IndyCar Driver Review: Simon Pagenaud

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With the IndyCar season in the books and a limited amount of news to come since the season finale at Fontana, my MotorSportsTalk colleague Chris Estrada and are taking a look back at the 2013 season just past. Chris and I each ranked our top 10 drivers and some of the biggest stories; now we take a look back at the field driver-by-driver.

In third place, the giant-killer and emerging star, Simon Pagenaud…

2013 SEASON PREVIEW

Simon Pagenaud

  • Team: Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports
  • 2012: 5th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 3rd
  • 2013: 3rd Place, 2 Wins, Best Start 3rd, 3 Podiums, 5 Top-5, 13 Top-10, 39 Laps Led, 11.6 Avg. Start, 8.3 Avg. Finish

DiZinno says: Pagenaud finishing third in the No. 77 HP SHM Honda is the IndyCar equivalent of the Pittsburgh Pirates making the playoffs versus the large market baseball teams. The Schmidt team has found a way to do more with less, and coupled with a driver renowned for his technical expertise and car development ability, they overachieved for the second straight year. Pagenaud continued to work in harmony with engineer Ben Bretzman, team manager Rob Edwards and the rest of this crew. Yeah, their qualifying could have been better, but a pair of wins and no finish worse than 13th outside of a DNF at St. Pete was a pretty damn good year.

Estrada says: After going fifth in the 2012 title race, the question was whether or not Pagenaud and Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports could continue their progress and truly evolve into a top-tier team. In 2013, they emphatically answered in the affirmative – two wins at Belle Isle (Race 2) and Baltimore, plus 13 Top-10s altogether, showed that the Pagenaud/SHM pairing is one that has championship potential. If they can buckle down on Saturdays and get a bit higher up on the starting grid, it could unlock more Sunday podiums for the Frenchman next year. Altogether, you can’t help but be impressed at what the No. 77 camp has been doing over the last couple of seasons.

Max Verstappen shows speed in Austria; Lewis Hamilton lacking pace

Leonhard Foeger/Pool via Getty Images
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SPIELBERG, Austria — Red Bull driver Max Verstappen posted the fastest time Friday, and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton lacked pace in the second practice session for the Styrian Grand Prix.

Verstappen was 0.043 seconds quicker than Valtteri Bottas – Hamilton’s teammate at Mercedes – and 0.217 ahead of Racing Point driver Sergio Perez.

“The car already feels better than last week, the balance is a lot nicer and we have made a good step,” said Verstappen, who did not finish last Sunday’s season-opening Austrian GP after starting from second.

“It is too early to say how we are looking against Mercedes, but we are quite happy. We have tried a few different directions to understand the car a bit more and we are heading the right way.”

Hamilton was only sixth fastest, about 0.7 seconds slower than Verstappen. Hamilton spent a chunk of time in the garage while his team worked on his car.

“It was quite far off, so there’s a lot of work to do in the background to figure it out,” he said. “Others out there are quick and Valtteri’s obviously got good pace.”

Despite adding a new front wing to its car, struggling Ferrari had a dismal afternoon.

Charles Leclerc was only ninth quickest and 1 second slower than Verstappen, while teammate Sebastian Vettel lagged about 2 seconds behind Verstappen in 16th.

Daniel Ricciardo lost control of his Renault car early into the second session, swerving left off the track and thudding backward into a protective tire wall. He climbed out unharmed, other than a slight limp, but the left rear tire was mangled and the car was lifted off the track by a crane.

Alexander Albon spun twice, the Red Bull driver’s second spin taking him right off the track and into gravel.

Earlier, Perez was fastest in the first practice ahead of Verstappen and Bottas, with Hamilton fourth quickest and Vettel only 10th in sunny conditions.

That session was briefly interrupted when Nicholas Latifi’s Williams car pulled over to the side with a gearbox issue.

The incident brought out yellow flags, forcing drivers to slow down. But McLaren driver Lando Norris overtook Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri and got a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

Norris, 20, finished third at the Austrian GP last weekend, becoming the youngest British driver in F1 history to get on the podium and third youngest in F1.

The upcoming race is changing names from last week but is at the same track. It is surrounded by the Styrian mountains.

A third and final practice will be held on Saturday morning before qualifying in the afternoon, with heavy rain and storms in the forecast.

If third practice and qualifying are washed out, drivers take their grid positions from where they placed in second practice.

“It would definitely suck if we didn’t get to qualify,” said Hamilton, who started fifth and finished fourth last weekend. “It would make it challenging.”

However, qualifying also could be moved to Sunday morning.

“I don’t expect to be on pole position with this (practice) lap,” Verstappen said.