Pagenaud primed for more Sebring success with ESM P2

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Among the IndyCar drivers in action at this weekend’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, Simon Pagenaud is one with some great experience at the central Florida circuit.

He’s competed here since 2009 with de Ferran Motorsports, Highcroft Racing, Muscle Milk Pickett Racing and Level 5 Motorsports, all in various iterations of Acura/HPD LMP1 or LMP2-spec chassis. He has finished second in class (2010-2012 LMP1, 2013 LMP2) each of the last four years.

Now for 2014, he’ll again be in an HPD prototype, in the same spec HPD ARX-03b as he raced with for Level 5 in 2013.

The difference is, this HPD is fielded by Extreme Speed Motorsports, and will be on Continental tires as opposed to Michelins.

Pagenaud was among the No. 2 car’s lineup in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, and together with ESM full season co-drivers Ed Brown and Johannes van Overbeek and fourth driver addition Anthony Lazzaro, finished seventh there, second best LMP2 car.

The Frenchman was part of an ESM private test at Sebring, after the series’ test Feb. 20-21. He compared the updated car favorably to last year’s.

“Yeah it’s a lot better than Daytona; this track suits the car much better,” Pagenaud told MotorSportsTalk in an interview last week. “We did a lot of laps with no mechanical issues. The team did great, and we’re in good shape.”

The ESM cars – along with other P2-spec cars in the race – will be able to revert to high downforce bodywork as opposed to the low downforce, Le Mans-spec bodywork ran at Daytona. That should also aid the team’s progress.

“I think the Continental tire will be a little better tire,” he said. “We have a little bit more downforce now because we had to go away from the Le Mans kit. There’s more downforce but also more drag. The HPD product is very used to Sebring.”

Lazzaro won’t be in action this weekend so it will just be the three of them in the striking black-and-green Patron HPD car.

Pagenaud is in the midst of a busy stretch, where he won a rally in France in an S2000 class Peugeot, and will head to Barber right after Sebring for IndyCar’s final two-day preseason test with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

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.