Detroit — Simon Pagenaud entered the Detroit Grand Prix on a roll having swept the month of May at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway, winning the IndyCar Grand Prix, the Indianapolis 500 pole and the Indianapolis 500, giving team owner Roger Penske his 18th victory in the sport's biggest race.
He also arrived on Belle Isle with a slim lead in the IndyCar series standings.
But how quickly things change.
Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden won the first of two IndyCar series races — the Dual in Detroit – in a rain-delayed, timed race on Saturday, successfully navigating the rain-slicked 14-turn, 2.5-mile track for his second victory of the season.
Newgarden has reclaimed the series points lead with 303 points, 25 ahead of Pagenaud after the seventh race of the season. The IndyCar series races again Sunday on Belle Isle in a 70-lap event.
Still, this was a splendid effort for Pagenaud, who started 13th and finished sixth. By Lap 9, Pagenaud had moved into ninth and four laps later was in seventh. After Scott Dixon got in the wall on Lap 23 forcing a caution, he moved into sixth where he would finish the 43-lap race. He was credited with seven passes on a track known for its physical demands on the drivers but not known for its roominess to enable passing.
"My race was awesome,” Pagenaud said. “That was some of the most fun I’ve had in a race. Well, I had fun last week and in the Indy GP, too. I guess when you have fun, you go fast.”
He credited his Penske Chevrolet for the ability to maneuver on the challenging track in difficult conditions.
“It was phenomenal,” he said. “I had fun in the rain — that’s my favorite. We passed a bunch of cars. In the dry conditions we were super fast, but the track was so damp on the inside I couldn’t make moves without risking to go off.”
This was an improvement at the Detroit Grand Prix for Pagenaud, who last year finished 17th and 10th in the doubleheader. He has three top-five finishes here. The 35-year-old driver, who has been racing for Penske since 2015, had heard the speculation earlier in the season that his job was on thin ice. After winning seven races in 2016 and 2017 — he won the IndyCar series championship in 2016 — he went winless in 2018.
He is very much in the mix to win a second series championship this year.
“Quite frankly, I did start thinking about the championship today and with how tired I was this morning, I was very content with sixth place because I think that will go a long way at the end of the year,” Pagenaud said. “We should be pleased with today. Very happy for Josef and Team Penske. At least we got one win for Roger here this weekend.”
Life is good for Pagenaud after becoming the first Frenchman since 1914 to win the Indianapolis 500.
He enjoyed a brief exchange with Helio Castroneves, who won three Indianapolis 500 races for Penske, on Thursday just outside the Roostertail restaurant on the Detroit River.
“How did you enjoy the whole week?” Castroneves, also a Team Penske driver, asked Pagenaud.
“It’s good,” Pagenaud said.
“It’s busy, isn’t it?” Castroneves asked.
“It’s good, though,” Pagenaud said. “Like you said — enjoy every minute.”
“Keep going,” Castroneves told him.
And that’s exactly what Pagenaud will do beginning Sunday when the IndyCar series returns to Belle Isle.