When Roger Penske calls, you have to listen. And that was the overriding point Simon Pagenaud made Monday afternoon, in making the shift to join Team Penske as the fourth member of its Verizon IndyCar Series team.
“It’s definitely the next step in my career,” Pagenaud said during a Team Penske conference call Monday. “I’ve worked my whole life for this, so it’s perfect timing. Helio (Castroneves), Will (Power) and Juan (Pablo Montoya) – having three teammates like them is a huge help as a driver to complete yourself. I’m very excited. It’s a tremendous opportunity for my career.”
While it is a four-driver lineup, immediate focus will shift on Pagenaud and Power being under the same roof.
The two were teammates during Pagenaud’s first full year in the Champ Car series, in 2007, then driving for Derrick Walker’s Team Australia. This past year, the two drivers butted heads on occasion in what was one of IndyCar’s best rivalries.
“Will is the champion,” Pagenaud said. “He’s a tremendous driver. Yes we’ve had our contact on track, but you need to grow as a driver. We’ve known each other for a long time, and enjoyed working together at the time.
“Our job to make it work, for all of us. I don’t see any problem why it won’t work.”
He hasn’t talked to Power since this news broke, but Pagenaud did confirm all four drivers will be together at a Verizon event on Tuesday.
Speaking of commercial partners and/or personnel, Team Penske president Tim Cindric said no determinations have been made on either of those yet.
It remains to be seen whether Pagenaud’s longtime engineer, Ben Bretzman, will make the shift over as well.
No date has been set for a first test, although Cindric confirmed Pagenaud will be out before the end of the year.
Cindric did confirm Pagenaud will run No. 22 next season. The choice is an intriguing one because Team Penske also runs the No. 22 in NASCAR and has Shell and Pennzoil sponsorship already present; in years past, it has served as a full-time associate and occasional primary sponsor of Castroneves’ No. 3 car.
Power, Montoya and Castroneves are set to run Nos. 1, 2 and 3 next season, per Cindric, so 4 could have been an option.
Cindric explained the courting process of reaching out to Pagenaud, and how it differed from the team adding a third car for Montoya last offseason.
“The fortunate thing is we have an owner committed to winning and to opportunity,” Cindric said. “We have to have those resources in place to where it can stand on its own.
“This is different than a Montoya situation, because we didn’t have one discussion whatsoever. This one, we had the process in place beyond our existing sponsors.
“We have a very good marketing team. With the length of this offseason, we have more time to raise those budgets.”
One of the other items Pagenaud addressed were rumors he’d been approached by Nissan to drive for its LMP1 program, which will premiere in the FIA World Endurance Championship in 2015.
“I’ve been always interested in sports car, have had a great career, but my goal was to go back to IndyCar in 2012,” he said. “I had a successful time and great opportunities. Yes I’ve been in talks with Nissan, good talks, but I was interested in my opportunities in IndyCar.”
Lastly, Pagenaud thanked Honda for all they’d done for his career, but said the lure of driving for Penske was key to his choice to switch to a Chevrolet squad.
“They’ve done a lot for me. It’s been a great relationship, but sometimes you have to choose. My dream has been to drive for Roger.”