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…
- 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.