IndyCar Driver Review: Simon Pagenaud

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We continue with MotorSportsTalk’s Verizon IndyCar Series driver reviews. Fifth after a year where he was still in title contention to the final race, but his future was a hot topic throughout the year, Simon Pagenaud…

2014 SEASON PREVIEW

Simon Pagenaud

  • Team: Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports
  • 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
  • 2014: 5th Place, 2 Wins, 1 Pole, 3 Podiums, 8 Top-5, 12 Top-10, 59 Laps Led, 8.6 Avg. Start, 8.8 Avg. Finish

Posting three top-five championship finishes in as many seasons has showcased the collective ability and dynamism of Simon Pagenaud and the entire No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports crew. Yet it’s funny how expectations change the narrative of said finish. In 2012 as a rookie, Pagenaud massively overachieved to end fifth; a year ago, third happened even though the driver admitted he probably wasn’t the third best driver. In 2014, a title challenge was expected, and while Pagenaud had an outside shot going into Fontana, a disastrous finale resigned them to a less than satisfactory fifth this year.

Pagenaud’s psyche this year was one of knowing he was one of the best in IndyCar, rather than trying to prove he was as he did his first two years. That competitive streak and an innate desire to measure himself against Will Power, Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves and Ryan Hunter-Reay sometimes got the better of him, as emotions boiled over. His rivalry with Power was one of the early season storylines and their respective contact in Long Beach and Detroit race one were probably the two races that cost him the title even more than Fontana. While Pagenaud ended fifth and 22nd, Power was second in both – and Pagenaud lost 53 points to Power in just those events. Banking further points in either case would have given him a fighting chance at Fontana.

While he still isn’t IndyCar’s best qualifier, Pagenaud did make key strides in that department this year. He made four Firestone Fast Six appearances and posted an average grid spot of 8.6 this year, compared to one and 11.6 last year. The results were uneven but still fairly consistent within the top-10 although you would have liked to see him score more top-fives and podiums. Pagenaud is a tier one IndyCar driver, and it remains to be seen whether he can make that final champion step either by staying as lead dog at SPM or testing the waters elsewhere with a bigger team.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.