WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion in Simon Pagenaud has, it seems, put last week’s outburst in the heat of the moment at Gateway Motorsports Park behind him after losing the win to Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden.
Pagenaud was livid after Newgarden’s forceful pass for the lead, and ultimately the win, that produced a 25-point swing in the championship. Newgarden went from 18 points up on Pagenaud when he was trailing him on track to 43 up on Pagenaud with the pass, and with Scott Dixon having also passed Pagenaud for second.
The two Penske teammates have talked it out and Pagenaud, during a media lunch on Thursday, admitted emotions got the better of him at Gateway.
“I was taken by the heat of the moment. I lost the race. As a racer, you hate losing races. In the heat of the moment, it felt like I explained then. But stepping back from it, I was disappointed in my reaction,” Pagenaud admitted Thursday.
Pagenaud, who said at the time he had lost both trust and respect for Newgarden, backtracked a bit today and expressed how thankful he is to have the opportunity to race so freely with his teammates.
Without saying as much, it seems any behind-the-scenes work done at Team Penske this week has sought to diffuse the tension before it could escalate further.
“Quite frankly, the situation we’re in is amazing,” he said. “We get to fight against teammates. We get to fight so hard without team orders. Everybody should be happy with the situation; the media, the fans, the drivers.
“It’s unfortunate that my French blood came out a little bit!” he laughed. “I have no problem with it whatsoever. The team is a fantastic team.
“Josef and I will race for Penske for a long time, and we need to work together. We had a good chat. We’ll go forward. He’s doing his job, and I’m doing mine. So of course one of us isn’t going to be happy because only one can win. We’re on good terms, and going to work together.”
Pagenaud, whose season as a whole has been high on consistency but reduced in terms of poles and wins – after having seven and five last year he only has one of each this year – reflected a bit on the lost opportunities, where say fourth place finishes occurred when a second or third place was possible, or like at Gateway, when he lost the win and finished third.
“There’s many races we fought for the win but didn’t get it done. I think about Texas, Toronto, Gateway, a lot of others… Pocono even. Most of them are ovals as well, I’d like to point out!” he said.
“But It’s been a different year. Sometimes luck is on your side. This year has been challenging. That doesn’t mean we haven’t done a good job. What does it take to win more races? Get more aggressive, and I have to do it starting now.”
One of the challenges Pagenaud and the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet team has found this year is that a lot of their successful setups have not necessarily translated this year.
Although the aero kits have been frozen and Chevrolet has made gains on the power side, changes in Firestone’s tire at a number of tracks have left the No. 1 team scrambling a bit. This was a track where Pagenaud struggled, relatively speaking, last year as he only started and finished seventh.
“Definitely the difference in the tires has been interesting,” he said. “Sometimes we’ve got caught out. It’s difficult when you won with the car setup the year before, and then you review it and sometimes it’s difficult to maintain that. If you win with one car, can you accept changing it?
“Now I’d say since Toronto we’re back to our level of competitiveness and performance. It needs to be better.”
Pagenaud is also thankful that the next race on the schedule comes a week later in Watkins Glen, rather than having another week to dwell on Gateway.
“I’ve had the time to reflect on the last week. I’d have no problem having another week off; but racing now is good for us and good for the fans.”