 12th career pole on Saturday afternoon. Then in the race itself, he led 80 of 85 laps en route to his third win of the season and his second straight top two finish on the streets of Toronto. Pagenaud, went from 61 points down to 39 points out with still six races remaining.
If he can make up 22 points in one weekend, what can he do in six?
“I needed that time off (between Road America and Toronto) to just reorganize my team around me – my personal team, not Team Penske – and find time for myself to refocus on the game and we did just that. Ben Bretzman (engineer) has been really good at steering me in the right direction, also. I think it was a team effort, really. It looked like we were dominating today and I can’t thank these guys enough because they come in in the morning with big smiles on their face, every day same thing. We just are working together and that is why you have days like today. The whole race I was waiting for that yellow. For sure there is going to be a yellow with five laps to go; we’re going to have a restart. But no matter what, we had the best car. When we had to push, we could go faster than (Scott) Dixon, match anyone, save the fuel. It was just an amazing day. Dixon made it interesting in the end and that was fantastic for the fans. I also want to say a special “Hi” to France, it’s obviously Bastille Day and I’m so proud to fly the French flag so high this year. It’s time. It’s time to go and we need to be aggressive now. This race we had to win and we did it. I think this team shows when it’s time to execute, we’re always there. There’s no question about that.”
Despite such a dominating day, the win nearly didn’t happen. See, Pagenaud had to save fuel in the end to make it over the final stint. That, combined with lapped traffic, allowed Scott Dixon to close the gap down to less than a second. But, Pagenaud was able to hold Dixon off flawlessly while winning by just 0.1373-seconds, the closest finish of the entire season.
The victory was confirmed when Pagenaud’s Penske teammate of Will Power got into the tire barriers in Turn 8 on the final lap. That allowed Pagenaud to coast to his 14th career victory.
Dixon, earned his 44th career Indy Car runner-up and got a weekend that he needed to. He started alongside Pagenaud in the race and finished there in his No. 9 Honda. The duo finished 1-2 last year but only in the opposite order. This time, Dixon said he had nothing for Pagenaud despite catching him in the end as he had to hold on with a bad handling car all day.
“I had some heavy contact with the wall around Lap 12 or 15,” said Dixon. “That’s why I slowed down, and (Alexander) Rossi got right on me really hard, so the rest of the race, the steering was just on a big angle. It really wasn’t that bad in some corners, but then in others it was really loose on entry. And by that point, we were just trying to maintain; but I felt like once we got to the final stint, the car was really good and we were able to close in on Simon (Pagenaud). But it’s just so hard to pass here. I felt like we really just weren’t able to get close enough to get a good run on the straights. But, the black (Firestone primary) tires did really well today. The PNC Bank guys were super strong; we just didn’t have enough to make a pass. I think, had we got past him, we would’ve been able to drive away.”
Dixon, made up a little ground in the standings as he’s till 86 points out.
Alexander Rossi didn’t expect much on Sunday as he said he came into the race knowing that his No. 27 Honda wasn’t a race winner. He just wanted to maximize his day. He’d do just that in finishing one spot ahead of Josef Newgarden (4th) as he cut more into his deficit. He went from seven points out to four heading into the Iowa 300 next Saturday night.
Rossi, is ecstatic just to leave Toronto with a trophy as he earned his second podium in his last three starts on the Exhibition Place circuit. It was also his sixth straight top five finish on the season too including four of which on the podium.
“I think that we knew going into today that we didn’t have a race-winning car and it would take a little bit of luck to get that,” Rossi said after scoring his 18th career Indy Car podium. “The two in front of us drove a great race, so to be able to finish in front of Josef (Newgarden) and get a trophy is a good day. Huge hats off to the No. 27 NAPA Andretti Honda boys – great pit stops, good strategy and we did what we needed to do today.”
Newgarden, was frustrated with a fourth place run but happy to be there after hitting the wall pretty heavily inside of five laps-to-go. Due to him being over 10 seconds ahead of fifth place at the time, he could cruise to his fifth top four result in the last six races on the season and third in his last five starts in Toronto.
Rookie Felix Rosenqvist rounded out the top five.
Honda Indy Toronto Results
10 Rosenqvist R
88 Herta R
19 Ferrucci R
20 Jones -1
26 Veach -1
59 Chilton -1
21 Pigot -1
28 Hunter-Reay -1
14 Kanaan -1
12 Power OUT
4 Leist -2
7 Ericsson R -4
31 Karam -6
30 Sato OUT