Q and A with IndyCar rookie Simon Pagenaud
THE MODERATOR: Welcome, everybody. We have two guests scheduled. Our first guest is the leading driver in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year in the IZOD IndyCar Series, Simon Pagenaud. And Alex Tagliani was meant to join us; he's having some travel delays and hopefully he'll be joining us a little later. Simon, thanks for taking the time to join us today.
SIMON PAGENAUD: Thanks, Arni. Thanks for having me.
THE MODERATOR: Simon will make his second start at the Raceway at Sonoma this weekend. After making his first start last year he's currently sixth in points as a rookie in the IZOD IndyCar Series and one of 15 drivers still eligible to win the IZOD IndyCar Series Rookie of the year title. He can clinch the Sunoco Rookie of the Year title this weekend with a finish of 8th or better at the GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma.
Talk about the season; coming into the season, did you think at this point you would be one of those guys challenging for the series title, and be such a runaway Sunoco Rookie of the Year points leader?
SIMON PAGENAUD: As any competitive person would, when you're going into a championship, you want to go for the win. And that's what we all are thriving for.
I have to say, the team has done a tremendous job in positioning ourselves where we are. It's definitely a tremendous year that we are having as a first full season for me as a rookie, and also being with Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports racing for the first year.
What those guys have been able to do as a one‑car team is pretty awesome and I have to say I'm proud of the guys. Hopefully this weekend we can climb another step at Sonoma.
Q. Talk about the Raceway at Sonoma, the course has made some changes since last year's race. You were among the drivers who tested at the raceway last weekend. Do you think the changes in Turn 7, Turn 9 and Turn 11 will improve the overtaking areas as they were meant to?
SIMON PAGENAUD: I think so. The changes that have been made are really, really good on turn seven. It's a very tight hairpin there with a late apex; it should really have an entry and exit for passing. There is a good straight leading up to Turn 7, and you can pass on Turn 6, which is the area you really want to work on in the race. So I think that should be a very good area to pass.
Also, they have made some changes to the chicanes on Turn 9 and Turn 11. Turn 11, I believe, there still could be something done for better passing. But it's a little bit better. It's a big improvement on Turn 7, and passing should be nice.
Q. I know yesterday, you're actually still in Fontana and you tested at Auto Club Speedway. How did the test go, and do you feel like the aero package that will be taken to Fontana will make for an exciting 500‑mile race.
SIMON PAGENAUD: I actually hope so. I feel really good this year about the package for the ovals. The racing has been tremendous all year long. I really enjoyed my stint on the ovals this year, even as a rookie, and yesterday was a little bit difficult, I've got to say. The level of downforce was really low to begin with, probably way too low to race any other car.
But then there's different options that IndyCar is thinking about that could really help, and I'm really looking forward to the race. If it was a little bit more downforce, I'm sure we could do some good, good racing.
Q. You were the subject of this upcoming week's INDYCAR 36 Program. What was the experience like having those cameras following you around everywhere at Mid‑Ohio?
SIMON PAGENAUD: It was a good experience, because I tried to take it as positive as possible. Being able to show my story and the team's story to the fans and people following IndyCar and following me, is a great opportunity. It's a great opportunity for me to show who I am and what I do, and why I do it and why I'm so competitive and all that.
So it was actually OK. The crew really fitted in the team really well. We tried to make sure they had enough option to come into the meetings and hear everything we were saying. There was definitely no barrier between ‑‑ in anything. So I thought it was a great opportunity for them to see the background and the behind‑the‑scenes stuff.
Q. Six or seven years since you first came over to the states and raced successfully in Atlantic and moved on to Champ Car, and then of course you have done a lot of sports car racing in ALMS and also the Peugeot team in Le Mans. You've got a lot of experience in a wide range of cars. Just discuss a little bit if you would about what that experience has brought to you, and also, about, you know, the length of your ‑‑ I don't call it a struggle, but how you climbed to IndyCar to get to where you are today.
SIMON PAGENAUD: I would say obviously I had an opportunity to go to sports car at the beginning of 2008 with Gil de Ferran in the HPD program. That was a really, really good opportunity for me to get to work on more technology.
You know, I've been racing six series my whole career, and it was a great opportunity to develop; to develop tires, and develop the engines and see something else and develop myself as a more complete driver.
You know, obviously at the beginning, my thought process was to stay and continue in IndyCar. But as you mention, I had the opportunity at the time, and my goal was to try to ‑‑ was to try to make sure that I could come back some day with a better understanding of things, and make sure that I would become one of the top drivers in that series.
So I stayed in sports car for 2008 to 2011 and beat myself up, and I have to say, Gil de Ferran was an open book with me as a teammate and a team other.
So I learned a lot of things, a lot of things on how to approach a race weekend, mentally, and also on the technical part. I felt much stronger at the end of 2011, that's for sure.
