IndyCar: Pagenaud adjusting nicely to changes for 2015 season


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.