Coming off his first test with Meyer Shank Racing last week at Sebring International Raceway, Simon Pagenaud sounds like a driver who’s infused with confidence for where the two-car NTT IndyCar Series team is headed. Fastest on the day, Pagenaud says the feeling within the program is right where he wants it as MSR looks to establish itself as a frontrunner with the Frenchman and teammate Helio Castroneves leading the charge.
“It’s crazy to think seven years right was spent with Team Penske — almost a decade in racing — and now I’m learning a lot of new people with the Meyer Shank team, but I also know a lot of people I worked with at other teams, and it already feels like home,” he told RACER.
“It’s definitely a different vibe because it is a smaller team. No question about it, but the depth of the talent is phenomenal. And there’s a strong desire to do well. It was just our first day on track together, but it exceeded my expectation, for sure.”
Pagenaud arrived at MSR with an IndyCar championship and Indy 500 win to his credit, but he also came alone — without his longstanding race engineer Ben Bretzman, who remains with Penske — and it’s here where the 37-year-old will face his biggest adjustment. Fortunately, through MSR’s technical alliance with Andretti Autosport, he’ll have Indy 500-winning race engineer Garrett Mothersead, and based on their first day of testing, the two are off to a great start.
“It’s a big change, and probably one of the biggest differences is understanding someone else’s way of communicating,” he said. “Racing, to me, is communicating. There’s going to be 20 or 30 different setups tried every day this year, and all the cars are so close to each other, shows you how important the relationship (between) driver (and) engineer is to extract the best out of yourself, to get the best setup together that you can.
“Being 10 years with Ben, obviously, we knew each other like the back of our hands. And sometimes we just needed to look at each other to understand the feeling of the setup change. But with Garrett, it’s fresh, and we’re starting to understand each other. There are surprises with reactions sometimes, which there wasn’t for 10 years, but so far, it’s been really good. It’s been interesting to see his rhythm, which I’m not used to.
“A different way of working. It’s been interesting to see different ways things are done here. But for the first day, we just went on with our business. Garrett seems to get very down to details, very structured in the way they does things. And it bodes really well with my mentality.”
The countdown is on! 2022 is our year. https://t.co/wUoIfCMmLJ
— Simon Pagenaud (@simonpagenaud) January 3, 2022
Like Castroneves, Pagenaud is expected to bring his years of engineering and operational knowledge to MSR and assist the Ohio-based outfit in its quest to move forward in the championship standings. The questions he’s constantly asking himself is how much he should insert himself into the team’s development, and where are the areas he should step back and let MSR figure out the best practices to achieve its goals.
“That’s where everything starts,” he continued. “I could have gone in there and tried to shake everything up, but quite frankly, it seems like they know how to do things well. On one end, they have a certain methodology of work philosophy. That’s very different for me. And on my side of things, I have to learn their way of doing things and adjust to it while bringing my own experience and helping guide towards what could become, in my opinion, a tough team to beat in the future.
“So it’s a little bit of both, it’s a little bit of bringing ideas and suggestions, but also taking in what they’re teaching me, and understanding their way of doing things. It’s very interesting. I’m learning a lot of stuff. And yeah, it’s just a very different era in my career where Helio and me, we have to be the captains of the team and try to steer them into a certain direction, so the team can become what they want to become. It’s really enjoyable.”
Beyond sounding confident about MSR’s chances in 2022, Pagenaud’s comments also sounded crystal clear, thanks to a minor mishap at the end of the test.
“I was driving for like an hour after the test and was really enjoying the peace; no calls or anything, just nice and quiet,” he said. “Then I realized I didn’t know where my phone was and I couldn’t find it! And then I remembered hearing a clunking sound when I left the track, and that’s when I realized I drove away with my phone on the roof…so now I have a new phone and I’m just about done setting it up.”