FONTANA, Calif. – Twentieth, seven laps down, from 12th on the grid was hardly the MAVTV 500 that Simon Pagenaud was looking for, while driving the MAVTV-sponsored No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda.
A frustrating night from start to finish cost the Frenchman any remote shot at a title, one which was already compromised before the race even began.
Pagenaud needed to win and hope Will Power finished 21st or worse, but after Pagenaud’s Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate Mikhail Aleshin was ruled out following his Friday accident, that already eliminated one potential Power finishing position.
Once Carlos Huertas retired early in the race from what was originally listed as “Medical” and later as “Driver Illness,” that officially and mathematically ended Pagenaud’s already slim title hopes.
Forgetting the title, the race itself was diabolical for Pagenaud. An ill-handling car and a series of pit stops that never seemed to stop took Pagenaud out of contention early and pretty much ended his hopes of having a good night.
It was particularly perplexing given he was high on confidence and with a solid car setup after Wednesday night’s test.
“It was not the night I expected actually,” Pagenaud said. “We don’t really know what was happening with the car but it didn’t handle how we prepared.
“We don’t have an answer tonight. We rebuilt after the accident, but the car never felt just as good. We finished seven laps down, so I have no idea what happened.”
From there, the tone shifted to Pagenaud’s looming decision as the marquee free agent in the Verizon IndyCar Series, with a tone that seemed to indicate, for the first time, a willingness to move away from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
“It’s been an incredible three years with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports,” he said. When asked if he had any decision or update on his own future, he said, “Not yet, but soon. Within two weeks.”
Pagenaud also confirmed he’d see Aleshin on Sunday in hospital.