- Though the demands on his time weren't as great as a non-champion, Simon Pagenaud is eager to win another IndyCar series crown to go with the one he won in 2016.
Though racing is all about speed, for Simon Pagenaud the best way to prepare is by slowing down.
The past two seasons have been exhilarating for the 33-year-old driver. He was crowned the IndyCar series champion in 2016 and came in second behind Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden in 2017.
Pagenaud finished all 17 of his races last year. He had 13 top-five finishes and two wins, at the Phoenix Grand Prix and Grand Prix of Sonoma. It will take more wins than he had last year to get back on top, but Pagenaud learned from last year’s second-place finish.
“Mentally I think I have a better understanding of how to win it,” Pagenaud said. “The other thing is I have more time to myself. I wasn’t as busy not being a champion. I feel like I’ve had the time to rest. Somehow my motivation is higher than it’s ever been. I enjoy driving more than I have before.”
With the thrill of a championship still lingering in his mind, Pagenaud is more ready than ever for this season.
“I’ve won the championship once. I know better what it takes to be a champion again. Frankly it’s just more wins. I had the best consistency [last year] that you could get and it’s not enough to get a championship.”
Mental changes aren’t the only thing Pagenaud, and others, are facing heading into the new season.
In an effort to make the cars lighter and more affordable for racing teams, IndyCar introduced a new body kit all racing teams will use starting this year. The new design resembles a Coke bottle, making the car body slimmer with smaller front and rear wings. IndyCar will also be using new universal aero kits, reducing downforce and shifting more weight to the front of the car.
Pagenaud felt good about the new aero kits coming off a recent practice at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.
“It took away a good chunk [of downforce],” said Pagenaud. “I would say 30 percent. That’s a desire to help bring a bit of slide on the racetrack and bring the skids back to the driver. I welcome that because I think finesse is more my style. It requires more finesse and being more precise with the racecar. I think you’re going to have to think more during the race.”
Practicing for the season and figuring out the car’s technology, especially with this year’s new design, is one of Pagenaud’s favorite parts of racing. He enjoys talking with his engineers daily to collaborate on ways to make the car faster while incorporating his own style of driving.
“His ability to communicate [about] the technology that’s coming out of the car with his chief mechanic and his engineer is super critical,” said Roger Penske, owner of Team Penske. “He does that as well as anyone. The people that he’s worked with the last couple of years are all the same. He immediately has that confidence in the calls his people are going to make.”
The 2018 IndyCar season begins Sunday at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Pagenaud said excitement for the first race of the season is high, but he looks forward to finding out if his team’s preparation paid off.
“I love to challenge my engineer,” Pagenaud said. “I love it when the light bulb comes on. I want to go to the first race and be like, ‘We figured it out before any else.’”