Over the previous couple of years, in dialog and in writing, there have been instances once I’ve described Simon Pagenaud as puzzling, troubled, enigmatic, missing confidence and a type of guys who wants every little thing au level together with his set-up in an effort to give his greatest.
I’ve additionally opined that when he’s at 100%, he has few friends. We noticed that in 2016.
He doesn’t regard it as one among his biggest drives, however I’ve by no means been extra impressed with him than at Barber Motorsports Park in 2016. Within the closing levels of a race he had dominated, he was baulked by visitors and was then clumsily nudged into the sand by Graham Rahal. The Penske driver had the presence of thoughts to maintain his foot down, skate by means of the gravel, emerge and rejoin the monitor, and what we noticed for the following few laps was the epitome of managed aggression as he rocketed again onto the tail of Rahal, beofre he harried his rival into damaging his entrance wing on the rear of a tailender, handed him and grabbed victory. It was no shock to me that Pagenaud continued to strike the fitting mix of tempo and consistency for the rest of the 12 months, amassing 5 wins and claiming the championship.
He would have retained the title in 2017 had he not been mugged for victory at Gateway by Penske team-mate Josef Newgarden, who went on to take the crown. That season did produce Pagenaud’s biggest pole place, nevertheless. At Toronto – solely a one-minute lap, bear in mind – he not solely outqualified his nearest rival by over zero.3s, he additionally outpaced his super-quick team-mates Helio Castroneves and Will Power by over half a second.
However the arrival of the common aerokit for 2018 noticed Pagenaud’s type develop into patchy. Clearly he seemed sturdy when he conquered the IMS highway course within the moist in 2019, and drove flawlessly to win the Indy 500 two weeks later – no shock there, since he and race engineer Ben Bretzman typically honed the very best Speedway set-up among the many Penske gang. However he went winless in each ’18 and ’21 and there have been too many days when, relative to his team-mates, he was nowhere. Provided that he had already conquered the championship and the 500, it stunned many who Pagenaud spurned the chance to stay at Penske however in prototype sportscars – a self-discipline through which he had at all times excelled. True, he would have spent this 12 months consigned to LMP2 within the World Endurance Championship, however he’d have nonetheless been a Penske pilot and due to this fact would race the Porsche LMDh automobile in 2023…
Pagenaud as an alternative went for the Meyer Shank Racing possibility whereby he will get to proceed in IndyCar – at 37, he may have six or seven extra years in him – and there’s the possibility to race an MSR Acura in endurance races. That’s paid off already, with victory in final month’s Daytona 24 Hours… and one suspects that subsequent 12 months he’ll be racing an Acura/Honda Prototype at Le Mans. In that gentle, Pagenaud’s transfer to hitch former Penske team-mate Castroneves within the Jim Meyer/Michael Shank-owned workforce appears like a shrewd transfer. Sure, it will likely be the primary time that the squad has run two full-time entries in IndyCar – Castroneves joined former MSR driver Jack Harvey for six races final 12 months – however Pagenaud is assured he and the workforce can take full benefit of its technical alliance with Andretti Autosport.
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Pagenaud and Castroneves sat atop the instances on the second day of testing at Sebring. True, Andretti Autosport and Penske have been absent, however Ganassi’s armada was current, and whereas one should make the same old caveats of every automobile’s quickest lap probably being set with differing gasoline ranges and tyre life, nonetheless the instances counsel that MSR may be very sturdy. As ever, Sebring’s 1.7-mile quick course provides IndyCar groups the very best probability to check on a bumpy, road course-style monitor.
“The monitor after all modified all through the day,” Pagenaud tells Autosport. “And that’s what we may test – how the automobile responds to adjustments in temperatures and winds. We had very difficult circumstances so it was good to see how the automobile was evolving and the way we have been in a position to make adjustments for the circumstances on the time. So was it consultant? Sure, as a result of that’s what we’ll need to do on race weekends – adapt to altering grip ranges.
“Now, was it consultant of how the automobile goes to behave in, say Lengthy Seaside when it’s getting super-hot? I don’t know. However I do know that we now have tempo and we all know methods to adapt.”
