Simon Says Lady Luck was on his Side

Wrapped in the French flag poses beside Borg-Warner trophy. [Joe Jennings Photo]

Wrapped in the French flag poses beside Borg-Warner trophy. [Joe Jennings Photo]

by Allan Brewer

Simon Pagenaud had an incredible day, and an incredible month of May, in Indianapolis in 2019. It is difficult to fathom winning the Indy Grand Prix, the pole at the Indianapolis 500 and the Indy 500 in the span of only 30 days, but he did it.

“It’s all so sweet,” Pagenaud said on the morning after winning the 103rd Greatest Spectacle in Racing. “It has been so emotional, being able to savor the biggest race in the world. It’s quite amazing.”

As photographers snapped away for over an hour, Pagenaud relished the special moment reserved for the Indy 500 champion on the post-race photo shoot. “It’s great to be able to take a moment with the team and my family, and just keep these memories. It’s once in a lifetime, these kinds of experiences.”

News of the Frenchman’s victory traveled quickly all over the world, with emails and texts coming at an overwhelming pace. “I woke up,” he said, “with about 700 texts.” Rick Mears was one of the first with a succinct “Welcome to the club” salutation. Gil de Ferran called and was in tears.

“It’s amazing, all these guys that I have looked up to all my life. When you accomplish your dream, it’s phenomenal.”

The path has not always been easy for Pagenaud. In 2007 he questioned his career choice in open wheel. Champ Car went broke. He wasn’t well known in the IndyCar paddock. It was very difficult for him to find a ride. “People didn’t know my work,” he said. “I decided to try the sports car route. There seemed to be more opportunities for me there at the time.”

Indeed, Pagenaud switched gears and began racing sports cars, and he did very well there. Sam Schmidt noticed the young hot-shoe and offered him a break that would bring him full circle to open-wheel competition again. “That was my first real break in IndyCar,” Pagenaud said. In time a deal with Honda and the Schmidt team emerged and opened the doors for Simon to take his place with Team Penske.

“It’s funny how things work out sometimes,” he said. “After a few races, I was already in touch with Roger (Penske). “ That was my dream. It was always my dream to go to Team Penske.”

Pagenaud and his Penske teammates have a celebration scheduled for tonight at the Indy 500 victory dinner. His No. 22 fluorescent yellow car will be center-stage under the lights. It is likely the first time he will be able to relax and it will dawn on him that he is an Indy 500 champion now—and the newest face on the Borg Warner trophy.

“Like I said,” he concluded, “the stars aligned for me the whole month. I think there are days, like yesterday, I couldn’t do anything wrong. I give that a little bit to Lady Luck. We had everything go right for us the whole race. Yes, she was on our side.”

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