2012 IZOD IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year Simon Pagenaud, driving for Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports in the series, had an amazing rookie season that went relatively undetected with a fifth-place finish in points. This year, Pagenaud has three top 10 finishes in the first four races on the schedule, and goes into the Indianapolis 500 with some hard lessons learned in 2012.
“I think it was honestly the most intimidating race I’ve ever been in,” said Pagenaud in a recent teleconference. “I mean, I’ve raced in LeMans, I’ve raced in many races, many different series. So far, it’s probably the toughest because, honestly, as a road race, you don’t know what to expect on the first turn, you don’t know what to expect off a full stint. You don’t really know. The whole month, the whole two weeks last year I learnt, but you can never really get close as a 20-car pack.”
Pagenaud, who raced in the French Formula Renault, Champ Car and American Le Mans Series before moving to IndyCar, has a background heavy in road racing, so getting used to the ovals, including Indy, took some time.
“The thing for me is, learning on the ovals was first to enjoy it, and I did, so that’s a good thing crossed off the list,” said Pagenaud. “The second thing was to understand the level of aggression you can have with the other drivers. Initially maybe I was too respectful, which wasn’t the right line. So it took me a little while to understand. Once we got to Iowa, I understand how aggressive I could be while passing car and was able to make the pass, clear the pass. Honestly, I didn’t have that awareness before. Indy was a big learning curve and steep one. I’m not ready yet, but I don’t think you can ever be ready for Indy.”
Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports, a one-car team in 2012, expanded to two cars this year with the addition of 2012 Firestone Indy Lights champ Tristan Vautier to the roster under the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports banner. Pagenaud knows how lucky he was to have such a strong season with a small team.
“Rookie of the Year is an honor,” said Pagenaud. “It’s something quite special. But then finishing fifth in the championship is great for the team, a one-car team against the big powerhouses like Penske, Ganassi and Andretti. We’re taking great pride. Wouldn’t be possible without the crew and Honda. It’s good to be able to put a great performance all together.”
Having just one Indy 500 under his belt, Pagenaud can still revel in the festivities that are “the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
“You know what’s amazing, when you’re doing the warmup lap, you can hear the crowd,” recalled Pagenaud. “That’s just incredible. You obviously have 600 something horsepower in your back and you can still hear the crowd. So it’s quite a feeling for sure. The stands are full. The biggest thing is that there’s 33 cars. So it’s such an impressive view. Obviously I was starting 16th (in 2012). I was probably 33rd by the first corner. It was such an impressive view. Just being part of it also is something incredible. As a driver, it’s such an accomplishment. To be able to come back second year in a row with the same team, with continuity, it’s great.”
Qualifying for the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 begins on Saturday, May 18 with Pole Day and concludes on Sunday, May 19 with Bump Day. The 2013 Indy 500 goes green on Sunday, May 26.
Source: “Transcript: Schmidt Hamilton/Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Indy 500 availability,” IndyCar Media, May 12, 2013
Paula is a freelance writer and photographer specializing in motorsports. She also covers motorsports at Skirts & Scuffs and Examiner.com.
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