INDIANAPOLIS – Everything about Saturday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix was thrilling to its fullest. The 85 Lap race was exhilarating from the drop of the green flag to the exciting finish at the end.
Simon Pagenaud went from over six seconds back to catching and even passing Scott Dixon for the lead with two laps remaining en route to his 11th career NTT IndyCar Series victory and third in this very race.
See, a pattern has come about.
Those are the race winners in the six year history of this race. While some may say this as the “Penske Grand Prix” and rightfully so too as this was their fifth straight win on the 2.439-mile road course, this one didn’t come as easy as the last.
In Power’s three wins, he led 65 (2015), 61 (2017) and 56 (2018). In Pagenaud’s first win with Penske in 2016, he led 57 circuits.
But, he led just five in Saturday’s win.
Simon Pagenaud leads his teammate Will Power in Saturday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix – IndyCar Media Site
This wasn’t pure Penske dominating like the previous four years were. See, after Friday came to a close at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Penske was left scratching their heads. If anyone was going to beat them, this would be the year.
Josef Newgarden and Will Power were wondering where their speed went. After diagnosing it, the speed lost was a two part answer.
First off, the speed wasn’t really gone in the first place. The cars were quicker in their camp this year compared to last, but it wasn’t as quick as others. See, the Honda camp made a ton of gains and even devoted a full test day on the track last week. Credit that as part of the differential because the Honda’s got better.
Then there’s this, Penske spent a lot of time this past offseason trying to improve their street course program. They went 1 for their last 10 street course starts. So, in order to win a championship, they had to get better there. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t gain on the natural road courses which had led to where the speed went.
So, forgive them for being happy to see Pagenaud’s No. 22 Chevrolet in victory lane. Prior to Saturday, they were starting 6-8-13-15. But, at the start of the race, Newgarden started on the Firestone Blacks. That proved to actually be the winning move.
After 50 laps, if the rain held off, it was playing out to be a Newgarden stunner. Unfortunately, when he hit pit road for the second to last time, they took on Firestone Reds. He was in the drivers seat but the rain started falling harder and harder which some behind him went on the Wets.
Then, Helio Castroneves went off track and stalled bringing out the third and final caution. Newgarden, hit pit road just prior than that remember and took on reds. The rain was coming down too hard which forced him to have to pit again for wets.
That led to Dixon taking over the lead. It appeared to be a disaster.
Pagenaud, was the best Penske car in sixth at that point with 18 laps remaining. During Newgarden’s stop, a tire got loose and he was later penalized. He’d only rebound to finish 13th, his worst result of the year as he’s never finished in the top 10 in this race.
Pagenaud though, is very good in the rain and challenged hard. He picked two cars off on the first lap of the restart then got into third by time we hit 10 to go. With seven to go, Pagenaud used his last push to pass to get by Jack Harvey for second.
Still, at that point he was out of push to passes and had five laps to catch Dixon.
Dixon said his car struggled there in the end and allowed the lead to slip to which Pagenaud got by in the back portion of the track and cruised to his first win since the 2017 season finale at Sonoma.
Dixon, finished runner-up for the 43rd time of his career and third straight year in this race in his No. 9 Honda. He did earn his fourth podium in five tries in 2019 and now trails Newgarden by only six points in the standings.
Harvey, finished third in his No. 60 Honda earning his best career finish. Matheus Leist finished fourth in his No. 4 Chevrolet while Spencer Pigot rounded out the top five in his No. 21 Chevrolet.
The rain negated Honda’s advantage and Pagenaud played the game perfectly.
Lap 60 Changed Whole Complexion Of Race
Prior to Helio Castroneves getting off course, this race was shaping up to be a race where Josef Newgarden nailed the strategy and James Hinchcliffe and Pato O’Ward to overcome their early race penalties to finish on the podium. But, when Castroneves brought out the yellow and the rain started to fall even harder, the whole race was flipped upside down.
The early part of the race looked like it would be a Scott Dixon, Felix Rosenqvist, Jack Harvey and Ed Carpenter Racing dominated day. But, when the strategy started to play out, they would be leap frogged by the aforementioned trio.
Instead, it flipped back the other way when Dixon and others hit pit road on Lap 60 for rain tires. Newgarden and others up front took on slicks. When the rain really fell during that caution, the cars not on rain tires had to pit again.
Parity In Series Overall, But Not In This Race
For the fifth time this season, we saw a different race winner. Josef Newgarden, Colton Herta, Takuma Sato, Alexander Rossi and now Simon Pagenaud have won races in 2019. If you go back to last year, Ryan Hunter-Reay won the season finale at Sonoma to give us six straight different winners. If you go back even further, we’ve had eight in nine races.
But, in six years of the INDYCAR Grand Prix, we’ve only seen two winners – Will Power (2015, 2017, 2018) and Pagenaud (2014, 2016, 2019).
Great Day For Ed Carpenter Racing
On Friday, Ed Jones told us that in order for his team to get better at Indy, they had to revert to last year. See, some of the updates for 2019 forced them down the wrong direction and they were losing speed. Heading into this weekend, they went back to last year’s setups.
It paid off.
Jones, qualified fifth while Spencer Pigot started 12th.
In the race, they finished 5th (Pigot) and sixth (Jones).
After a strong Indy 500 last year for ECR, watch out for them again for the rest of this month.