IndyCar: Pagenaud adjusting nicely to changes for 2015 season

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His hometown has changed. His team has changed. His car and manufacturer have changed.

Just as importantly, so has his hair and business attire at the track.

About the only thing that hasn’t changed for Simon Pagenaud in 2015 is his talent level, and the Frenchman’s ability to develop new machinery and then wring the neck out of it should be one of the most fascinating storylines to watch in the Verizon IndyCar Series season.

Pagenaud’s move from Honda-powered Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to Chevrolet-powered Team Penske was one that was as earth shattering as could possibly occur in modern day IndyCar.

The rich got richer as Penske expanded to a fourth IndyCar for the first time, but for Pagenaud, it was an opportunity he had to take.

It is a chance that is a case of both driver and team “future-proofing” themselves. Pagenaud has the stability of a team with Penske’s accolades, history and reputation, and Penske has, along with defending series champion Will Power, two drivers for the next five or six years, provided Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves are closer to the ends of their careers than the beginning.

Along with the move came the other elements that make a driver Penske material: the all-black attire, the shorter hair, and a move from Indianapolis to Charlotte.

It was that, he said, that is one of the bigger adjustments he’ll make in 2015 even more than the team or car change.

“It’s been good. It’s actually been easy,” Pagenaud told MotorSportsTalk. “I had so much time. It was a good thing to have so much time (this offseason) to adjust.

“The move was a big thing. I had been in Indy for nine years. My American roots were built there. My business was there, so I had to move all that, and adjust with the moving. It’s the one thing you don’t see outwardly, is the business growth.”

But immediately, Pagenaud said he already loves his new city.

“Life is great in Charlotte,” he said. “There’s a great racing community there and great weather for training.

“It’s awesome to be close to Team Penske. With such a change, it was important to be there for the professional side. You have to study and know what it will be like to be at the first race.”

Pagenaud has brought his longtime engineer Ben Bretzman with him, and the pair should be a potent threat together out of the box in the No. 22 Verizon Chevrolet.

The innate knowledge the two have with each other should ease the transition process for both of them.

“We don’t have much testing, so the need is there to understand technically where they are at,” Pagenaud explained. “To bring Ben Bretzman with me, now the duo is back together. Team Penske hired him, and that makes things easier.

“The first move to Penske is huge. Having the resources, and everything behind that, we have only one option: to do well. Having the new engine and new aero kit is very cool for me.”

Pagenaud’s sports car experience – he is renowned for his development work with a series of different HPD/Acura prototypes over a five-year period from 2008 through 2012, and was also part of Peugeot’s factory lineup – should pay dividends as aero kits come to IndyCar this year.

He was part of the test lineup for Chevrolet’s model at Circuit of the Americas over the winter, but hasn’t tested the new kit since. He did well with Bretzman in the 2014 aero-spec package at NOLA Motorsports Park last week.

“There’s been a lot of development since then even,” Pagenaud said. “The engineers have been working days and nights, but as hard as they’ve worked they must have improved a lot. It’s quite a tremendous piece of equipment.

“I’m more excited for myself as a driver! It will have more grip, downforce, and be faster. We should be quite a bit faster.”

Pagenaud will have already had two races under his belt by the time the IndyCar season opens in St. Petersburg on March 29.

He’s been added as a third driver to the No. 4 Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. Pagenaud finished third at Daytona and looks to end a string of runner-up results at Sebring next month.

“It’s quite an adjustment actually,” he said of moving from a prototype to a GTLM car. “The biggest thing is the movement of the car. It moves a lot more under braking, but the C7.R is an incredible car. It surprises me how much you can attack and push it. I’m having so much fun driving it.”

More change, and yet more success, should be the expectation for Pagenaud the rest of 2015.

IndyCar’s ‘Phoenix’ flying into 2023 season: Romain Grosjean enjoying the pilot’s life

IndyCar Romain Grosjean pilot
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – The IndyCar driver known as “The Phoenix” already has taken flight before the 2023 season, and newly licensed pilot Romain Grosjean also got a head start on the opener.

