INDIANAPOLIS — 2020 wasn’t a good season for Simon Pagenaud. He’ll tell you that. Just one trip to victory lane and an eighth place finish in the final standings. While last year can sort of be classified as a throw away year in terms of changes made to the car, COVID being around and not much on track time, Pagenaud knows that he can’t afford to have another season in this one last the last.
“I’ve been grinding, let me tell you,” said the Frenchman. “It’s been a very interesting winter. I’ve worked on more details than I’ve ever worked before, which is great. And with more and more data, technology, you can really dig deep and just perfect your craft even better than in the past.
“Obviously Team Penske has been able to provide me all the information I needed to get ready for the season, so personally I feel like I’ve really worked really well.
“A lot of the time was going through every single practice and qualifying and race and trying to understand how to gain time in every single thing that you do as a driver. There’s a lot of people around me, of course, that takes care of the race car, the pit stops and so on and so forth, but there are a lot of things that you do as a driver that you can’t just let it aside. I can’t say the details because I don’t want to give any hint to the other drivers. I will write a book after racing.
“But I did go in very fine details, more than I ever have. I believe it will give me the edge on some things, and I believe it will allow my performance to go up in general.
“2020 was interesting. Honestly it’s a combination of things that didn’t work out the way I wanted. Obviously the car change made a big difference. The lack of testing made a big impact on my season. Yeah, we ended up where we did. Not happy about it, so it gave me even more desire to do well for 2021.
“I feel very ready for the season and very excited. Like I said, I’m a grinder. I’ve been working hard, and I’m ready for the challenge.”
Think about what he just said. He is essentially taking an inventory of his entire race craft and making adjustments. This is a former series champion. A driver that has won the Indy 500. His place in INDYCAR history is secured. Pagenaud is one of the best we’ve seen. Even he is altering is race craft now.
That’s just how difficult it is to compete for wins and championships in this series. It’s just so damn tough. That’s a good thing for us, but causes restless nights and constant preparation for the drivers on and off the track. A driver of Pagenaud’s caliber isn’t spared.
“It’s very competitive right now, and I think every team has a good handle on the race car, as well, which makes it even tougher because the cars are so similar,” Pagenaud said of this field this year. “There’s no margin for error.
“Even though we have paddle shift, even your upshift points is very important in qualifying. You miss it by five-hundredths of a second, you might miss the Fast Six and find yourself starting in 12th position, which is crazy. Changes your whole weekend.
“If you look at Rinus, if you look at Pato, if you look at Colton Herta, if you look at Scott McLaughlin now, he’s going to be stellar. You look at Romain Grosjean coming in. Obviously all these guys are expert in what they do, and it’s going to be a very interesting season.
“The field is stacked. It’s incredible.”
Will these changes work now? He obviously hopes so. He can’t wait to show them off next month in Barber. He’s even more excited to show the improvements at Indy too.
“Obviously number one priority for me is the 500, trying to get a second ring,” said Pagenaud. “Obviously like I did in ’19, we got so close to winning the championship, as well. Well, we’re going to try to do it this year. The team, on their side, they’ve been working really hard. Gaining speed for the Speedway mostly was number one for them as well. Lately there’s been a huge push on the road course and street course, and I feel like we’re gelling really well as a team with my teammates and everybody on the team. It’s a pretty exciting time.”
Is this a contract year for Pagenaud? It is for Will Power. Pagenaud, doesn’t see the need to discuss that but says just let the action on track do the talking for him.
“My personal opinion is just go out there and do the best you can, race hard and be in the moment,” Pagenaud said of the topic. “The contracts will take care of themselves when they do.
“It’s too early to tell anyway. But yeah, I always race as hard as I can. My motto is having no regrets ever, so I work hard, and I want to have no regrets. So if I have no regrets, there’s no reason it shouldn’t continue.”