Simon Pagenaud

Pagenaud looking to build on strong Iowa run one year ago

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Perhaps the best performance of Simon Pagenaud’s rookie season in the IZOD IndyCar Series came at Iowa Speedway. The Frenchman had a poor qualifying effort and had to start 25th on the grid for last year’s Iowa Corn Indy 250, but managed to charge through the field and come home fifth – an impressive feat for a driver that had only done a handful of oval races in his career at that point.

“In our first year at Iowa Speedway, it took us some time to understand what to do with the race car,” he recalls. “In the race, my engineers hit the sweet spot though and the car was really nice to drive. I was able to be aggressive and we made up a ton of ground. I was running in the top-three at the end, so I learned a lot that day.

“I figured out how aggressive I needed to be to succeed here and I hope to do the same this weekend.”

Pagenaud comes to Iowa looking to get back on form after following up his maiden IndyCar victory in the second Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit race with 13th and 12th-place finishes at Texas and Milwaukee respectively. It will be interesting to see if he’s quick off the trailer and can save himself from having to come from the back of the field like he had to last year.

Learning the right amount of aggression at Iowa will be useful for him, but he knows that must be tempered with a constant focus. Iowa has drivers rattling off laps every 18 seconds and going over bumps that have become a part of the high-banked short oval’s character, making for a tough challenge.

“You pretty much spend the whole time in the corners in Iowa,” he said. “There are a lot of bumps, so you have to stay very focused on your line. There’s not really any downtime to think about anything else. You’re just trying to be proactive on the car’s behavior and keep your car as straight as possible when you cross the bumps.”

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Gabby Chaves

Gabby Chaves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 15th and the rookie-of-the-year for 2015, was Gabby Chaves.

Gabby Chaves, No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda

  • 2014: Indy Lights champion
  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

Some drivers finish better than their performances show. Some drivers have performances better than their results show. The latter statement applied to Gabby Chaves in his rookie year, in what was an impressive first season after making the step up from Indy Lights, which deservedly earned him rookie-of-the-year honors.

The best comparison I’d make for Gabby is of Josef Newgarden in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a first-year driver on a single-car, newish team to the series.

Chaves rarely dazzled in qualifying but that wasn’t his fault; he and engineer John Dick worked well together and Chaves recounted multiple times this year that a tweak here or tweak there, the wrong way, on the aero kit would send them down the wrong setup path.

Results in races didn’t measure up either but again that was through almost no fault of his own. The only time Chaves looked truly like a rookie was at St. Pete, when he had several collisions. Otherwise he was ahead of eventual winner James Hinchcliffe at NOLA before getting punted off, reliable through the month of May in Indianapolis, finally able to break through for a ninth place in Detroit race two, overachieving in Texas, 11th at Milwaukee after some great wheel-to-wheel racing with series winners and champions, and then phenomenal at Pocono as he was on course for a first career win or podium before late-race engine issues – his first DNF of the season.

For both Chaves and Herta, you’d love to see them together for another season, and the results and confidence for both parties will grow as a result. Those who’ve seen Newgarden’s rise over four years with Fisher and now CFH will note the long-term stability, and that’s what Chaves could do if he gets the time.

He planted the seed of being a great IndyCar driver, and he became pretty versatile during the year too with additional appearances in the DeltaWing prototype, a short-track midget and one of Herta’s Red Bull Global Rallycross cars. To boot, he’s a smart, great kid who is mature beyond his years, and someone you should be buying stock in now. Anyone who saw Chaves in the Mazda Road to Indy should not have been surprised by his rookie season in the big cars.

Off The Grid: Monza preview (premieres Saturday 10/10 on NBCSN)

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
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Having already taken you behind the scenes in Barcelona, Budapest, Singapore, Melbourne and Silverstone, Will Buxton and Jason Swales now head to one of Formula 1’s most iconic venues for the latest episode of Off The Grid.

Monza has appeared in all but one F1 season since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and is a firm favorite among drivers, teams and fans alike.

However, there is far more to the Italian Grand Prix than meets the eye, as we find out in Saturday’s premiere of Off The Grid: Monza at 9:30am ET (follows Russian GP qualifying).

Having honed his talents in go-karts as a kid, Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo is now trying to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of racers. But can he teach Will or Jason a thing or two?

We also catch up with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and get a feel for life on the road as he takes us for a tour of his lavish bus in which he travels in for the European F1 races.

Have you ever wondered just how the suits F1 drivers wear are made? We go behind the scenes at Alpine Stars’ factory in Italy and find out.

Off The Grid: Monza premieres on Saturday at 9:30am ET on NBCSN following Russian GP qualifying.