France’s Simon Pagenaud won the 103rd Indianapolis 500 Sunday, holding off Alexander Rossi in a fierce finishing duel to win America’s fabled race for the first time.
Penske driver Pagenaud started from pole position and led 116 laps of the 200-lap race on the 2.5-mile oval of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, finishing in front of two former winners in Andretti Autosport’s Rossi and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Takuma Sato of Japan.
Rossi, who won the 2016 Indy 500 as a rookie, held the lead after the final restart from caution with 13 laps remaining.
But the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” lived up to its billing as the two traded the lead five times the rest of the way, Pagenaud finally sweeping by on turn three of the penultimate lap on the way to a victory by .2086sec.
It was the seventh-closest finish in the history of the race, and an 18th triumph for team owner Roger Penske.
“It’s hard to believe it right now to be honest,” Pagenaud said after he had donned the winner’s laurel wreath and doused himself with the bottle of milk traditionally given to the victor.
Pagenaud completed a May treble at the speedway after winning the IndyCar Indianapolis Grand Prix and putting his car on pole for the 500 last weekend.
“He won that thing, I just can’t believe it,” Penske crowed after the nail-biting finish.
Despite Pagenaud’s dominance on Sunday, it looked like fuel could be a problem for him late.
That concern evaporated when the caution flag came out on the 178th lap after a crash between Graham Rahal and France’s Sebastien Bourdais — which also took out three other cars.
The red flag came out to send all cars to pit lane as the track was cleared of debris and the green flag dropped on the duel to the finish with 13 laps to go.
– ‘Stars aligned’ –
“It’s been such an intense race,” Pagenaud said. “I believe we led most of the race. The race car was just on rails. The yellows (flags) came out perfectly.
“Stars aligned,” said Pagenaud, who rebuffed three last bids from Rossi to get by him.
“Horsepower, that’s unfortunately the way it is,” Rossi said of the ultimate deciding factor. “I think we had the superior car, we just didn’t have enough there at the end.”
American Josef Newgarden was fourth and defending champ Will Power of Australia was fifth, despite a penalty for bumping a member of his pit crew in pit lane.
That was just one of the pit-lane mishaps on a day that saw one of Jordan King’s pit crew hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries after the British Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver hit him pulling into a stop.
Rossi himself rebounded from one slow pit stop, in which his crew had trouble with malfunctioning fueling equipment, working his way through backmarkers to challenge for the win.
Pagenaud is the first French driver to win the Indy 500 since Rene Thomas, whose victory in 1914 followed that of compatriot Jules Goux in 1913. Swiss-American Gaston Chevrolet who won in 1920 and 2003 winner Gil de Ferran of Brazil were both born in France.
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