INDIANAPOLIS — Simon Pagenaud didn’t forget how to drive a race car. Neither did Meyer Shank Racing teammate Helio Castroneves. You don’t win five combined Indianapolis 500’s, including two of the last four and magically just slow down.
That’s not what’s going on over at MSR. What’s going on is a mix of everything else. Cars not fitting the drivers’ styles. Bad luck. Bad timing. Bad pit stops. Bad setups. A lot. Mix all together in the most difficult form of motorsports, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and you get a driver 20th in points (Castroneves) and 23rd (Pagenaud).
“Oh, yeah, man. It’s been a tough season for us,” Pagenaud told me on opening day of practice for the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500. “It’s tough because you know, the potential of the team is great. I have great people. It’s just been a lot of bad luck, a lot of issues. It’s just seemed to be everything at once on his first few races.”
He’s not wrong. Being an innocent bystander in the opening lap St. Pete crash relegated the Frenchman to a 26th place finish. The speed just wasn’t there in Texas. Long Beach saw him start 14th and finish 15th. Barber was more of the same (start 16th and finish 18th). A pit error in the GMR Grand Prix left Pagenaud 25th.
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He and this team just need a good old fashioned hard reset and the most perfect place for that to occur is up next – the Indy 500.
Pagenaud won here in 2019 and cautions that the last time he felt this way was back in that 2019 season. He didn’t have a top five finish in either of the first four races run that year. He then rattled off an Indy sweep.
Last year in his first year with Meyer Shank Racing, Pagenaud finished eighth here. Maybe this is exactly what the doctor ordered.
“Let me remind you, ’19 was the same for me,” he continued. “And then we turned things around right here so why not? Why couldn’t it happen this time? I’m not going to make it a habit, but I just feel like sometimes is this things you can’t control and you get stuck pointing fingers at people and saying, Yeah, you guys made a mistake. I made a mistake. We all make mistakes. It’s not really the way to go about business. We just need to keep focusing and believe in what we have. We had a great test here. We have five Indy 500 wins in a team. So we have all the ingredients to do well.”
The good part of Indy is that you get plenty of on track time. Wednesday-Friday is six hours of practice each day. You get four hours of race practice on race week. By comparison, most race weekend’s you get an hour on Friday, 45 minutes on Saturday morning and a 30-minute warmup. That’s not even a half day on the oval here.
“Yeah, Friday, Saturday at the Grand Prix, we don’t really have time to do anything,” Pagenaud said. “Either the car is good right away, or it’s not and you suffer. You don’t have time to change you know, you can’t reach to make a change or it could make it worse when you’re fighting for seconds.
“So here is different. You have time to go through the changes you have time to analyze everything dissect. It’s actually better to do it that way and not get lost.”
Pagenaud is a world class driver with 204 career starts, 15 wins, 12 poles, 38 podiums, 71 top five finishes, 133 top 10’s and 1,313 laps led. He’s finished an astounding 93% (189-for-204) starts. I would never doubt his talent and in a place that rewards drivers of Pagenaud’s caliber, I say watch out this month ahead.