The Waiting Game

The "stars aligned" for Simon Pagenaud during the 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

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The Waiting Game
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So few of us will ever experience the pure joy of achieving one of the greatest accomplishments in our chosen industry.

We find solace in reaching personal goals, accepting awards of recognition, or just hearing encouraging feedback for a job well done.

In no other sport, besides racing, do you have so many people who are instrumental to your success, and yet a single person ultimately receives an overwhelming amount of attention and adulation for their heroic efforts. Yes, we know it's a team sport but only one name and likeness will be engraved on the iconic Borg-Warner Trophy. Only one person will be remembered as the 103rd winner of the Indy 500.

Everyone who designs, constructs, and maintains the Dallara chassis, Chevrolet engine, and Firestone tires contributed to this momentous victory. The Speedway fuel supplier, Menard's sponsorship, Team Penske personnel, and so many others can feel an enormous sense of pride because their collective efforts resulted in something that is both intimately affectual and universally admired.

However, the individual attention is well deserved because it's the driver who must use the support they are given, extract the maximum from themselves under tremendous pressure, and achieve the end result so few will ever experience. It is the driver who must know when to be aggressive and when to wait for the opportunity that can turn the tide in their favor.

That is what Simon Pagenaud did, leading up to his first Indy 500 win!

As I touched on in my Indy 500 preview piece, no other motorsport event has so much build-up before its crescendo.

Mere weeks before the opening practice sessions, there were drivers anxiously awaiting news that they had secured enough sponsorship money to even be an entrant. We all waited patiently during the weather delay and track drying efforts to see the final order of the 33 car grid on Bump Day. Even on race day, and despite the awe-inspiring pre-race theatrics, there is so much waiting for that all-inclusive command to start engines.

Once that was all done, there appeared to be very little waiting by the drivers to try different lines and position themselves before the first round of pitstops. With all of the aggressive passes and side-by-side thrills, it looked more like the last five laps of the race than the first! That all quickly calmed down because of the first caution of the day, which was brought out by the heartbreaking mechanical issue on Colton Herta's car. Since winning his first race, in only his third NTT IndyCar Series start, the young phenom has had a miserable string of results. What looked like a contending team for the win turned into a miserable result and a long wait until next year's attempt.

It was also clear, early on, that Marco Andretti was struggling with the handling of his car. So much was documented in the lead-up to the 50th anniversary of Mario Andretti's Indy 500 win, but yet another year will pass without hearing one of the most famous surnames in motorsport announced in Victory Lane.

It's not just the drivers who are playing the waiting game in the early stages of the race, but the pit crew personnel have to deal with the anticipation of something that could be contributional to the team's overall objective or catastrophic if something goes wrong. We saw examples of that early on, with two scary incidents on pit lane. Thankfully, no one was struck by the errant tire that bounced around after Helio Castroneves hit James Davison from behind. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan team recently shared the great news that Chris "Chachi" Minot has been released from the hospital, after being struck by Jordan King's car in the pits.

After experiencing so much adversity, just to qualify for the great race, it was very sad to see an early end to the Juncos Racing story at Indy. Kyle Kaiser did his best to avoid hitting the wall, after his spin, but to no avail. The waiting will be even longer for them, since the team only committed to Austin and Indy for this season.

When you're averaging 220 mph, a 20 second pitstop must feel like several minutes have passed. So it would have seemed for Alexander Rossi, who sat stationary for that length of time during the refueling issues his Andretti Autosport team encountered. With his blood probably running as hot as the fuel that initially refused to flow through the tube, it seemed all was lost for one of the few drivers who seemed capable of taking the fight to the dominating #22 Penske. With counterbalancing luck at that very moment, Marcus Ericsson's unfortunate spin in pit lane resulted in a yellow flag situation that slowed the field and prevented Rossi from losing more ground than he should have.

In the latter stages of the race, we saw two contrasting examples of aggressiveness. One obviously had more circumspection than the other.

When you see a driver like Rossi go three wide, and nearly on the grass, to overtake Oriol Servia (who was totally unfair in his defense), you are even more impressed when you see how it can all go wrong. Graham Rahal had the inside line on Sebastien Bourdais, and the Frenchman blocked him mercilessly. Patience was abandoned by both drivers, as neither one was willing to compromise their approach into Turn 3 for the other. Not only were two contenders eliminated, but it caused an accident behind that took out Felix Rosenqvist and Zach Veach. Several people on social media defended Rahal's pass attempt by quoting the famous line by Ayrton Senna about going for the gap. Knowing when to lift and fight again for another lap is what separates the winners, or potential winners, from the spectators.

And so the stage was set for one of the most epic closing battles in Indy 500 history, with Pagenaud and Rossi displaying equal amounts of awe-inspiring bravery and clever tactics for the hundreds of thousand in attendance at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and millions more watching around the world. Their lap-by-lap battle even allowed Takuma Sato to make it a potential three-way fight. Few people will ever know what it feels like to be that close to the edge on the grandest stage in motorsport. Even fewer will experience the sweet taste of victory.

Hall of Fame team owner Roger Penske has now won the Indy 500 eighteen times. What makes this achievement even more special is that he did it with a driver who hadn't won a race in over a year, before his triumph in the preceding Indy GP. He played the ultimate waiting game by not giving up on his driver and believing that his day would come again soon. For the second year in a row, a Penske driver has swept the month of May in the IndyCar Series and now sits at the top of the championship standings. Surely, whatever follows this result will be an added bonus.

I will end my final opinion piece on a more personal note. On July 29th of last year, I replied to a message that was sent five months earlier. MotorLAT editor and contributor Beatrice Zamuner reached out to me in order to write about IndyCar. I was lost at the time and unsure of my next move, while pursuing my racing dream. I wasn't ready for this opportunity last March, but it was still available at the end of July and everything just fell into place.

There are moments in life that defy reasonable explanation. I believe they happen when they're meant to, but in conjunction with the courageous decisions we make while in pursuit of our ultimate goal.

Thank you

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