INDIANAPOLIS – Simon Pagenaud had perhaps as good an explanation as anyone about how he won the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.
"This race chooses its winners," said Pagenaud after stopping Alexander Rossi in a frantic final. "Today I was the chosen one".
He also helped Pagenaud with his strange ability to anticipate Rossi's movements. That allowed him to keep Rossi away, who won the race in 2016 and said he drove in "eleven tenths" for the last 12 laps, trying to snatch the lead.
"Nothing else matters here, except winning," said a disappointed Rossi, who was only two tenths of a second away. "I know that, this will be difficult to overcome."
Among the obstacles that Rossi had to overcome was a dangerous blocking movement that Pagenaud gave him on the last lap, turning from side to side along the track in his path. When asked if he had considered submitting a protest, Rossi said: "It was the last round of the Indy 500. Simon was leading, I do not think anyone will do anything about it, it was unfortunate."
Rossi was also frustrated by a marker that refused to yield, pushing him against a wall. A driver almost blocked him from the track, and a fuel valve stuck during a pit stop cost him valuable time and a position on the track.
Rossi said his general observation about this year's race was that the drivers had not shown respect to each other on the track. They hit each other, cut themselves dangerously and caused accidents as a result.
A five-car crash, the only major disaster of the day, was caused by one driver's refusal to yield to another, blocking him on the infield pitch. The officials stopped the race for 18 minutes to clean up the mess, establishing a final race between the front runners.
Of the 17 drivers who completed the full distance, from a field of 33, Pagenaud easily had the smoothest navigation.
"I mean, there are no problems," he said. "There are no mistakes, on the track, in the pits. I said before the race what it would take to win here. "
Pagenaud, who turned 35 last week, led 116 of 200 laps around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval of two and a half miles. He also won the Indianapolis Grand Prix two weeks ago at the site circuit and won the pole position for the 500.
"So yes, it was the perfect month for us," said Pagenaud. "But that's what Roger Penske hired me for: to win."
"Did you see that?" Penske exclaimed after finishing. I can not believe That race, side by side, lap after lap, is a race as good as I've ever seen. "
That was high praise from a team owner who has been entering races since the 1960s and now has a record 18 wins in the Indianapolis 500.
"When you have a car like this, a team like this, you only work your way, achieving and executing, until the final result," said Pagenaud. "We have executed perfectly today, without mistakes, and here we are, Victory Lane, man.
When Pagenaud then lifted the liter of milk traditionally given to the Indy winner, he took a drink and then poured the rest over his head. "I love milk," he said. "Fresh whole milk".
Pagenaud, a native of Poitiers, France, said he developed a taste for milk while a teenager stored a case of dairy products in his father's grocery store.
It was also when he started playing racing games and getting into karts. He showed enough fitness to leave his job at the supermarket and moved to the United States 15 years ago to pursue his dreams of competing one day in Indy.
He finally managed to enter IndyCar in 2011 and won his first race two years later, drawing the attention of Penske. He won the 2016 IndyCar title for the Penske team, but before this month he had been enduring a kind of dry spell.
"This is a dream come true," said Pagenaud. "A lifetime trying to achieve this."
Penske dispelled rumors that Pagenaud's contract might not be renewed after this season.
"Simon will be back with us next year, he can count on that," Penske said. "I can kill that rumor right here, right now."
After taking the checkered flag a few meters from Rossi, who was closely followed by the winner of 2017, Takuma Sato, and by his colleagues at Penske, Josef Newgarden and Will Power, the winner of 2018, Pagenaud broke with the tradition of Indy in which the winner goes to the lane of victory.
Instead, he stopped his car in the original strip of bricks of 1911 that adorns the finish line, went out, knelt and kissed them.
"It was amazing to share that with you, at the Yard of Bricks," said Pagenaud on the public address system. "You're the best, Indianapolis."