IndyCar Open Wheel

The Return of Simon Pagenaud

Simon Pagenaud came to the United States in 2006 from his home country, France, to win races. And in his second season as a driver for Team Penske, he won the Verizon IndyCar Series Championship, while picking up five race wins, at Long Beach, Barber, the Indy road course, Mid-Ohio, and Sonoma.

Pagenaud will begin his title defense this weekend at St. Petersburg with the No. 1, as permitted to the reigning series champion. While there has been questions about superstitions surrounding the number, Pagenaud isn’t worried.

“I’m not very superstitious really,” he said. “My only superstition is my routine that I have before the races.”

Pagenaud has the opportunity to be the first Penske IndyCar champion to win back to back championships since Gil de Ferran, his countryman, friend, and former team owner. Pagenaud was reminded that he called Gil “his Yoda,” and noted that he has spoken with de Ferran for advice on winning in 2017.

“It’s actually the word ‘defending’ we’ve talked about a lot,” Pagenaud said. “Gil and I have a very similar approach on how to go racing. I would say I really understood better what it all meant last year. It’s about defending. Everything is back to zero. The counts are all back to zero. It’s all reset.

“Now it’s time to attack, attack a new championship, attack a new year. Last year, if I was so successful, it’s because we attacked and we didn’t look in the mirrors. The goal is to do the same thing, not defend, but attack a new season coming up.”

Pagenaud also added that even with advice in hand, his approach is to be aggressive when needed.

“Try to maximize the opportunity when I have a winning car in my hands, to score as many points as possible when I’m not having a good day,” he continued. “That approach is the same as 2016. It worked for me.”

Away from the track, though, the approach seems to be relaxing and spending time with his Jack Russell Terrier, Norman Pagenaud, who recently celebrated his first birthday. Seen as the good luck charm before, I asked if Norman is still his good luck charm?

“He has been, and he still is. He’s a joy in our family, that’s for sure,” Pagenaud said. “He’s a great dog. He just turned a year old. He just packed his bag today. He’s ready to go tomorrow. It’s great.

“For me just going back to the motorhome, having him there, no matter what the day is, if it’s a good or bad day, he’s always the same. It brings me a sense of consistency in emotion.

“I think it also helps you relating on a bad day, finding positive out of it. I think that’s really what he does. He’s some kind of therapy for me.”

Yes, he’s back.

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By Lisa Davidson

Lisa Davidson is a graduate of the University of Arizona and spent her corporate career as a Controller. She is a lifelong writer who has been covering open wheel racing since 2000 and is the author of historical articles and co-author of one book She and her husband, photographer Jeff Davidson, have two daughters and make their home in Murrieta, CA.