“We’re opponents on monitor however undoubtedly Andretti Autosport helps us on the technical aspect. It’s a really fascinating system and I’m discovering it as I am going. I went to the Andretti trailer on Monday, and I felt awkward after racing towards them for therefore a few years and abruptly being proper in the midst of their discussions” Simon Pagenaud
From a private perspective, Pagenaud’s pace was essential too, as a result of he’s arriving at MSR after seven years of Penske set-up philosophies, Chevrolet power-delivery traits, and attempting to make chassis and engine efficiency mesh in a method that yields the quickest time over a lap, a stint and a race. Invaluable expertise, after all, however it might have been comprehensible if Pagenaud, after simply two checks, was struggling to really feel at one together with his new mount.
“It’s troublesome for me to specific an excessive amount of about it as a result of I don’t wish to betray anybody at Chevy and I respect them and all of the success we had, however primarily this automobile is sort of totally different to drive,” he confirms. “Groups work laborious at making the very best use of the powerplant they’ve with their chassis set-up and sure, the set-up is drastically totally different to what I used to run with Chevy and Penske.”
Is that “drastically totally different” within the optimistic sense?
“Drastically totally different philosophy, I’d say. Each methods work. However I used to be speaking to my engineer Garrett [Mothersead] as a result of I’ve been shocked some adjustments that he makes that work very well however didn’t work effectively for me up to now. He mentioned, ‘If I run a simulation of a monitor, I can discover you 10 totally different set-ups that can all provide the identical pace.’ Fascinating. To this point it’s been a package deal that basically works effectively on the automobile and with the Honda engine.”
Picture by: IndyCar Collection
Provided that Mothersead’s current seasons at Andretti Autosport have been spent with Marco Andretti and Zach Veach, he’s develop into recognized for attempting to construct his driver’s confidence with a setup that doesn’t really feel knife-edge. Now with a 15-time race-winner with 10 full IndyCar seasons to his title – one thing Mothersead relishes, as he acknowledged right here final month – he should be happier to let the motive force steer set-up route. However that’s not essentially what Pagenaud desires.
“Clearly I’ve loads of expertise on this collection with these automobiles and we’re utilizing it to our benefit,” he says. “And clearly Helio has a ton of expertise. However I’m actually forcing myself to let Garrett lead as a lot as doable as a result of he’s very methodical. I actually take pleasure in the best way he works. He’s will get all the way down to the little particulars that add as much as make pace. I labored with Ben for therefore a few years and now I’m seeing somebody that works a little otherwise and I’m attempting to understand what distinction that makes, what benefits that offers us.”
Mothersead mentioned after his first check with the Pagenaud/Castroneves combo that the Brazilian veteran will get on the throttle earlier and extra aggressively exiting a flip, whereas the Frenchman assaults the corner-entry extra vigorously. Pagenaud himself agrees and believes the MSR automobile’s dealing with “permits me to unleash myself”, whereas “Helio can take care of it doesn’t matter what – he finds his methods! Helio’s again at 100%; he’s somebody to look at this 12 months.”
Regardless of the variations of their approach, the pair produced very comparable lap instances at Sebring. They have been each, nevertheless, simply over a quarter-second off the very best effort of semi-team-mate Colton Herta of Andretti Autosport, whose flyer admittedly got here in additional beneficial circumstances on Monday. However Pagenaud sees solely positives from pooling information from six automobiles every time race weekend time constraints permit the Andretti and Meyer Shank automobiles to take full benefit of their partnership.
“We’re opponents on monitor however undoubtedly Andretti Autosport helps us on the technical aspect,” he explains. “It’s a really fascinating system and I’m discovering it as I am going. I went to the Andretti trailer on Monday, and I felt awkward after racing towards them for therefore a few years and abruptly being proper in the midst of their discussions. With the ability to use their info may be very helpful. However I additionally suppose I deliver info to them, in order that makes it a great stability, and I’m fascinated by the system.”
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A type of areas the place Pagenaud may show massively useful to the Andretti-Meyer Shank collective is on ovals – a kind of monitor that each Herta and Alexander Rossi have cited as being a weak level for Andretti lately. Whereas Pagenaud’s most up-to-date win, at Iowa in 2020, owed a lot to success (after the unhealthy fortune of getting his automobile fail in qualifying and being relegated to the again), he has additionally set pole positions there and has additionally been quick at Gateway. And that is all on prime of his aforementioned excellence at Indy.
