Simon Pagenaud is the new new guy.
Last year, Team Penske welcomed back with open arms Juan Pablo Montoya, who, after seven years on the NASCAR circuit, returned to the IndyCar Series. The 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner, Montoya finished fourth in the 2014 series standings.
So, as this year's key addition for Penske, Pagenaud already has some lofty expectations heading into Sunday's Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the 1.8-mile street-course race that opens the 2015 season.
"It's a super-exciting opportunity for me and to join, to me, the Dream Team," said Pagenaud, the 30-year-old French driver of the No. 22 car. "I call it the Dream Team, not just because of the drivers, but because, in the past, I've always dreamed about driving for Roger (Penske). Ever since I became a driver, that has been my dream. It's an exciting time.
"It's an incredible lineup (we have) now. All four of us have been doing some interesting testing and we feed off each other during that. We're getting to know each other very quickly. And even though it's an interesting way to look at it, it's a pretty intense battle among Team Penske."
Pagenaud joins Penske teammates Montoya, three-time St. Petersburg winner Hélio Castroneves and defending race champion and IndyCar series champion Will Power. All want to kick off their seasons with a win, or at least a good finish. Their competition bodes well, especially after three of the four Penske drivers finished in the top five here in 2014.
Power won his second St. Petersburg race, while Castroneves came in third, and Pagenaud, with Sam Schmidt Motorsports, was fifth.
"I always believe in learning something new and I turn to those guys every day," said Pagenaud, who finished fifth, third and fifth, respectively, in the past three IndyCar series standings. "It's an interesting experience overall, whenever we can get out and test together and talk about tracks and techniques.
"Points are always important, and important for the group, for the entire group, to have a good first race. We want to continue on that effort because (Team Penske does) seem to be really strong (on the St. Petersburg) track. So, I've been studying (the track) a lot over the winter, because this team is involved a lot in technique, and, hopefully, we can continue (the success) as a whole team effort."
Pagenaud admits there's still an adjustment period being the new guy, albeit a successful one, on a team synonymous with success. Pagenaud also knows it's "not going to be easy to win right away."
But he expects to be competitive all season and have a good end result.
"We will be fighting for wins and the championships," he said. "I've been in the top five the past three years, so being in the top three is in reach."
And as the new guy, Pagenaud is looking to have a some fun, especially on his favorite tracks.
"I love that this is the first race of the season," Pagenaud said. "It's a great track in a great city with the race in the city — that's what Indy(Car) is all about. I love the atmosphere of that Grand Prix, and the race track itself is a lot of fun." TBO.com