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.”

Even with half the purse and no fans, Indy 500 still has major team value

Indy 500 purse fans
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Even with reportedly half the purse and no fans in attendance, NTT IndyCar Series driver-owner Ed Carpenter believes it remains “absolutely critical” to hold the 104th Indy 500.

“Far and away it’s what makes and breaks our season as teams,” the Ed Carpenter Racing namesake told reporters during a Zoom media availability last week. “It’s the most important event to our partners. It 100 percent sucks not having fans there and not even being able to have the experience with our partners in full being there. But it’s necessary.

“We’ve got to look at all the hard decisions now of what we have to do to be in a position to have fans in 2021. It’s critical for the health of the teams that we have this race to make sure we have teams back here next year. That sounds a little dramatic, but that’s the reality.

HOW TO WATCH THE INDY 500 ON NBCDetails for the Aug. 23 race

DAILY INDY 500 SCHEDULEClick here for all on-track activity in August at Indy

“We live in not only a very volatile world right now, but our industry and motorsport in general, it’s not an easy business to operate. When you lose your marquee event, it’s a lot different than looking at losing Portland on the schedule or Barber. They’re in totally different atmospheres as far as the importance to us and our partners.”

Robin Miller reported on RACER.com that IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske told team owners last week the purse for the postponed Indianapolis 500 was slashed from $15 to $7.5 million. Miller reported holding the Aug. 23 race (1 p.m. ET, NBC) would be a $20 million hit to the bottom line.

Carpenter still is supportive of Penske’s “outstanding job” of leading the series through the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Even with a 50 percent purse reduction, the Indy 500 remains the linchpin of teams’ economic viability.

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The schedule has taken many hits with the cancellation of races at Barber Motorsports Park, Circuit of the Americas, Detroit, Portland International Raceway, Laguna Seca and Toronto, and another race weekend doubleheader at Mid-Ohio has been indefinitely postponed.

That leaves the 2020 slate at 12 confirmed races of an original 17, which has raised questions about how many races teams need to fulfill sponsor obligations.

“It’s a moving target,” said Carpenter, who announced the U.S. Space Force as a new sponsor for the Indy 500. “I think we’ve been pretty blessed as a team with the level of commitment of our partners and their understanding of COVID-19 and the impact on our schedule, our contracts.

“All of it is out of our control, out of the series’ control, the promoter’s control. At the end of the day is there a firm number (of races) I can give? No. But definitely every one that we lose, it does make it harder to continue having those conversations.

I think everyone’s as confident as you can be right now with what we have in front of us with what’s remaining on the schedule. Things are so fluid, it changes day-to-day, let alone week-to-week. We just have to take it as it comes. Right now the focus is on the 500 and maximizing this month to the best we possibly can given the situation.”

That’ll be hard this month for Carpenter, who grew up in Indianapolis and is the stepson of Tony George, whose family owned Indianapolis Motor Speedway for decades.

Having spent a lifetime around the Brickyard, Carpenter will feel the ache of missing fans as he races in his 17th Indy 500.

Ed Carpenter, shown racing his No. 20 Dallara-Chevrolet at Iowa Speedway last month, led a race-high 65 laps and finished second in the 2018 Indy 500 (Chris Jones/IndyCar).

“Over that time you develop relationships that are centered around standing outside of your garage in Gasoline Alley,” he said. “It stinks, it sucks that we don’t get to share that passion we all have that is the Indianapolis 500. Unfortunately it’s the reality we’re in right now.

I think this is the best that we can do unfortunately. Without a doubt it’s going to be a different environment. You’re going to be missing the sounds and a lot of the sights and colors. For sure I’ve thought about it. It’s going to be a different morning, different lead-in to the race. After 16 of them, you have a cadence and anticipation for the buildup. That’s all going to be different this year.

“I’m confident it’s not going to affect the type of show we put on or the excitement and how aggressive we are fighting for an Indy 500 win. It’s still going to mean the same thing. We’re just not going to have our fans to celebrate with after the fact. But it’s going to be historic.”