INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana – French Formula 1 driver Simon Pagenaud won on Sunday the Indianapolis 500 for the first time, beating US driver Alexander Rossi in a tight race that was not decided until the last lap and by just two-tenths of a second.
Pagenaud, driving for Team Penske-Chevrolet, dominated the 103rd edition of the Indy 500, qualifying for the coveted pole position a week ago and controlling the rhythm of the contest for a large part of the day until, just 23 laps before the end, a crash halted the competition with the introduction of the safety car while the roadway was cleared.
The accident, which involved several vehicles, came just moments after Rossi, with Team Andretti Autosport-Honda, passed Pagenaud and temporarily snatched the leadership position.
After the competition resumed, with just 13 laps remaining at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the French driver immediately passed the American, regaining the front spot.
Rossi regained the lead on two occasions but with just two laps to go Pagenaud moved out ahead of him for the last time.
Rossi had won the Indy 500 as a rookie in 2016.
During the last two laps, Rossi tried desperately to recover the lead, but Pagenaud neutralized his attempts by blocking the inside portion of the track and cruised over the finish line two-tenths of a second ahead of his pursuer.
Japanese driver Takuma Sato came in third.
Oriol Servia, with Team Stange Racing-Honda, was the only Spanish driver in the competition this year after Fernando Alonso was eliminated last Sunday.
After finishing the race, collecting his honors and drinking the traditional bottle of milk, Pagenaud said that it was “hard to believe” that he had won the contest.
“It was such an intense race. I think we led the majority of the time. The car was going right on the rails, everything worked perfectly. The stars aligned themselves. It’s really incredible. It’s a dream come true,” the 35-year-old Frenchman from Poitiers said.
Pagenaud almost won the Indy 500 in 2015 when he was leading with just 30 laps to go, but ultimately his teammate – Colombia’s Juan Pablo Montoya – crossed the finish line first and the French driver ended up in 10th place.
Meanwhile, Rossi, clearly disappointed with the result, said that his Honda engine was not performing as it should, thus making it impossible for him to regain his lead during the last two laps.
Pagenaud is the son of a supermarket owner in Poitiers and his family established a driving school so that the young man could launch his racing career.
The 103rd edition of the Indy 500 transpired without any major incidents until Lap 177, when US driver Graham Rahal with Team Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing-Honda tried to pass Sebastian Bourdais on the inside.
Bourdais blocked Rahal’s way and their vehicles touched, causing a chain reaction that also involved Felix Rosenqvist, Charlie Kimball and Zach Veach, although all the drivers emerged unhurt.