Fulfilling a dream several years in the making, the Andretti Autosport plunged into aviation training over the offseason. Since beginning with online studying last August, Grosjean quickly progressed to earning his licenses for multiengine planes and instrument ratings while completing 115 hours of flight time.

He has landed twice at Albert Whitted Airport, whose primary runway also doubles as the front straightaway on the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg street course.

“Just to land on the start-finish line, that was pretty cool,” Grosjean said during IndyCar Preseason Content Days ahead of the Feb. 2-3 test at The Thermal Club. “The air traffic control guy was like, “Yeah, left on Acre Five, turn, and then back. I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s the last corner of the racetrack, I’ll take it and go back to the pit lane. He was like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s true.’ So it was quite funny.”

Grosjean, 36, said he had wanted to become a pilot since he was 30 but was discouraged by Europe’s complicated and time-consuming licensing process (“to go to ground school twice a week, and with our life, it’s impossible”). He was inspired again last year by (now former) teammate Alexander Rossi, who flew to some 2022 races after earning his license a couple of years ago.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” said Grosjean, who had grown “bored of waiting in the airports.”

He plans to fly to nearly all the races this year (“if the weather is good enough, I’ll be flying”) and jokes about being “commercial by the end of the year, so then I can take Roger (Penske). Roger can pay me to fly him around to races if things go bad with racing.”

Grosjean’s social media has been filled with posts about his new hobby, which afforded him the opportunity recently to take his wife to Key West for lunch from their home in the Miami area.

The trip took 37 minutes there and 41 minutes on return and highlighted why Grosjean loves flying: “Freedom. Freedom to go anywhere you want, anytime you want. It’s the beauty of it. We can go to the Bahamas for a day if we want to. Anywhere. I think that’s just great to know that you can do whatever you want.”

It’s reminiscent of the cross-country trip across the Midwest in an RV that Grosjean took with his family during the summer of his 2021 rookie season.

“There’s one thing that I told my kids, and I told my friend about America, and for me, that’s the biggest difference between Europe and here, is here everything is possible,” said Grosjean (whose “Phoenix” nickname was derived from a brush with death in his final Formula One start). “If you have the wish, if you give yourself the possibility of doing it, everything is possible. It is different in Europe. Much more boundaries on the way. Much more steps that you need to do in a certain order. But if you want to be extraordinary (in the United States), if you want to do something different, you don’t need to do those steps because you can work through.

“Yeah, I like doing things, and when I do them, I like doing them well. But here I think just the opportunity of driving the RV, flying planes, for my kids to do whatever they want to do, we love that here. Yeah, it’s been the best discovery for us.”

The Swiss-born Frenchman already has flown himself to a race this year, jetting up the Florida coast for his Rolex 24 at Daytona debut last month. It was his debut as a Lamborghini factory driver, and his new deal will continue with the Twelve Hours of Sebring and possibly the Petit Le Mans while he also helps develop the automaker’s new hybrid prototype (LMDh) for next year.

Grosjean finished a disappointing 13th in the 2022 points standings with one podium for Andretti in his first full IndyCar season. The team showed improvement at Thermal, and Grosjean (who was fourth fastest on Day 1) said IndyCar will remain his priority in 2024.

But he hopes the IndyCar schedule will afford racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship endurance races and perhaps his longest plane flight yet — a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed like that we get the weekend off from IndyCar,” said Grosjean, noting that 10 IndyCar drivers were in the Rolex 24. “I think it would make a lot of sense. I think for both series it’s amazing. If we can get Le Mans, it’s also amazing because it’s just cool.

“I remember Mario flying across the Atlantic doing Monaco and the Indy 500, and those guys, they were racing everywhere, Formula 3, Formula 2, Formula 1. They were doing the races in opening of the Formula 1 race, and I think that’s very cool for us. So yeah, looking forward to the project. There’s going to be a lot of development coming on. By the time we finish the IndyCar season, the LMDh will be here in the States, and that’s when I’m going to spend a lot of time on it.”