The next stage of Simon Pagenaud’s career could take the ALMS and NTT IndyCar Series champion down one of four paths, and according to his boss, discussions about his future at Team Penske are an ongoing affair.
“It’s not a secret that Simon’s contract is up at the end of the year, and we’re in conversation with him,” Roger Penske told RACER. “But that’s the only thing on that team. Everybody else is on multiple-year contracts.”
A winner of the 2016 IndyCar title and 2019 Indy 500 for Penske, Pagenaud currently holds fifth in the championship standings – directly behind teammate Josef Newgarden – as the Penske organization continues to chase its first IndyCar victory of the year.
The popular Frenchman’s tenure at Team Penske has been among the more curious items since he left Schmidt Peterson Motorsports following the 2014 season. Departing with two wins and a run to fifth in the championship for the comparatively small team, Pagenaud’s first year with Penske delivered a bizarre 11th-place finish and no wins, but everything changed in 2016 when he claimed five victories and the title for The Captain.
That form was nearly maintained in 2017 with two wins and second in the standings as Newgarden captured his first championship on debut for Penske. Coming off two stellar seasons, 2018 had shades of 2015 with no wins and a distant run to sixth. And then Pagenaud’s life changed with his Indy win and two more trips to victory lane that earned another second-place finish in the championship to Newgarden.
The boom-or-bust cycle returned with another down year in 2020 which, on the positive side, delivered a win for Penske, but came with a drop to eighth in the standings. To date, a strong run in May at the Indy 500 vaulted Pagenaud from seventh to fourth in the championship.
With Newgarden set to lead Penske’s team for as long as he desires, team veteran Will Power signed to an extension prior to the season, and IndyCar newcomer Scott McLaughlin on a long-term program with Penske, Pagenaud has been in an uncomfortable position as the only member of the four-car squad without a clear answer as to where he’ll be driving in 2022 and beyond.
Consistency has been the key component for Newgarden and Power, with the duo having finished every season with Penske in fifth or better in the championship. With Pagenaud, it’s possible the team has wanted to see if he would rebound from an underwhelming 2020 before offering another contract extension.
Looking outside of IndyCar, Penske has a new partnership with Porsche to field its domestic and international LMDh program that goes live in 2023, and with Pagenaud’s vast technical and racing experience in prototypes, he could be a significant asset to the project.
Just as Penske transitioned Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya from full-time IndyCar careers to his new Acura DPi IMSA effort in 2018, the timing of the Porsche endeavor might coincide with a similar opportunity for Pagenaud to stay within the organization, albeit in IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
With Porsche aiming to get its first LMDh on track in December – more than a year ahead of its competition debut at the Rolex 24 At Daytona in January of 2023 – Pagenaud would be the perfect candidate to lead Porsche Penske Motorsports’ development efforts in 2022 before taking a leadership role among PPM’s drivers for years to come.
The third scenario could involve an offer to stay with the IndyCar team next year and then move to LMDh, and the fourth would involve departing Penske for an opportunity with one of its IndyCar rivals.
Whether it’s maintaining the status quo with a Penske IndyCar drive, a shift to Penske’s upcoming sports car effort, or trying to land an open seat at Andretti Autosport, Arrow McLaren SP, or another team, Pagenaud will play a major role in the silly season as the fate of who will drive the No. 22 Chevy awaits resolution.
“We’re in what I would say is the negotiation stage with him right now,” Penske said. “And we’ll continue to have dialogue.”