Busy days ahead for Pagenaud
Simon Pagenaud and his engineer with Sam Schmidt Motorsports, Ben Bretzman, have been almost inseparable the past few weeks as they process, plan and prepare for the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 25.
"We just had another deep conversation about the car; it's something we talk about every day," said Pagenaud, who will take the No. 77 Honda-powered Dallara DW12 out for a test drive Feb. 20-21 at Barber Motorsports Park (where last April he competed in his first of three IZOD IndyCar Series races). "It's a very interesting time right now because the car is very interesting and different from the old car driving-wise and setup-wise. It's just a matter of the group needing to have a certain chemistry to be ready for St. Pete. We're in the right direction.
"I'm happy with the car to be honest already."
To a degree, so is Bretzman, a veteran of open-wheel and sports car racing who joined the Schmidt organization in July. He and Pagenaud worked together at Highcroft Racing in 2010, when Pagenaud co-drove the American Le Mans Series championship-winning car.
"If you read the Internet, the first couple of months the car came out everyone was down on it and worried about speed," he said. "It's just been so long since people had new car. There are a lot of people in IndyCar that never had a new car. So it's getting used to learning about a new car and what it takes to get up to speed. It will be learning all year; the fundamentals of this car are much different than the old car. Every time you get on the racetrack it will be something new.
"Between the three engine manufacturers and the competition it will be a clean slate. The competition is so high in IndyCar right now. With an equal playing field of cars now and the manufacturers it will be interesting to see where it goes. I think you'll see multiple teams win this year."
Scheduled to join Pagenaud at the 2.38-mile Barber road course that features 80 feet of elevation change will be Mike Conway of A.J. Foyt Racing, Takuma Sato of Rahal Letterman Lanigan, Alex Tagliani of Bryan Herta Autosport, Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Graham Rahal of Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing, Charlie Kimball of Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing and Justin Wilson of Dale Coyne Racing. James Jakes will also be testing with Dale Coyne Racing.
On Feb. 23-24, Pagenaud, Tagliani, Sato and the four Chip Ganassi Racing drivers will be joined at Sebring International by Lotus Dreyer & Reinbold Racing's Oriol Servia.
Additionally, Alex Tagliani (Feb. 19-21), Tony Kanaan (Feb. 21) and the Team Penske trio of Ryan Briscoe, Helio Castroneves and Will Power (Feb. 21) will test at Texas Motor Speedway. JR Hildebrand will be at Phoenix International Raceway on Feb. 22. Feb. 25 is the homologation deadline - when Chevrolet, Honda and Lotus must submit final specifications to INDYCAR for their 2.2-liter, turbocharged V-6 engines.
"It's a big gain for us for Simon to have driven car already (in mid-January at Sebring), to hear what he thinks of the car," Bretzman said. "It will be a very busy week on track for four or five days straight in two different states. At Barber, our focus is much more on permanent road courses (Barber, Mid-Ohio and Infineon). That's a lot more grip racetrack, a faster racetrack so we focus on those situations. Sebring is a pure street course and we have seven or eight of them on the schedule so that's why everyone is living in Sebring right now.
"The setup of the car and the mentality of the car changes between the two, so there's a lot to learn and figure out where we should take it."