Pagenaud hoping for that “second season” magic to follow him in 2023

A potential rivalry is brewing in the INDYCAR paddock and it’s between two drivers that I didn’t see coming. Former teammates at that. Simon Pagenaud poked some fun at former Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden during last weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona for which saw Newgarden snap back. Pagenaud was asked about that set of circumstances on Tuesday and didn’t deny that he said those things on purpose.

“I just love to press the button with Josef (Newgarden),” Pagenaud said. “I just love it. I’m being very open about it. I think he knows it, too.

“It’s funny to see him unsettled a little bit. I like when he gets aggressive. I don’t know why. It’s funny.”

Pagenaud said that he loves the fact that he can do it more now that they’re not teammates anymore.

“Absolutely, yeah. I couldn’t do that before (laughter). I would get in trouble,” he said.

“Yeah, I can be myself. I can say what I want to say. Nobody is upset about it. I love Josef. Don’t get me wrong. I love the guy.

“Do I love the driver? Not always, but… I enjoy pressing the button with him because he seems like such a confident person. Yeah, I like to just go around a little bit, press it.”

Pagenaud and Newgarden did have their fair amount of run-ins while at Penske including a couple of times at the World Wide Technology Raceway. However, they always found ways to put water on the fire. This time, not so much.

“No, I haven’t heard from Josef actually (smiling). I thought of texting him. I thought he would say thank you for giving him attention like that, but…” Pagenaud said if he’s reached out to Newgarden since Daytona.

Pagenaud noted that Newgarden wasn’t wrong in what he said about him last year. He didn’t get to fight him much on track but vowed to do better in that aspect in 2023.

“I got to build my team up, put myself in that situation. We were not there yet. I hope we can be there this year,” he says.

“But certainly not being teammates, you race differently. Now, the driver that he is, I have a huge amount of respect for him. He’s tremendous. I mean, he’s one of the best at what he does. So beating him is even a better reward.

“But I like my résumé better than his.”

Simon Pagenaud pours the milk over himself following the 2019 Indy 500 win. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Newgarden has more wins than Pagenaud (25-15) and in championships (2-1) but Pagenaud has that Indy 500 win in 2019 while Newgarden is also 0-for-11. Pagenaud also now has two Rolex 24’s to his credit too.

However, Pagenaud is looking to add to these stats in what he expects to be a better 2023 season overall.

It all starts with this week’s test to help them grow.

“We’ve done a lot of work on simulators with the designs, several packages we think might be better for the problems that we had last year,” he notes. “One of the main issue was tire wear, which was my main problem in races.

“We are going to evaluate what we found on the simulator and make sure it translates in real life. I’m hoping it really does because with two days of testing, if it doesn’t work, then I’m going to have the same problem I had last year.”

Pagenaud said that the past preseason tests were at Sebring and that last year’s worked well on the street courses but held them back on natural road courses. This year’s test is on a natural road course but not one that they’ll race on. What’s that mindset coming into this year’s edition then?

“We went to test last year twice. It translated to some tracks but not all the tracks,” said the Frenchman. “It translated to a street course where we were extremely strong, but didn’t translate to the road course.

“We’re going to work with the road course tire here, which is better for us because that’s tire wear, which we’re having a big issue with. I have to remind, Firestone brings a different type of tire for each track. It makes it very difficult for us when we go testing to figure out what the tire really need.

“The tire is the most important thing on the race car, especially when you’re in a series like INDYCAR right now that is so close. We know the car so well that the margin for improvements are very small.

“If you can just extract a little bit more out of the tire, you’re going to have a better advantage. Penske did that last year, they figured out what it was. We didn’t. The goal for us is to figure that out with the little built of testing we get.

“It’s tough. It’s the difference between sports cars and INDYCAR is sports cars you can test as much as you want, like we did this winter. You kind of know what you have going into the first race.

“INDYCAR you get two days. What you got is what you got. That makes it very difficult and very reliant on the development that has been done by the engineers.”

One thing that helps Pagenaud’s mindset coming into this season too is his Rolex win last weekend. That’s a high note that can’t be taken away from him. Does seeing the ball go into the net that soon though, make for an advantage? Sometimes just seeing that trophy on the mantle or in this case, a watch on your wrist can be a good reminder of what can happen.

“Big. Massive,” he says. “It gave me confidence that my training was good, that mentally speaking I’m working on the right things, that my influence within the team is going in the right direction.

“Helio and myself are closer than ever, helping the team in many ways. It’s good because it’s showing Mike and Jim that our input is also helping putting us on the map.

“Everything is going according to plan, even better. Yeah, I’m full of confidence, full of happiness because of the work I’ve done is paying off.

“I think I’m extremely proud for myself, which is very important as a driver, especially at this point of your career. You just want to be proud about what you’ve done. I’ve got many more years to go and more races I want to clinch. I have a list of things I want to do, that’s for sure.

“So proud of myself for the achievement, but also proud of the team. We talked about it in press conference, but this team is just incredible. The calm and the way they run this race is the best I’ve ever seen. They are able to be a relaxed team with having everything in control. I’m really proud to be part of it. I’m really proud to bring my experience to the team. Seeing them go like this is spectacular. All the success that we’re having is just incredible.

“Yeah, I’m just blessed and excited to be here at this time.

“I’ve built on that work all last year. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to show it to you as much as I wanted with results. But in the background, I feel like, yeah, there’s something there. The potential is amazing.

“It’s going to take a little bit of time. You’ve got to be patient. But you have to know how good you are inside and you have to believe in it.

“Certainly when results start showing, then all of a sudden the rise is even stronger and it makes you feel really good. So that is a big positive. Certainly I feel on top of the world right now. I’m riding the wave and I’m going to use it to my advantage.

“It’s a perfect timing because with my preparation, it’s coming at a perfect time.”

Pagenaud enters his 12th full-time season in the sport. Another thing going for Pagenaud is history. He’s proven that in a second season with a team, he’s on an elite level. That first year is tough. It’s about getting to know each other and learning what works and maybe what doesn’t. That second year, the puzzle is already there, it’s just putting those pieces from the first year that you had learned together.

No one better than Pagenaud at that.

His second full-time season came in 2013 with the then Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team. He went from 5th in points as a rookie in 2012 to third in 2013 which included his first career win (he had 2 in total). After another strong year in 2014, it led him to Team Penske starting in 2015.

That first year was a struggle. He finished 11th in points. The second season with Penske?

5 wins and a championship.

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