Pagenaud ready for a reboot with Meyer Shank

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Pagenaud ready for a reboot with Meyer Shank

IndyCar

Pagenaud ready for a reboot with Meyer Shank

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Simon Pagenaud’s best body of work as an NTT IndyCar Series driver came when he led a small and underfunded team into places where it simply didn’t belong. His new team, Meyer Shank Racing, doesn’t exactly fit in that category, but there are enough similarities for the Frenchman to believe his return to a smaller outfit will spark a late-career resurgence.

For some drivers an underdog team is a better fit, and in Pagenaud’s case, shifting to MSR after seven years with the monolithic Team Penske organization feels right. The Frenchman, who turns 38 in May, is chasing the magic he once had in the early days of his IndyCar journey, and with MSR, being asked to play a central role in turning the operation into a regular contender has a familiar feel.

“It was interesting, because the first discussion (with Jim Meyer and Mike Shank), I actually said, ‘This is what I envision for myself within the next team I’m going to be with; if you guys are interested in that, I’m the guy,’” Pagenaud said of joining MSR with former Penske teammate Helio Castroneves in the sister entry.

“And it was really interesting, because everything I was saying is what they were looking for, and vice versa. We aligned really quickly.

“I felt very, very welcome. And that at this point of my career, it was something very important to me, where I felt if I’m this desired, I can take a big role within the team, trying to lead as much as possible with a fantastic teammate that I know. The vision Mike has for the team and the way that he goes about his race team, it’s a very modern way of doing things. Very open-minded, very open to discussions with everybody on the race team.”

Pagenaud thrived in the ‘big cog in a small machine’ environment at Schmidt Peterson and achieved a giant-killing third in the points in 2013. He’s hoping to capture some of that vibe at MSR in 2022. Scott LePage/Motorsport Images

Although he and race engineer Ben Bretzman won the 2016 IndyCar championship together at Penske, and added a victory at the 2019 Indy 500 as part of The Captain’s vast organization, it’s fair to say Pagenaud felt underutilized – a small part of a big machine – where his role was limited to driving.

As the tip of Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ spear from 2012-2014, Pagenaud had his hands in almost every area of the team’s competition program, and hauled the comparatively tiny squad up to fifth in the championship, splitting Penske’s Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe in the standings with Bretzman. He followed it up with one of the greatest giant-slaying seasons of the century after taking two wins and third in the championship; only Castroneves and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon were better.

Pagenaud’s rookie teammate, Indy Lights champion Tristan Vautier, was a distant 20th in the 2013 standings, which underscores the achievement earned by what was effectively a one-car effort thrust among multi-car programs from Ganassi, Penske, and Andretti Autosport. His time at SPM would come to an end with two more wins and another run to fifth in the championship, nestled between IndyCar champions Juan Pablo Montoya and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

With MSR asking for everything he can possibly bring to the newly-expanded two-car outfit, Pagenaud is trying to bring some of that SPM-era goodness to the Ohio-based team.

“This is an environment that that can really suit me, and for what I want to accomplish next,” he said. “So my vision is to be as involved as possible, bringing my wealth of experience, whether it’s a sports car experience, everything I learned with Gil de Ferran, and everything I learned after that, and hopefully be the driver that they need to take them to the next level. Being a top team, regularly. So it’s an exciting time, because that means that I’m not just driving anymore. And I think that’s what I need. That’s what I wanted.”

Bretzman opted to stay with Penske and will shift over to its new factory sports car program with Porsche. It means that for the first time in more than a decade, Pagenaud will have a new race engineer to work with.

Thanks to MSR’s technical alliance with Andretti Autosport, he’ll have the widely-respected Garrett Mothersead on his timing stand. It might be the only significant adjustment Pagenaud will have to make once he and MSR head out for their first test together in the No. 60 Honda.

“We started working together in 2009,” Pagenaud said of bidding farewell to Bretzman. “We won the (ALMS Prototype) championship, actually, in 2010. Then we went on to IndyCar, got the Rookie of the Year. And then we moved on to Penske, we accomplished everything we wanted to accomplish.

“One of the things that will stick with me is when we started racing together, Ben and I, we had no house, no kids, no wives yet. Both of us were not married. And now we have all this, and certainly an amazing friendship as well. So yeah, it’s a big page that you turn on the book, but I’ll always be so thankful for the relationship.”

MX-5 CUP | ROUND 9 – ROAD AMERICA

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