Mission’s not impossible for Pagenaud in new Acura clip (VIDEO; UPDATED)

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As my colleague Tony DiZinno noted Tuesday morning, Honda-powered IndyCar Series driver Simon Pagenaud has been on an upward trajectory since returning to American open-wheel racing in 2012.

The Frenchman has grown from IndyCar rookie of the year to a legitimate championship threat that can contend just about anywhere on the schedule.

Now, we can add “TV star” to his list of accomplishments. OK, that may be a bit of a stretch. But IndyCar faithful should get a kick out of Acura’s latest ad for its 2015 TLX (see above), in which Pagenaud becomes what I’m assuming to be a lead-footed spy with a secret mission: Put the new car through its paces in a downtown metropolis.

Of course, zipping through city streets is no problem for him. After all, Pagenaud’s first two career IndyCar Series wins came last year on the street courses at Detroit’s Belle Isle Park and Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

You can catch him and the rest of the IndyCar drivers and teams open their 2014 season on March 30th from St. Petersburg, Florida. NBCSN will then restart its coverage of the series at the next race, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, on April 13th.

UPDATE, 11:30 a.m., Wednesday: TDZ taking over from Chris here. As part of my chat with Pagenaud earlier this week, we discussed the video in detail and what it meant for him to be part of the acting process.

“I’ve been involved with Acura almost my whole career, so we’ve always tried to keep a close link,” Pagenaud said. “My image, the message I try to send across, they seem to like it. So they thought it cool to use it for advertising in the new car, in more of an actor kind of role. So I did it … and it was certainly completely different than what I’m used to.”

Pagenaud went through direction and, as a rare HPD/Acura driver actually involved in an ad for the production car, was placed in a unique situation. Acting, to Pagenaud, is nowhere near as easy as it can come across.

“We did a quick briefing on what we were trying to do led by the director of the filming,” Pagenaud explained. “They explained to me what was expected from the set, and tried to reproduce it on camera. It was exciting, and now I have a whole different respect for acting! It takes a lot of focus for hours.”

Pagenaud did compare the film staff to the nucleus of the race team –  a debrief on how to assess the performance was part of the process.

“That was an interesting one … Acura did it for this commercial, and was so impressed,” he said. There were about 50 people in the filming crew, all specializing on the task. They’re all very professional; it’s a lot like how we go about racing.”

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

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Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.