By Aaron Bearden, Contributing Writer
Simon Pagenaud’s yellow Menards livery is already the brightest in the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock.
But after another unfortunate run-in – this time on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course – the Frenchman fears he may need to resort to an even brighter hue for his No. 22 Chevrolet.
“I guess my car isn’t bright enough,” Pagenaud joked after the race. “It seems like people keep running into it.”
Pagenaud rolled off seventh in the INDYCAR Grand Prix, but quickly found himself mired at the back of the pack after a spin off of the nose of rookie Jordan King’s machine in the opening two turns of the race.
“I had to be aggressive to get some positions,” Pagenaud said. “I took a good start, went side-by-side with Helio (Castroneves). I think he got pushed into me, and that was no big deal. But I got drilled from behind, honestly, and spun.”
King got the worst of the crash, ending the race in 24th as one of only three drivers to not finish on the lead lap.
“Unfortunately, we got caught up in someone else’s accident,” King said after the race. “There really was not anywhere for me to go. Wrong place, wrong time, which put an end to our race, really.”
The opening was bleak for Pagenaud, but the Frenchman was able to stay on the lead lap and soldier on. His No. 22 Chevrolet had only minor damage, and Pagenaud was able to maintain pace.
The 2016 IndyCar champion spent the final 84 laps of the 85-lap event rising back up through the field. Despite the difficulties of passing on the 14-turn road course, Pagenaud was able to maneuver his way around his competitors with relative ease.
“If the cameras were on my car, it was an exciting race,” Pagenaud said. “But it was a good race. It was qualifying every lap for us, to try to come back. We had to be aggressive with the Push-to-Pass and the fuel on pit stops.”
By the time the checkered flag flew on Lap 85, Pagenaud had risen to eight place. The run was far from his best on the IMS road course – he’s won twice in five attempts on the circuit – but Pagenaud felt it was one of his best drives of the young IndyCar season.
“For us it was a phenomenal race,” he said. “I mean to come from last and being a straightaway down. We came back to finish eighth, which I think was probably our strongest race this year. We made phenomenal progress on the car this weekend, which is very positive for the future.
“I’ve just got to buy a black cat, I think, to get my bad luck out of the way.”
Salvaged result aside, Pagenaud’s Month of May opener continued a trend of poor luck for the 33-year-old. The Team Penske veteran’s eighth-place finish was his best of the opening five races, which included a crash-out on the opening lap at Long Beach and a post-race confrontation with Gabby Chaves at Barber Motorsports Park.
Pagenaud sits just 12th in the championship standings heading into the true Month of May. He trails points leader Josef Newgarden by 88 points – a deficit of nearly two complete races.
After the difficult opening to the season Pagenaud’s endured, he has his sights set on one thing – winning the Indianapolis 500.
“That’s my number one goal this year, especially after starting the season so tough,” he said. “I’m due for some good luck, so I hope I can turn that around and make it a big Month of May.”