“I hope I will help, sure, nevertheless it’s troublesome to say as a result of we gained’t be on an oval till Texas,” Pagenaud observes. “On the Indy open check [in April] I’ll get a really feel for what I’ve acquired beneath me for the 500. I do know what I would like for that race, I understand how it feels to have a powerful automobile. However what I would like for the Speedway may not work for everybody on the workforce, there is likely to be some variations, like there have been for Helio and me after we have been team-mates at Penske. However definitely I can provide some route but additionally be open-minded and purchase into their set-up philosophies.”
“Darkish horse? Sure, I wish to be seen that method. I don’t have any expectations as a result of I don’t know what the expectations ought to be” Simon Pagenaud
Indy might be the one oval occasion at which the seven drivers (Marco Andretti has been confirmed in a fifth Andretti entry for the Indy 500) will even have time to make drastic adjustments in accordance with workforce route and driver preferences. The remainder would require the groups to roll off the vehicles with sturdy set-ups, and Pagenaud may be very optimistic that Meyer Shank and Mothersead can try this.
He observes: “I feel Garrett has such a great understanding of his driver, very attuned to what his driver wants. He’s always attempting to grasp me. For instance, once I say I’ve understeer or oversteer on a specific nook, he’s at all times attempting to scale it – whether or not it’s bothering us and hurting lap time or if making it higher may have an effect on us negatively on different corners and due to this fact sluggish us down on the lap total. So he’s constructing his database on me and understanding what I would like, and I feel that can assist him determine effectively forward of time what sort of set-up I would like for the Speedway or any of the ovals.”
Picture by: Barry Cantrell / Motorsport Images
He’s on a voyage of discovery proper now, however there’s no denying Pagenaud is as positive-sounding as when he commenced his full-time IndyCar profession in 2012, or began at Penske in 2015, or launched into his title defence in 2017. Possibly it’s partly all the way down to that Daytona triumph with Castroneves and Meyer Shank’s full-time IMSA drivers Oliver Jarvis and Tom Blomqvist final month. Regardless of being a complete totally different self-discipline, he says Meyer Shank Racing’s Daytona 24 triumph has given everybody a lift.
“They’d gained Daytona earlier than, however the momentum from this newest win… you may really feel it within the ambiance,” he says. “You possibly can really feel everyone seems to be so desirous to deliver their A-game in IndyCar. It’s a extremely nice vibe proper now, and Mike Shank permits his folks on the workforce to flourish in a really good method. These sorts of outcomes has given all of them a ton of momentum.”
Had Castroneves not pushed Meyer Shank to victory at Indy final 12 months, and had Herta not seemed so sturdy for Meyer Shank’s tech companions Andretti Autosport all through the 2021 season, many would assume Pagenaud’s transfer for 2022 was pushed merely by blind religion and dogged dedication to stay in open-wheel racing. However as an alternative he was in a position to construct these two very clear positives into his calculations, and in gentle of his testing type, ought to we contemplate him a darkish horse for IndyCar championship?
“Darkish horse? Sure, I wish to be seen that method,” he responds. “I don’t have any expectations as a result of I don’t know what the expectations ought to be. Neither do I wish to set myself expectations as a result of it’s the flawed method to have a look at it mentally. I wish to ensure we, as a workforce, keep ‘within the second’ as a lot as doable and push ourselves to extract the very best out of what we now have every session, every day.
“Simpler mentioned than completed as a result of expectation at all times lurks across the nook! I see ‘expectation’ as a foul phrase as a result of it might create a psychological disturbance. For instance, within the check I stayed within the second as a lot as I may, simply thought of how do I manipulate the automobile to go quickest round this nook, that nook, that nook, and put all of it collectively. Then on the finish of the day, there we have been, quickest.
“I’m hoping that if we keep centered on all of the issues we have to do every session, every day, there will probably be extra good surprises like that this 12 months.”
Picture by: Brett Farmer / Motorsport Images