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It was a day of celebration in Paris for Simon Pagenaud, the Team Penske driver from France who won the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26.
Pagenaud is the latest driver to win the Indianapolis 500. He will always have the distinction of being the first foreign driver to have his face unveiled on the Borg-Warner Trophy in his home country.
“It means a lot to be the first driver outside of the United States to have this unveiled in another country,” Pagenaud said during a telephone interview Monday. “I don’t want to take anything away from the U.S. -- it’s my country, I live there, and I love the U.S. I would not have the career I’ve had without the U.S.
“Getting the recognition in France is phenomenal for me. It allows to reflect on what I have accomplished by traveling the world with this win. I want to emphasize how grateful I am to BorgWarner for allowing me to realize a dream as a kid, which was to bring the trophy here to France. It comes from the heart. I feel grateful and thankful that I can awareness of our sport, which I believe is the best series in racing.”
Typically, the winning driver of the Indianapolis 500 has his face on the Borg-Warner Trophy unveiled after the season, usually in December at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum before the start of the Performance Racing Industry (PRI) Show.
“It’s more than I expected,” Pagenaud said. “It’s fantastic. The trophy and BorgWarner are having a big impact on this event. I’m looking at the trophy right now and it’s next to the Eiffel Tower.
“It’s picture perfect.”
This year, sculptor William Behrends’ process of making the face that is ultimately a sterling silver image attached to the trophy was sped up so the French-born driver could unveil it in front of his adoring fans in France.
Pagenaud is the fifth driver born in France to win the Indianapolis 500, the first since Gaston Chevrolet in 1920.
The trophy presentation was on a rooftop terrace at Le Meridien Hotel in Paris. It provided a spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower in the background.
“Personally, it’s a huge honor to present it in France,” Pagenaud said. “I’m glad and excited to bring some awareness to the biggest race in the world in France.
“It was very emotional to me. For some reason, speaking in my native language bring a lot more emotion. It was really, really nice.”
Pagenaud said those who saw the Borg-Warner Trophy for the first time were shocked by its size, how realistic the face looks and its value.
Paris is called the “City of Lights” and that was a perfect place to showcase the impressive beauty of the Borg-Warner Trophy.
“It shines,” Pagenaud said. “It’s on a rooftop in Paris, and it shines. People were mesmerized.
“To see my face on the trophy, it’s phenomenal. It’s picture-perfect. It looks just like my face. Unfortunately, I have too many wrinkles. But I will never age again. I will always look like this on the trophy. The details are phenomenal. Will Behrends did a great job on the 30 winners that he has done, and I think mine is the best. He did the hair perfectly.
“I had a perfect hair day that day.
“It’s amazing to think this likeness will stay on that trophy forever. It’s something that I’ve done that will live forever. No other trophy gives you that except the Borg-Warner Trophy.”
The man behind taking the Borg-Warner Trophy on the road for Monday’s unveiling is Fred Lissalde, President and CEO, BorgWarner, Inc. Lissalde is also from France.
“The Borg-Warner Trophy is one of the greatest traditions in all of motorsports and represents the pinnacle of performance for open-wheel racing. It is our honor to unveil Simon’s image today,” Lissalde said. “Simon has earned his right amongst an elite group of motorsports athletes. On behalf of BorgWarner and our 30,000 employees, congratulations to Simon for this outstanding achievement of dedication and perseverance.”
Pagenaud’s face is the 106th face to be featured on the on the 110-pound sterling silver trophy. BorgWarner commissioned the creation of the iconic racing award in 1935 to honor winners of the Indianapolis 500. The first driver to be awarded the trophy was Louis Meyer, who in 1936 was presented with the trophy featuring the faces of the previous 24 winner. The trophy is an integral part of the annual Indianapolis 500 tradition. Drivers from 21 U.S. states and 12 countries are represented on the trophy.
The permanent home of the 5 feet, 4-3/4 inches tall trophy is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, located within the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Drivers receive a keepsake trophy, the BorgWarner Championship Driver’s Trophy (also known as the “Baby Borg”), a miniature replica of the famous trophy, with an exact copy of their sterling silver image mounted to it. BorgWarner will present Pagenaud with his Baby Borg later this year.
In addition to the driver receiving a miniature replica of the Borg-Warner Trophy, the team owner also receives a mini replica of the trophy, the BorgWarner Championship Team Owner’s Trophy®. 2019 is a historic year for this trophy, as Roger Penske’s Team Penske adds to his already record-setting number of Indianapolis 500 team wins, with Penske earning his 18th BorgWarner Championship Team Owner’s trophy in 2019.
Since winning the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, Pagenaud has earned a new nickname in France.
“They call me ‘Pagenaud Super Hero’ in the headlines and that’s pretty special to see that,” Pagenaud said. “I don’t want to sound pretentious, because that is not who I am, but it’s special to read things like that and be recognized in your home country. It’s very emotional.
“Again, I’m very grateful.”
Pagenaud is third in the NTT IndyCar Series point standings and will continue his pursuit of a second series championship Aug. 18 when the ABC Supply 500 is held at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. The 500-mile race can be seen on NBCSN at 2:30 p.m.