By Aaron Bearden, Contributing Writer
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Simon Pagenaud isn’t one to confront drivers on pit road. Before Monday’s Verizon IndyCar Series race he hadn’t ever done it.
He made an exception for Gabby Chaves after the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
“I think that’s the first time I’ve gone to a driver to complain and to tell him how I feel,” Pagenaud said. He called me a word that I didn’t really enjoy including being French, I don’t know. I think he needs to think about this one.”
Pagenaud and Chaves fell into a war of words on the pit lane after a run-in at Barber Motorsports Park.
Simon Pagenaud confronts Gabby Chaves.
"Get the (expletive) out of here." pic.twitter.com/Hp0ASOJ11q
— Matt Weaver (@MattWeaverAW) April 23, 2018
Recorded on video by Autoweek’s Matt Weaver, the altercation came after Pagenaud was unable to pass Chaves – who was two laps down at the time – for multiples circuits during the final run to the checkered flag. The 33-year-old lost time and positions as a result, dropping to a distant ninth-place finish as competitors Scott Dixon, Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato pulled away from him.
Chaves slotted in two laps down in 17th, on the same lap as Rene Binder and Tony Kanaan.
Pagenaud understood Chaves’ need to hold his position after the race, but felt the 24-year-old should have let him by.
“The biggest problem we had was Chaves two laps down,” Pagenaud said. “You know if you’re one lap down, I get it, it’s IndyCar, you might get a chance back, so you’re allowed and you should fight your position.
“But when you’re two laps down, it’s not your day. Its just a shame to take away from somebody else that could have a better day so I think we potentially had a top five race today coming back from 15th, I think it was tremendous and it’s just a shame that some drivers don’t use their heads for the future, because someday you’ll be in a good position and you’ll want to have everybody on your side then.”
While he empathized with Pagenaud’s misfortune, Chaves claimed it was the Frenchman’s lack of pace – not Chaves’ unwillingness to let him by – that kept him from completing the overtake.
“Look, it’s a tough situation,” Chaves said. “I understand (Pagenaud’s) frustration. He’s on a strategy that requires him to pass the cars, but he’s gotta save fuel or else he won’t make it. I’m on a strategy that I’ve gotta hold my track position to get my lap back.
“Everyone else that was on the lead lap that got close enough to me – I would let them by. He was the only one that couldn’t, and I understand that he got frustrated about that, but it’s not my fault that he didn’t have the pace to get around me like all the other leaders did.”
Monday’s altercation with the 2016 IndyCar champion was the first of note in Chaves’ young career. The Columbian, now in his fourth year of IndyCar competition and second full-time, felt justified in standing his ground.
“I would have been pissed myself,” he said. But everyone is fighting for their own race. You can’t just let everyone by and forget… They forget that we’re racing too, right? And we’re not having the best day, sure, but at the end of the day we’re trying to improve as well, right? They got screwed overnight like we did. Not as bad as we did, because we lost a lap and they didn’t.
“It’s racing. Sometimes it’ll go your way, sometimes it won’t. You try to keep that respect for everyone out there, but at the end of the day you’ve gotta erase it and hold your ground, especially when your strategy depends on it.”