Now, the great thing is I had the opportunity with such ‑‑ if gave me a really, really good opportunity, and here we are now.
Q. If I can just follow‑up quickly, Sebastien Bourdais, a little bit older than you, only a little bit, and he raced here and he was a mentor and older brother to you, I believe that's fair to say. If you can just comment a little bit on that, and also about whatever it was, I think 2006, your first season here, where you had a heck of a championship battle with Graham Rahal who you're now racing within the Atlantics Series back then.
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yes, Sebastien when I was in there, was the American French (laughing). He was winning everything in Champ Car back then, and I wanted to move to America in 2006. My English wasn't so good. I didn't know anyone. And Sebastien was very open and very nice to help me to get contact with Derrick Walker, who is now my manager. It started from there.
Sebastien was a big help. He gave me a lot of advice on the racetrack the first year, and we became teammates in 2010 at Peugeot. So we are really good friends now, race together and race hard, which is a lot of fun actually.
And then, yes, 2006 was a great battle with Graham. He's definitely a very talented driver, and I had a great time battling with him for the championship. It's good to be back and race against my friend and competitors back in IndyCar now.
Q. This year's race at Sonoma is longer; do you think the extra ten laps will eliminate the need to save fuel?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Actually, it was a good idea from IndyCar, but looking at the numbers, it's still possible to make the race in two stops.
So fuel saving might be even more of a big deal at Sonoma than it was at Mid‑Ohio, which is a shame, because you really want to go and race really hard against everybody and make it work.
But yeah, we can see the stretch and make it happen, but at the same time it means that we are going to have to run slower than we did at Mid‑Ohio; and maybe people going off‑strategy on pit stops can overcome the disadvantage of one more stop. So that could be very interesting, actually.
Q. I know you're keen on trying to win a race before the season is over, but if you don't come away with a win before the season, will you still consider your rookie season to be a success?
SIMON PAGENAUD: I think so. I think we still have three races to go and I think we are stronger than ever. We definitely can improve the setup of the car, especially in qualifying, which is very important in the eyes of the IndyCar Series right now. You want to be in the Top‑6 to have a shot to win. It's very, very important.
So the team have done a great job at providing me a car that I can drive really, really at its limits, and I feel that even at Fontana, I feel like we can run up front.
Now, I want to run in the Top‑5 in all three races, but I want to be able to fight for the win like I did at Mid‑Ohio. We are sure we can do it. We are working on details and we are obviously fighting against big, big powerhouses such as Penske, Ganassi and Andretti. And we just need to focus on executing perfectly, and I think it could happen.
You know, if it doesn't happen, then we'll see why, but we definitely have the pace, which is satisfying. But as a racer, you always want to get to the top level, so I don't think I'll be happy until we get there.
Q. Talking to Will Power last week, he mentioned about the competitiveness of the series this year and he was saying it would take a good driver a year to be competitive. So coming to the series and being competitive right away, do you feel like the series is very competitive?
SIMON PAGENAUD: I think it's actually spot‑on. It's definitely true. I mean, it's very competitive. You saw it with Giorgio at Fontana last weekend; he's a very, very talented driver, very fast. And it was difficult for him until the race, because in qualifying, you could see in qualifying in the first six, it was within seven/tenths of a second.
So I've never seen any series like that. It's so competitive and really, you have to be on top of your game, do everything you can to get these last half a tenths. It's okay when you are tubing about tenths, but now we are talking about half a tenth. It shows how competitive it is and how much you have to push the limits away, push the team, push yourself. And to be honest, that's one of the reasons why I really wanted to come back to IndyCar; I wanted to be one of those guys fighting for those last hundredths of a second.
Q. Obviously you're having a great year here, and I know you're entirely committed to getting to the top of IndyCar Racing, and with your European background, are any opportunities shaping up for you in the future, either at Le Mans, in sports cars, or even in Formula 1?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yes, there are a few opportunities, especially for Le Mans, there are quite a few opportunities there, even for the WEC.
But I'm very committed to IndyCar as you said, and that will be my priority, although one of my career goals is to try to win Le Mans. I want to try again. But you have to find the right seat and find the right opportunity.
So it means that you have to be in the right program. But, you know, if there is a good seat out there next year and the date is open, I will definitely try to do it. I'm even talking to a few teams possibly for the 24 Hours and Le Mans. So also, still want to drive other cars to keep my mind fresh, you know, in any other series, in any other cars. Not that I want to go somewhere else, but just that I want to drive other cars, too.
So Formula 1 right now, I unfortunately don't have many contacts there, and I will Formula 1 teams, but I'm pretty happy in IndyCar, and I want to get to the top level before I move on.
THE MODERATOR: We thank Simon for his time today and wish him the best of luck at Sonoma. Alex Tagliani's travel delays have prevented him from calling in with us today, so we apologize for any inconvenience this may cause and hope to book Alex on a future conference call.
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