Pagenaud’s Team Penske-Chevrolet appeared to live up to his pre-race predictions of handling superbly in traffic, and from 26th on the grid he rose to third place by the checkered flag, just 0.56sec behind the winner.
But he was still only 25th when the race restarted on Lap 46, as the caution period for Stefan Wilson’s pitlane shunt caused the pits to close. Pagenaud was among the eight drivers so desperately short of fuel that he needed to take “emergency service in a closed pit” and restart at the back of the field.
“What a shame,” said Pagenaud who deposed Pato O’Ward’s Arrow McLaren SP-Chevrolet for third place on the 200th and final lap. “I really think we had the racecar to get it done today. Certainly Chevy did an amazing job with the engine power and the race was amazing.
“Handling was phenomenal all day. We managed to really adjust the car through the beginning of the race. At the end I was pedal to the metal. I didn’t care. Just wanted to get to these guys and have some fun with them.
“I could see Helio was playing a very smart game. Obviously he knows how to win the race. Alex [Palou, runner-up] was trying his best to hold him off. Helio was just biding his time. Because of that, the draft was difficult in fourth place. It was difficult to get through Pato. We did on the last lap. I thought I may have had a shot in Turn 4, but Helio was too fast.
“Congrats to him. He’s writing a huge page of the 500-mile history here. Finally a guy of our generation is going in the ‘four’ club! That’s very special.
“He’s a great friend. He just gave me 10 more years in my career to go catch him. Thank you, Helio.
“Obviously I want to win. It hurts to be third. Maybe one more lap I would have had a shot at Helio, who knows? But it’s only 500 miles. We should have done it earlier. That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day.”
Asked what he felt made Castroneves so good around Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Pagenaud – who was his teammate in IndyCar from 2015 through ’17 – said, “He’s got a feel for this place. Also I feel like the more you love the place, the more the place loves you back. There’s something really strange about it.
“All Helio thinks about is the 500. Everybody talks about his line being different than anybody else. I don’t quite understand why he’s running that line, to be honest with you. I’ve always tried to understood. No matter what year it is, what package it is, it works. He just knows what he needs. He knows what he needs from the racecar. He knows when he’s going to be in the fight for the win. He keeps it to himself. He use it as energy.
“To me he’s been a mentor. I love the way he goes about racing, how he prepares…
“Four [wins] is not too far away. If I have 10 more years, maybe it’s possible. But records are meant to be broken. I hope he comes back, tries to go for five. I hope I can challenge him in the end. I just want to challenge him in the end because he’s the guy to beat now.”
Describing the duel ahead of himself and O’Ward, Pagenaud said: “I could see what Alex was doing. He was trying to find ways to keep Helio behind, but there were too many laps to go. Helio was just waiting in the back, keeping Pato behind, judging the timing.
“He knew exactly where he could get him, when he could get him. All of a sudden you saw him, he jumped at his throat like a tiger. That’s when the attack started… I knew it was coming.
“I was waiting for Helio to do that because he disrupted the rhythm of the pack in front of me. That’s what helped me get Pato and maybe I could have gotten Palou quicker. It was very interesting to watch. Certainly there’s a lot to learn from that battle.”