May 26, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
Two weeks ago, Simon Pagenaud made history by winning the first-ever IndyCar road race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
But the fast Frenchman was unable to follow that with another great result in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.
Pagenaud qualified fifth for the ‘500’ and was considered to be one of the pre-race contenders but never threatened up front. After finishing 12th, he noted balance issues on his No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.
“We struggled today,” Pagenaud said. “We had a lot of inconsistency in terms of balance between different sets of tires. One of the tires blistered in the second half of the race, and we lost a lap when we pitted early to change it.
However, Pagenaud said he was fine with the result considering the difficulties that he encountered on Sunday. And while he came back down to Earth after his exciting win in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, he made sure to hail Honda after the manufacturer won the ‘500’ with Ryan Hunter-Reay and Andretti Autosport.
“This sport is interesting,” he mused. “In our last Verizon IndyCar Series race, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, we were the class of the field and won. Today that wasn’t the case, but congratulations to Honda on winning the Indianapolis 500.
“I’m so proud to be part of the development of their engines, and a Honda win for any driver here is special. They work so hard, and it’s nice to see them rewarded.”
Pagenaud finished two spots ahead of Jacques Villeneuve, who was making his ‘500’ return after winning the Greatest Spectacle in Racing back in 1995.
Villeneuve, also a former F1 World Champion, qualified 27th and chose to hang back as his car developed early handling problems. He eventually went a lap down but an outbreak of late cautions enabled him to get on pace again.
“During the pit stops, we steadily improved the car, and luckily we got our lap back,” he said. “At the end of the race, I felt that my car was really starting to catch its stride, and I drove more aggressively.”
All in all, 14th was a nice result coming from a 19-year layoff – and the French-Canadian knew it.
“We ended on the lead lap and stayed away from the wall, so I think that’s an acceptable result for being away for so long,” he said.
As for the third SPM driver, rookie Mikhail Aleshin, he became the first Russian to lead a lap in the ‘500’. But his car developed a mechanical issue shortly before halfway, and he had to settle for 21st at the finish.
“Being off the lead lap ruined our day, but I still gained valuable experience since this was my first oval race,” Aleshin said.
“The crowd was so much larger than I expected, but it would have been nicer to get a result that reflected our true ability in front of them.”
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