INDIANAPOLIS — Simon Pagenaud started 20th in Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix. For a race that has seen each of the 11 races won by a top 8 starter and 39 of the last 40 natural road course races having been won by a top 10 starter, the cards were stacked against the former series champion. Despite that, he wasn’t going to give up. That’s not in Pagenaud’s nature. That’s why he didn’t walk away after Team Penske downsized from 4 cars to 3 and Pageanud’s No. 22 Dallara-Chevrolet being dropped.
He wasn’t a free agent long. With Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing expanding from 2 full time cars to 3, Jack Harvey joined them. That left the No. 60 Dallara-Honda open. They wanted Pagenaud. The Frenchman watched his former teammate Helio Castroneves who was similarly dropped from Penske a few years prior win his record tying 4th Indianapolis 500 crown last May. I mean literally. Pagenaud finished 3rd that day.
Now, he’s back at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway going from the juggernaut like Penske to the smaller scale team at Meyer Shank Racing. He started behind all 3 Penske drivers on Saturday and literally beside his teammate of Castroneves and outdrove all of them to finish 2nd.
It was a day that Pagenaud says was as good as a result as he’s ever had. That’s saying something. For a guy that’s won 15 times in the series including in the prestigious Indy 500, the prestigious Long Beach Grand Prix and even this race 3 times, this runner-up felt like a win.
“Just really proud of my team,” a jubilant Pagenaud said after the race. “Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to show results, but the potential has been there the whole time, so I’m really proud that today we were able to show all the hard work that has been done in the background by Mike Shank and everybody at Meyer Shank Racing.
“I’m just very proud of my guys, my whole team. The pit stops were great. We keep pushing. We’re going to keep pushing. Yeah, just super awesome.
“It’s funny. Sometimes second feels like a win. I would have loved to have won today, but I’m taking this home. Everybody was so excited. It’s nice to feel such support from your race team and feel like, yeah, tonight we’re probably going to celebrate like it was a win.”
Pagenaud showed that he can still drive. Don’t count him out just yet. He never lost the speed or the talent or the prowess to compete. He just needed a change of scenery. Pagenaud, finished 8th in Texas, 11th in Barber and while he was 19th in Long Beach, this runner-up has him with 3 top 11’s in his last 4 starts on the season and moving from 12th in points to 8th (-48) going to a race that he’s had 3 top 6 results in his last 4 tries.
“It’s all about process, and I believe in that,” Pagenaud continued. “I’m not someone that jumps in and manage to get you to the front in the first race. It’s not who I am, and I think Mike Shank and Jim Meyer knew that. It’s a process we have through.
“I had frustration up until now because we had so much performance, and it never really showed. Finally we are getting some results, which is very nice. A nice reward with all the hard work we’ve been putting in. It’s been a lot of work to today.
“Obviously, we have the big one coming up soon, and as you know, Helio and myself are really excited about that one. Obviously, it’s a big goal for Helio. A big goal for myself as well. We just have to keep pushing. Certainly a nice reward to take.”
He calls this drive today no fluke. He went from 20th to 13th right away. Then the pit sequence moved him up to 11th. Then after that 9th. Then 7th. Then it started raining. Then 5th. Then McLaughlin and Palou had problems, so third. So on and so forth.
“We made a lot of passes on track for sure and had some very good exchange in the pit stops. That made a difference.”
It sure did. Now, he’s ready to show off more in 2 weeks.