Sifting The Sands For An Indy Winner

© [Andy Clary/ Spacesuit Media]

© [Andy Clary/ Spacesuit Media]

by Allan Brewer

One has the fastest car on the strongest team, another is in a contract year where anything is possible, and the third is a respected veteran who has won the race before.

Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud looks poised to cash in on several years of “close but no cigar” experiences at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with arguably the strongest IndyCar team in history. A win in the Indy 500 would no doubt greatly strengthen his hold on a seat for the future at the Penske operation after a shaky 2018 season that left his fans bewildered.

This year, Simon is singing a different tune. Pagenaud’s win in the Indianapolis Grand Prix on May 11 was a springboard for the Indy 500. There is definitely a spring in the Frenchman’s step that has not been there for a while. Even his social media presence has brightened, with pictures of the smiling driver and his dog floating all over the internet. Perhaps the good humor is there because he is finding the podium again. He has never won the Indianapolis 500, however.

Now, leading the field into Turn 1 at Indianapolis on Sunday, Pagenaud has his turn in the spotlight—the fastest man on the track. His car has been a marvel of great handling since unloading from the truck. The man has been consistently fast in practice and the best of all in qualifying. He is also a phenomenon in the rain, though that skill will not be a factor in the 500. Chances are very good he will make the most of his chance and award owner Roger Penske an eighteenth Borg-Warner trophy for his mantle.

A previous winner (2016), using a cunning strategy of fuel conservation and brief, potent acceleration, Alexander Rossi won the 2016 Indianapolis 500 in a stunning fuel mileage victory as a rookie at the Brickyard. It is no surprise to see him here again, as he has consistently shown the speed and the skill of a champion and few doubt he will wear that title soon.

Rossi’s game is daring, side-by-side corner challenges, and lightning-fast passes that occur so deftly they defy retaliation from the overtaken. Car control—in sum that is his game.

Rossi is in the perfect seat for a hot-shoe like himself: Andretti Autosports, which celebrates this year patriarch Mario’s fiftieth anniversary of his 1969 victory in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Scott Dixon’s driving style is similar to his personality: quiet, unassuming and well mannered but he can close out a competitor with perceptive fuel management and some first-rate driving skills when it counts. Dixon has won the race before, in 2008, despite multiple attempts to bring home a victory. Many of those years, however, he was partnered on the same team with legendary Scotsman Dario Franchitti, himself a three-time winner of the race and four-time IndyCar champion. So it is not as if his competition was chopped liver all those years.

Dixon finished third in the 2018 Indianapolis 500 and now reigns as the series’ most successful current driver, as well as being the current IndyCar series defending champion. He has been quite fast all month of May at Indianapolis and seems poised to make a break for the finish line somewhere around Lap 180.

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