INDIANAPOLIS — Simon Pagenaud ended his victory drought Saturday with a splashy move — and a rooster-tail celebration.
He completed a daring three-turn pass on the second-to-last lap and sped away from Scott Dixon for his third IndyCar Grand Prix victory and first series win since the 2017 season finale at Sonoma Raceway. Pagenaud beat five-time series champion Scott Dixon by 2.0469 seconds on Indianapolis Motor Speedway's 2.439-mile, 14-turn course.
"I always look for rain because it's fun driving in the rain," he said. "It's a fun exercise. On a dry track, it's very much repetitive. The wet is what I used to grow up on racing. It's just a lot of fun in the rain."
While other drivers struggled with tire wear on the wet road course, Pagenaud got even more aggressive — a trick he learned driving in his home country of France.
The 34-year-old driver said he experimented with the braking, threw in some fakes and took advantage of competitors' second thoughts.
The result: He erased a differential of more than six seconds with Dixon in the final five laps, and there was nothing the five-time series champion could do to stop the hard-charging Pagenaud.
"I knew, with about 10 laps to go, we're going to get hosed here," Dixon said after finishing second for the 43rd time in his IndyCar career. "The front tires, we just didn't have — I don't know if we changed the front wing, or whatever we did, but we just had no front grip."
As easy as Pagenaud made it look in the closing laps, that certainly wasn't the case earlier in the race. He qualified eighth, barely avoided a loose tire from teammate Josef Newgarden after a pit stop and ran out of push-to-pass time while getting by Jack Harvey to move into second.
Yet somehow, he still managed to give Team Penske its fifth consecutive IndyCar GP victory. Pagenaud and teammate Will Power are the only drivers to win this race, each three times.
"We kept it in the Penske family," Pagenaud said.
Dixon led for most of the second half of the 85-lap race but couldn't hold off Pagenaud, who moved into fourth with 15 laps to go, then passed Matheus Leist with 11 to go before weaving his way past Harvey, leaving only Dixon in front of him. Pagenaud passed Dixon by going wide into the seventh turn, bumping wheels with the New Zealander in the eighth and speeding away in the ninth.
Dixon has finished second three times this year for Chip Ganassi Racing, and he has three straight runner-up finishes on Indy's road course.
England's Harvey wound up a career-best third for Meyer Shank Racing in his first career race in the rain. Brazil's Leist was fourth, also his best career finish.
All 22 drivers still on the track at the end were running on rain tires.
"(The rain) was a bit more of a handful than I would have hoped for," Harvey said. "When the track was really wet, I think we lacked a little bit of raw pace. Hopefully, this is just a springboard for us. To share the podium with both of those guys was pretty special."
Track workers will soon convert the speedway from a road course to the traditional 2.5-mile oval in preparation for the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500. Practice for the May 26 race begins Tuesday.
The top 30 qualifiers will be established next Saturday, while the nine-car pole shootout and the new last-row shootout will be held next Sunday.