By Dave Lewandowski
Published: May 4, 2015
Simon Pagenaud has to remind himself to slow down. Not on the racetrack, of course, but to accept progressions in the midst of transition with patience.
“We’ve qualified really well, which is interesting because the dynamic is opposite what it has been the last three years in terms of pace and qualifying,” he said. “I’m happy that we have so much pace when usually my strength is consistency.
“We just have to have patience, which is not that easy when you’re that fast.”
Pagenaud, who will drive the No. 22 DeVilbiss Automotive Refinishing Team Penske Chevrolet in the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis on May 7-9, has advanced to the Firestone Fast Six qualifying segment in all four Verizon IndyCar Series races this season. A pair of top-five results have followed, which contradicts the start of recent seasons:
First four races
2014: St. Petersburg – Qualify 14th, finish fifth … Long Beach – Qualify sixth, finish fifth … Barber – Qualify 10th, finish fourth … Indy Grand Prix – Qualify fourth, finish first
2013: St. Petersburg – Qualify 19th, finish 24th (mechanical) … Barber – Qualify 13th, finish sixth … Long Beach – Qualify 17th, finish eighth … Sao Paulo – Qualify 24th, finish ninth
2012: St. Petersburg – Qualify sixth, finish sixth … Barber – Qualify 10th, finish fifth … Long Beach – Qualify 11th, finish second … Sao Paulo – Qualify 17th, finish 12th
“Results haven’t followed because we haven’t had much luck, and there is always luck involved in racing,” Pagenaud said. “It’s called Team Penske yes, but we’re a new team on the 22 side. We have all the bits and pieces here and there and get it to the level we want it to be consistently, and consistency in racing is the key. The situation I’m in right now is pretty much where I was three years ago with Schmidt; we’re building. There is a transition phase and quickly frankly where we’re at right now is very good and it shows a bright future.”
Pagenaud last May won the inaugural race on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course by .8906 of a second over Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay. Teams and drivers will have practice sessions May 7 to get a handle on how best to align the road/street course and short oval aerodynamic bodywork packages supplied by Chevrolet and Honda with the flat circuit. The sessions are free and open to the public.
“Knowing how the package behaves in lower downforce trim or higher downforce trim is important for race day,” Pagenaud said. “The body kit changes the dynamic from last year in terms of what to do with it by taking downforce away — going faster on the straights and slower in the corners or doing the opposite. This year, with the added downforce it seems to be a benefit to have a lot, so we’ll see what’s best and that’s why testing on Thursday is so important. We also have to understand if the (racing surface) has changed from last year.
“Passing is quite interesting here because there are so many different levels of downforce that you can run in the race. It creates a lot of opportunities for people to either put in a lot of downforce but drag or the opposite, and that creates passing opportunities. Turn 1 is a really good place for passing; on restarts also. On the backstretch in Turns 6 and 7 you can pass there as well. You can really set up someone leading to the straights and get a good passing opportunity.”
Less than 48 hours after the race (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC), drivers will transition to practice on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval in preparation for the 99th Running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. Pagenaud’s immediate focus, though, is becoming the fifth different winner in as many races this season.
“Winning here was a big thing. I’m very proud of that win,” Pagenaud said. “I feel like coming here after four races in IndyCar this year that this might be the turning point of our season. I have a lot of confidence and I think it’s good momentum. The whole Month of May with the road course and oval is the essence of IndyCar.”