Q&A with Simon Pagenaud
Simon Pagenaud and the rest of de Ferran Motorsports came into the American Le Mans Series with as much hype and excitement as any other team in recent Series memory. A year removed from his rookie effort, Pagenaud is moving to LMP1 with Gil de Ferran and Acura. The young Frenchman took some time to look back on 2008 and look ahead to 2009.
Question: What is the one memory that stands out to you from your 2008 season?
Answer: Well, it is not a good memory but very honestly that’s what stands out to me. It’s our incident in Mid-Ohio where my refueler Keith Jones was injured during a pit stop. Fires are always dramatic. Keith is doing much better now, and we are all delighted about that. Those risks are part of racing - I would gladly deal without it - but motorsports can be dangerous.
Q: Did the preparation for the de Ferran program compare to any other prior project with which you have been involved? And do you expect that to be surpassed by the new LMP1 project?
A: When I joined the team, the shop was basically the truck and the shop was completely empty. Today the facilities are very advanced and nice. It was a unique experience in the fact that I saw the team building itself and I am proud to think I was part of it. Gil has a very experienced view on racing. He is impressive in the way he deals with things.
I used to help the development on new cars in the past with Renault and the World Series 2008. I have also worked on tire development with Michelin and Renault for the FR 2.0L. So in that matter, I had a tiny bit of experience about a new car or new tires and what kind of dialogue you need between yourself the mechanics and engineers.
In conclusion, I thought the team did an excellent job to get ready for this season. The organization in the team is very rigorous. The communication is very fluent and it helps to get the information quickly to everyone. There were some more difficult times than others, but the team was always pulling to get things square
The LMP1 project is going to be a challenge next year. The team has had a good experience this year with a proven winning car. In 2009 the team starts from a blank sheet and it’s a totally different story. It is expected to have some mechanical issues as every other new car would have. Acura is putting a lot of effort into it, and it will be really exciting to see the P1 car growing during 2009.
Q: What is your best memory of the past season?
A: My best one is the last race in Laguna. Gil drove brilliantly in the first stint and I loved watching that fantastic pass in Turn 1 at the start (Ed. Note: de Ferran moved from fourth to second by going around two cars on the outside before the entrance of the Andretti Hairpin) then I had fun battling wheels to wheels with Tony Kanaan for the victory.
Q: Can you take us through the closing laps?
A: (Laugh) I was surprisingly very relaxed but on the wheel trying to find any hole where I could get by him. I was looking to get by at the Corkscrew for a couple of laps, and then I got an opportunity; we were touching sidepods at the top of the hill, and going down I was ahead but a slow P1 car was in my lane and I did not have any other choice than lifting and giving up the lead. That was a cool moment when at the top of the hill I thought, “Wow he is not giving up easily.”
Later after that, Tony was getting excited and touched with GT cars while passing them and then passed in the dirt going up to the Corkscrew. I thought, “Geez, it is getting insane!” But I had to follow him because I wanted the win, so here I was braking in the dirt passing three GT cars at the Corkscrew.
Then in the closing lap, I lost some time with GTs in the wrong place. I was able to come back on Tony in the last lap and in the last straight I thought , “Eh, I still have a chance.” I was literally in his gearbox on the front straight and I was drafting just before the finish line. I pulled out of the draft and we finished side-by-side on the finish line.
It was fun, tough and good racing. I loved every moment of it. As I said, it got insane at some points but lifting is not allowed in those kinds of situations. It was flat out in the dark, in the dirt, between cars. The best racing I ever had because it was tough with Tony but clean.
Q: What 2009 event are looking forward to most and why?
A: I am looking forward to go to Sebring, as I have not raced at the 12 Hours of Sebring. It’s a very historic race that I always wanted to do. Then I love the street circuits on the calendar, so of course Long Beach should remind me of my Champ Car days. Laguna Seca in the P1 car should be really fun.