Pagenaud with Chevrolet's Jim Campbell. Photo: IndyCar

Pagenaud rolling with changes to new car, reduced Penske lineup

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The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud went back to France in the wake of that title for a champion’s homecoming, with a media tour and a series of events in his home country to celebrate his maiden title.

He went home just after the end of this year’s season too, but for another reason entirely: to rest and recharge ahead of a busier 2018, and with the goal of regaining his crown.

“I went back to France, as I really needed some time to go home,” Pagenaud told assembled reporters at the PRI Show in Indianapolis last week, where the Team Penske driver was on hand on behalf of Chevrolet.

“We arranged with Penske for my schedule to have me go home and be with (my sister) as she was having a baby. I went home, and managed to restart my training with my trainer. It was good to do a full month of training.

“I feel super refreshed. It’s been a long season, but not being the champion helps you to rest. It’s a very different situation than last year. This time last year I was worn out. So now I am excited about 2018 already. It’s a fresh start.”

Pagenaud opted against balancing both sports car and IndyCar responsibilities for his championship defense season in 2017, but when Team Penske launched its Acura sports car program for 2018, going back to double duty was always a natural next step.

The 33-year-old now is in the process of learning two new cars simultaneously, and given his career trajectory where he’s often jumped between different machinery depending on the weekend, it’s classic and par for the course.

Pagenaud at Road America. Photo: IndyCar

Pagenaud has had his first tests in the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit at Road America and at Sebring’s short course, while then also putting Penske’s Acura ARX-05 DPi through its paces at Daytona last week.

The busy testing schedule came after the France trip, to keep Pagenaud testing and race sharp over the winter months.

Of the new IndyCar, Pagenaud compared it most to the initial Dallara DW12 chassis, which ran as the spec car from 2012 to 2014, but with a significantly better weight distribution.

“When I drove it in Elkhart Lake, it’s a lot more challenging, which is great. The rear tires look huge! You get to see them again,” he said, noting that with the rear wheel guards removed, the vision is adjusted.

“They look exciting. The acceleration is better. Also the driving is more difficult. It’s more permanent to sliding. You feel it sliding a lot more in the high speed corners. So it’ll be ‘dirt tracking.’ There’s a big skill to it. It’ll be more difficult to put a good lap together next year. I imagine there will be less turbulence, but I can’t give an honest answer yet.

Photo: IndyCar

“So far it reminds me of the DW12 when it came out. I don’t have recollection of the old car (the Dallara IR03 that ran through 2011), as I only drive it three times. But it’s closer to the DW12. The weight distribution is a bit different. I think it will be a big change. You may not see the same teams up front at beginning of the year. It might take time to adjust to the setups.”

Pagenaud also addressed the changing dynamic within Team Penske’s IndyCar program. With Helio Castroneves moved to the Acura program on a full-time basis, the team is down to three cars full-time. Each of Pagenaud, this year’s champion Josef Newgarden and Will Power have one title apiece; none yet has an Indianapolis 500 victory and Castroneves will return for the month of May in a fourth car for a shot to win his fourth.

Without the pressure of any of the three full-timers needing to win a title, and with all three having the same goal of trying to get that elusive first Indianapolis 500 victory, Pagenaud said the trio should be on solid, similar ground.

“It’ll be different for sure. Helio was the ‘daddy’ of the group,” Pagenaud expressed. “It was good to have him.

“But his attitude is different to anyone else I know. He was so positive. He still is! He’s able to be happy and find the positive in any moment. It’s a big quality. I want to understand how he does it. I think it’s his strength. Next year we’ll have to do a bit of that!

“We’re all very competitive, the three of us, and it’ll push the team forward. All three of us are champions will help. We don’t have this weight on our shoulders to get it done. The dynamic should be pretty good; there’s no reason it won’t be.”

Following up on the somewhat humorous ‘daddy,’ line, Pagenaud now called Power – the team’s most senior driver in terms of tenure (joined part-time in 2009) and age (at 36, is three years older than Pagenaud and nine older than Newgarden) – the new ‘daddy.’

“I’m not sure where his sense of humor comes from,” Pagenaud laughed about his longtime friend and occasional rival. “I don’t know if it’s from Australia. It might be from Jupiter…”

Pagenaud with Gateway Motorsports Park officials. Photo: IndyCar

Pagenaud, who then later made an appearance at Chevrolet’s stage, also expressed the goals he thinks Chevrolet has in mind to continue its pursuit of excellence. The manufacturer has won six straight championships since re-entering IndyCar in 2012.

