Simon Pagenaud is one of the longest reigning Indianapolis 500 winners ever. Mauri Rose actually holds the distinction of being the longest defending winner to hold the crown in winning the 1941 race. WWII interrupted the ‘500 from 1942-1945 before coming back again in 1946. Dario Resta is the second longest. He won in 1916 and we didn’t have an Indy 500 in 1917 and again in 1918 due to WWI.
He does hold the honor of being the longest defending GMR Grand Prix winner though. That race, like the ‘500, has always been held in May — Until 2020.
The Team Penske driver won last year’s NTT IndyCar Series race around the 2.439-mile road course but unfortunately, this year’s race was postponed in May. We will make it up this weekend.
Pagenaud, is the odds on favorite. He’s won this race three times in six years and is coming off of a podium result in the last race a month ago at Texas. But, last year’s win stands out above all the rest.
He’d follow up the win in the Grand Prix last May with an Indy 500 pole as well as a win. By sweeping the month, he went from just a “race car driver” to a household name. That’s what happens when you win here.
“I am thrilled to go back to Indianapolis. My whole life changed last May when my Menards Chevrolet team had that incredible month by winning both the Indianapolis 500 and the INDYCAR GP,” Pagenaud said ahead of this weekend’s race. “Memories I will never forget.
“Obviously, the Grand Prix has been very blessed for me. I’ve had three wins there. I hope I can get it to number four. It’s definitely the goal this weekend. But it definitely changed my life last year.”
Pagenaud, says he can race focused this weekend and that the pressure is now off because he’s achieved his dream.
“Now I can really focus on myself and getting the best out of myself which is what I really enjoy the most,” he said.
The Frenchman also said that he’s fortunate to be at Team Penske and to have himself paired with Will Power as the only two drivers to have ever won this race.
What’s different about this year though is that there’s the new Aeroscreen device. It’s almost 50 pounds and changes the way that these cars drive. The setups are vastly different. The added weight means things have to shift in other directions in terms of the car. So, all the prior GMR Grand Prix notebooks, well you can throw them out the window.
“Yeah, it’s a great question because Texas was an eye-opener for a lot of us, I think,” Pagenaud said of the Aeroscreen. “We realized after the race there was a lot of improvement to be made, but not enough time to really think about what we could do on-site.
“Obviously, it’s the same for the road course in Indy. We don’t really know yet what’s going to need change. Certainly, that hour and 20 minutes of practice is not that much. We’re going into qualifying after that, then it’s race day the next day.
“I think it’s going to take a few races to adjust and figure out what we need for each track. Each track is different. No matter what, this is going to be a year of adjustments. I think that might allow driver and engineer combinations to show strength.”
His teammate and defending series champion Josef Newgarden spoke on the difference in setups from it in Texas.
“Yeah, definitely,” Newgarden said if the new device altered their setups from the past. “Temperature-wise the tires are reacting differently with the weight, not just having more weight but having the weight forward. It’s actually a very big shift for the tires.
“I think controlling the temperatures, trying to keep the balance in check in traffic, is going to be probably the biggest difference for us compared to last year. I think that’s where we’ve had the least experience. It will be tough.
“But it’s different. It require as different setup, requires you to take care of the tires. Yes, the answer to your question is different setups.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay agreed last month.
“It’s basically different everywhere we go. There’s a bit of an offset and you adjust to that. It’s not miles off. The drivers really just have to I think at times adjust their driving style to it.”
The guy that Pagenaud beat in last year’s ‘500, Alexander Rossi, notes that this is going to be a challenging weekend as well when you think about all of the elements involved too.
“This is quite a challenging track to get right, so our work will certainly be cut out for us with the expected heat, as well as the variable of the Aeroscreen,” said the Andretti Autosport driver.
The third place finisher in last May’s Indy 500, Takuma Sato said that with just one practice session on Friday, it’s going to be tough on the teams to get everything steered in the right direction.
“I think the biggest challenge of the GMR Grand Prix will be how we deal with just a single practice session before qualifying,” said the 2017 Indy 500 champion. “It’s a 90-minute session, but we don’t have time for analyzing data between sessions, and if you need to change a suspension geometry or make some big change, then we lose a lot of time.
“It’s very limited on-track time. It’s challenging, for sure, not to have had on-track testing, as well as very limited access to the sim.”
Sato, also agreed with Rossi that the heat and conditions inside of the race car could be a little bit of an unknown too.
“Driver cooling on a road course is a little unknown for a hot day, but everyone seemed impressed with the cooling at the (Texas) oval so hopefully, we will have similar performance,” Sato contined. |The team is preparing everything they can, and we hope all the analysis we’ve done leads to a great performance on the track.”
Sato’s teammate, Graham Rahal agrees.
“I imagine it will be a lot hotter now than it would have been in May,” said Rahal. “It will test the drivers with everything we’ve had going on, limited to no time on track in these cars with the Aeroscreen and everything else. It will be a challenge for us all, and the Fifth Third Bank team hopes to rise to the occasion.”