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Simon Pagenaud At The PRI

Verizon IndyCar driver Simon Pagenaud talks with the media at the 2018 PRI show in Indianapolis.  [Paul Gohde Photo]

Verizon IndyCar driver Simon Pagenaud talks with the media at the 2018 PRI show in Indianapolis.  [Paul Gohde Photo]

 

by Paul Gohde

Indianapolis, IN  –  A year ago Team Penske driver Simon Pagenaud was busy making numerous public appearances as the reigning Verizon IndyCar series champion. But teammate Josef Newgarden has that honor in 2017 and the Frenchman is busy with some family issues as well as preparing for next season, testing both the updated IC aero package and learning his new role as co-driver of an Acura ARX-05 Dpi for the  IMSA Rolex 24 Hour sports car enduro at Daytona in January.

Wegner Engines booth at the 2018 PRI show in Indianapolis.  [Paul Gohde Photo]
Christopher Bell’s Midget at the 2018 PRI show in Indianapolis.  [Paul Gohde Photo]
Bell Helmets booth at the 2018 PRI show in Indianapolis.  [Paul Gohde Photo]

We caught Pagenaud at the Performance Racing Industry tradeshow in Indianapolis last week just before he did a Q-A/autograph appearance at the Chevrolet booth prior to heading south for more testing.

“At this time last year I was a bit worn out. It had been a long season; it’s a different situation as the champion.

“This year Josef has that responsibility and Penske has arranged some time off for me. I went to France as my sister was having a baby (boy) and I had a full month there working with my trainer. I feel super refreshed,” noted Pagenaud a day before he left to test the 2018 Dallara with its new standard aero kit at Sebring.

“I tested the new Indy car at Elkhart Lake earlier. It’s a challenge but it is very sexy and it’s fun to see the rear tires again; they look huge. They look fast when you see the cars go past and it accelerates better. It drives more difficult as it slides on the exit of high-speed corners; sort of dirt tracking. It was difficult to put a good lap together,” he explained while likely never having driven much on dirt. “I haven’t followed anyone yet (while testing) so I can’t really tell you whether it will be easier to pass, but it will probably create less turbulence.

“The weight distribution is a bit different from last year so we’ll have to adjust to that, too. The braking distance is longer.”

And a final comment by Pagenaud may bode well toward leveling out series competition that has seen the Penske Chevrolet team dominate, winning championships in 2014, 2016 and 2017. “You might not see the same teams up front at the beginning of the season. It may take some time for everyone to adjust to the new set ups.

“We’re neck and neck with Honda but we expect Chevrolet to make progress. They’ve been focused on winning the series’ championship while Honda seems to put more effort into winning the Indy 500.

“I just want to drive,” Pagenaud enthused. “I want to get my #1 back.”

  • After explaining his impressions regarding the new Indy car, Pagenaud also talked about his new role for Penske, joining former teammates Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya as they test the Honda-affiliated Acura ARX-05 leading up to driving in February’s Rolex season-opener at Daytona. “With driving both the Chevy and the Acura I wear two hats now. We had a blast at Daytona. That car is fun to drive, too. It’s easy to drive fast.”

The race runs in February so drivers from many different series participate with the IMSA crowd; many coming from NASCAR and IndyCar. “Those fans want to see drivers from other series in different cars. Endurance racing is gaining fans and they may have 20 Dpi entries for the Rolex. Helio, Juan Pablo, Ricky Taylor and Dane Cameron are the main drivers for Penske’s two cars with Graham Rahal and me as the required third drivers.” And like his new Indy Car, the Acura is “easy to drive fast and the car slides in some corners with the Continental tires.”

And then a surprise from the Frenchman that would be hard to guess: “Rallying is my passion; no secret. It’s a form of racing, a dream, since I was a kid. I want to win Indy, Daytona and the Monte Carlo Rally.”  Who knew?

  • The PRI trade show estimated that its 30th Anniversary edition would feature 1,200 exhibitors and draw 40,000 attendees to its three-day show in the Indiana Convention Center.
  • After a successful showing at the Indianapolis Speedway Museum, the “AJ Foyt A Legendary Exhibition”, featuring twenty-plus historical Foyt race cars, moved his four Indy 500 winners to the PRI show where it was viewed by several thousand fans over the three-day run.
  • The King, Richard Petty, signed hundreds of autographs Thursday at the MAHLE booth one day before announcing an alliance with Richard Childress Racing and Chevrolet for the 2018 NASCAR Cup season. Bubba Wallace will drive the Petty Camaro and the Petty operation will move to the Childress Racing campus in Welcome, NC.
  • And Pagenaud gets the final word as he so often does: “I’d like to try NASCAR someday. It would be fun on an oval. I only know what oval racing is like from Indy car.”

 

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Paul Gohde heard the sound of race cars early in his life.

Growing up in suburban Milwaukee, just north of Wisconsin State Fair Park in the 1950’s, Paul had no idea what “that noise” was all about that he heard several times a year. Finally, through prodding by friends of his parents, he was taken to several Thursday night modified stock car races on the old quarter-mile dirt track that was in the infield of the one-mile oval -and he was hooked.

The first Milwaukee Mile event that he attended was the 1959 Rex Mays Classic won by Johnny Thomson in the pink Racing Associates lay-down Offy built by the legendary Lujie Lesovsky. After the 100-miler Gohde got the winner’s autograph in the pits, something he couldn’t do when he saw Hank Aaron hit a home run at County Stadium, and, again, he was hooked.

Paul began attending the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, and saw A. J. Foyt’s first Indy win. He began covering races in 1965 for Racing Wheels newspaper in Vancouver, WA as a reporter/photographer and his first credentialed race was Jim Clark’s historic Indy win.Paul has also done reporting, columns and photography for Midwest Racing News since the mid-sixties, with the 1967 Hoosier 100 being his first big race to report for them.

He is a retired middle-grade teacher, an avid collector of vintage racing memorabilia, and a tour guide at Miller Park. Paul loves to explore abandoned race tracks both here and in Europe, with the Brooklands track in Weybridge England being his favorite. Married to Paula, they have three adult children and two cats.

Paul loves the diversity of all types of racing, “a factor that got me hooked in the first place.”