Simon Pagenaud Wins Incredible Late-Race Battle Against Alexander Rossi to Take Indy 500 Victory

Simon Pagenaud leading the Indianapolis 500.
Photo: Clive Rose (Getty Images)

In an Indianapolis 500 that saw pole sitter Simon Pagenaud lead more than half of the recorded laps, only to trade the top spot with Alexander Rossi for the last 13 laps leading to the checkered flag, Pagenaud pulled a late-race pass in order to win the race and sweep IndyCar’s “month of May” events—just barely.

Pagenaud’s Team Penske Chevrolet won by about 0.2 seconds after leading 116 of 200 laps, due to what Honda driver Rossi attributed to “horsepower” in a post-race television interview with NBC. It was his first victory in the Indy 500, according to a press release from Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Penske’s 18th. Pagenaud also won the IndyCar Grand Prix run on the IMS road course earlier in May, making for Penske’s second “month of May” sweep in a row. (Will Power won both races in 2018.)

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Simon Pagenaud celebrating the win.
Photo: Clive Rose (Getty Images)

Pagenaud started first in Sunday’s Indy 500 ahead of Ed Carpenter, Spencer Pigot, Ed Jones and Colton Herta, who would be out of the race about five laps later due to gearbox issues. But much of the race this year was about drama on pit road rather than action on the race track, due to troubles with passing.

That was, until Rossi passed Pagenaud with around 20 laps to go—something not a lot of drivers were able to do on Sunday—and a red flag came out for a massive crash involving Sébastien Bourdais and Graham Rahal right after. That, and a subsequent long yellow flag, led the race to restart with around 13 laps to go and Rossi leading Pagenaud, Carpenter, Josef Newgarden and Takuma Sato.

Pagenaud, without the race lead he’d gotten oh-so used to by then, took it right back from Rossi on the front stretch after the green flag flew—starting a game of 220-mph leapfrog that no one could have predicted the winner of, all while Sato made his way into third and into the picture to challenge for the win.

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Simon Pagenaud celebrating the win.
Photo: Chris Graythen (Getty Images)

Sato wouldn’t ultimately join in on the leap frog, but Rossi, in second, took the lead back from Pagenaud as they passed the line on the next lap for 12 to go. As they crossed the line for 11 to go, Pagenaud shot past Rossi on the front straight. Rossi went for the lead again on the next time around and failed, as Pagenaud dove to the low line early on the straightaways as a form of blocking.

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Rossi couldn’t make his attempts to pass to the outside on the front stretch stick for the next seven laps or so, until he got a run with three to go and took off—leaving the leader of the most laps in the dust by half a second, and putting him in the position Rossi had been in since 11 laps to go.

Simon Pagenaud leading the Indianapolis 500.
Photo: Chris Graythen (Getty Images)
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But, in a change to the world’s least boring pattern, Pagenaud got around Rossi in the third and fourth turns as they headed toward the white flag, while Sato went for Rossi’s runner-up spot. Rossi tried to take Pagenaud’s lead throughout the last lap, but Pagenaud’s zig-zag blocking on the IMS backstretch prevented Rossi from getting the run he needed to win.

Pagenaud won ahead of a top 10 of Rossi, Sato, Newgarden, Power, Carpenter, Santino Ferrucci, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan and Conor Daly, according to the unofficial results. The full finishing order and race summary is here.

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Alanis King

Alanis King is a staff writer at Jalopnik.