“I expect Chevrolet to make big progress,” he said. “They’ve made big progress since beginning of ’17. It’s been neck and neck with Honda. Constantly the Chevy boys have brought updates. They’ve won the championship six times!

“Obviously Honda has put a lot into Indy 500. We’ve been focused on the championship. I’m pretty convinced we’ll have a big evolution,” he added. “You can only focus on your game. I’m expecting some good evolution. Our weakness we had last year might not be as bad because of the aero kit going away. Less grip on the car. Our driveability will be better in these conditions. So I’m very hopeful.”

Testing for IndyCar’s 2017 calendar concludes this week and restarts in mid-January 2018 with team testing. Pagenaud will still be busy though, with that as well as the Roar before the Rolex 24 and the Rolex 24 at Daytona itself in the Penske Acura program.

GoDaddy to sponsor Patrick in ‘Danica Double’ at Daytona, Indy — now all she needs are rides

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By The Associated Press

Danica Patrick is going back to green.

GoDaddy Green, to be exact – a fitting color for her farewell tour.

The company will sponsor Patrick in the upcoming “Danica Double” that will close out her racing career, The Associated Press has learned. Patrick has no ride yet for next month’s Daytona 500 or the Indianapolis 500 in May, but she now has the financial backing to pull it off.

This time around, the original GoDaddy Girl will symbolize the new core mission of the company that helped make her one of the world’s most recognizable athletes.

“There’s this great story: I left IndyCar with GoDaddy on my car, I started NASCAR with GoDaddy on my car, I’m most recognized as the GoDaddy green car and driver, and so to finish up my career that way feels appropriate,” Patrick told the AP from Scottsdale, Arizona.

Her final race will be the Indy 500, an appropriate choice because it was “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” that rocketed Patrick and GoDaddy into pop culture notoriety.

GoDaddy and Patrick grew up together. The company switched series with her and marketed her as a strong, sexy woman in 13 Super Bowl commercials – a record appearance for celebrities. Now, the company is most interested in Patrick the budding businesswoman who is firmly closing the door on her racing career and rebranding herself as an entrepreneur . She has a book out, an apparel line, a wine label and confirmed to AP this week that she’s dating Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

“Our goals are so well-aligned,” Barb Rechterman, the chief marketing officer of GoDaddy, told AP. “She’s passionate, tenacious and creative just like so many of our customers who are also looking to leverage the power of the internet and turn their `side hustle’ into a full-time business. Danica absolutely epitomizes the heart of our GoDaddy customers.”

Prepare to hear a lot about the “side hustle” as GoDaddy climbs aboard the so-far fledgling “Danica Double.”

Patrick announced in November she would end her driving career with the Daytona 500 and Indy 500, but didn’t have a deal completed for either race. Still doesn’t. Yet somehow, Patrick always figures a way to get what she wants. Talks ended with Chip Ganassi Racing about a possible ride, and late last month, Patrick said, she called former GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons and asked about a reunion.

GoDaddy has rebranded since it last teamed with Patrick. The company now touts itself as “the world’s largest cloud platform dedicated to small, independent ventures,” and there’s no better spokeswoman than Patrick, who is in the next chapter of her life and her brand.

GoDaddy pulled out of racing after the 2015 season, and Patrick hasn’t had the same level of funding and marketing support since. Patrick has slowly reshaped her image, first into a Instagram model and is now a full-blown lifestyle guru. She realized – at the age of 35 – she was on her own.

She and GoDaddy aligned for a splashy move into NASCAR, where she was glamorous off the track but only mediocre on it. Through all of this, she was married, divorced, spent five years dating fellow driver and competitor Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and then seemed to find herself through a tailored diet, exercise and a healthy lifestyle.

She is cutting the cord on racing after Indy, and her focus is on a sense of well-being far away from the track.

“Their business is so perfectly paired to what is going on with mine, so when we sat down and met, it was like, `Let’s talk about our business. Let’s talk about the messaging. How does this work?”‘ Patrick said. “And this is undeniably perfect for both of us. Not only is it a huge two races and the biggest two races of the year, but on top of that, you have so much `side hustle’ going on, and all the messaging and our brands, and where we are going is so perfectly paired.”w

GoDaddy can help Patrick move on to whatever it is for racing’s former “It Girl.” The company will help her streamline her online presence. Patrick, for the company, is back as a neon green-and-yellow symbol to all the wannabe entrepreneurs chasing dreams.

She’ll get those rides, too. Patrick said she knows she will because she believes she will.

“That’s just the way the universe works,” she said. “You have to ask for what you want. Things have taken a long time with this, but you just have to go with the flow on these things. The universe is not on your time schedule.”

More AP auto racing: https://racing.ap.org/