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.

Eli Tomac, Ken Roczen’s two-man battle in Motocross provides surprises

Rich Shepherd, ProMotocross
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The 2019 Motocross season is one-third in the books and the title battle may have already come down to a two-man contest, while the pair of contenders might just be a little surprising in their own way.

Strictly by the numbers, no one can count Eli Tomac’s early season charge of first- and second-place finishes shocking, but threepeating in Motocross is such an incredibly difficult feat that no one would have been surprised to see him struggle out of the gates either. And in fact, that is precisely what happened.

Tomac came out of the gates slow in Round 1 and was seventh by the end of Lap 1 of Moto 1 – hardly the auspicious start he hoped for. He rebounded only as far as fourth and that ultimately cost him a chance to win the overall. Tomac won Moto 2 to claim second overall.

In Round 2, Tomac found his rhythm and won both Motos and grabbed the red plate. For the moment, he had the momentum with three consecutive Moto wins.

Tomac stumbled again in Round 3 – this time finishing only fifth in Moto 1 and earning only 16 points to dig a deep hole that eventually surrendered the red plate to Ken Roczen.

It was at Thunder Valley in Round 3 that a pattern emerged. Tomac would not make it easy on himself early in the day, but was more than capable of winning the second Motos to overcome his deficit.

That Roczen has won this season is also not a surprise in itself. Many believed his ascent to the top step of the podium was way overdue.

That he has run so well, however, was not entirely expected at the start of the season. Since injuring both arms in a pair of accidents, Roczen came tantalizingly close to snapping his winless streak a dozen times. He won heat races during the Supercross season and finished second at Anaheim I, Minneapolis, Dallas, and Seattle earlier this year.

He just couldn’t secure the overall win.

Roczen’s Moto 1 victory at Hangtown might have been the precursor to another disappointing weekend, but once Tomac got into the lead, Roczen zeroed in on the Kawasaki’s back tire and finished second in route to the overall victory.

Roczen lost the overall and the red plate to Tomac in Round 2 at Pala, but he stood on the podium in both Motos. Roczen podiumed twice again in Round 3 while taking that overall victory to regain the red plate in what has become a seesaw affair in the early part of the 2019 season.

Last week, Roczen looked more like Tomac with his desperate struggle in Moto 1 and sixth-place finish. That was the first (and so far only) time this season that he failed to stand on the podium.

Roczen’s Moto 2 win last week was just enough to put him second overall with barely enough points to force a tie at the top of the leaderboard with 176 points apiece.

Meanwhile, Tomac failed to win either Moto with a third in the first race and runner-up finish in the second.

The moral victory and advantage may shift to Roczen this week.

As they have swapped the victory in the first four rounds with Roczen winning the odd-numbered events, he sees this weekend’s Round 5 as an opportunity.

“I’m looking forward to next weekend’s race,” Roczen said in a team press release. “The track is sandy. It’s very similar—actually almost identical—to what I ride on a regular basis at home.”

Tomac and Roczen enter Round 5 with a 32-point advantage over two riders tied for third in the standings.

So far Zach Osborne and Jason Anderson have not been in the same league as the leaders, but it only takes one slip of the wheel to fall out of the points in in a race and allow these racers to close the gap.

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