LONG BEACH, Calif. – If there’s one track that immediately stands out as a place where Simon Pagenaud could get his first win with Team Penske, it’s Long Beach.
And if that lede reads similar to a post I did two years ago asking whether Long Beach could be the place to provide Pagenaud his first overall win in the Verizon IndyCar Series, it’s because it is.
No, Pagenaud hasn’t won in an IndyCar at Long Beach… yet.
But given Penske’s early season prodigious pace and Pagenaud’s Long Beach pedigree, there’s good reason to think the driver of the No. 22 Penske Truck Rental Chevrolet could be standing in Victory Lane come Sunday afternoon.
In 2006, a then 21-year-old, unheralded, but much longer-haired Frenchman made his U.S. debut on these same streets in the Formula Atlantic race, finishing fourth and sandwiched in-between fellow future IndyCar drivers James Hinchcliffe and Graham Rahal.
In 2010, Pagenaud pulled out an incredible last lap pass on Adrian Fernandez to win the American Le Mans Series race here, in a down-on-power HPD P2-spec prototype compared to Fernandez’s screaming Lola-Aston Martin V12 P1-spec car.
And in 2012, Pagenaud so nearly caught Will Power in the waning stages of the race as Power sought to save fuel. It marked his first career podium finish in IndyCar.
“For me it’s a special place,” Pagenaud told MotorSportsTalk during Thursday’s media luncheon ahead of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN).
“It’s the first place I raced in America. For me, it’s where my career really began in the U.S.
“It’s a track I really like from a driving standpoint, and where I’ve had great success. Even on a bad day, we have had good success.
“I feel like it’s the start of the championship run. I’m with the best team now. So I’m really excited to get to show our pace.”
Last year, of course, the two nearly came to blows after Power contacted him at Turn 6.
Pagenaud has a more recent sparring partner in the form of Ryan Hunter-Reay, when the two collided last week at NOLA Motorsports Park. The subsequent contact that took both them and Sebastien Bourdais out of the race ended the race as a whole.
Pagenaud confirmed his chassis for this week is the same tub, fully repaired and ready to go this weekend.
“It looks brand new. And for proof, I just looked at it, and they waxed the skid under the car!” Pagenaud said.
After qualifying second and finishing fifth in St. Petersburg and starting fifth and losing the potential of a second straight top-five last week, Pagenaud looks to recover this weekend and is determined to secure his first win with his new team.
“That’s the goal. It’s gonna come,” Pagenaud said. “I’m actually not pressuring myself. It’s gonna happen. I can see it.
“We’re plenty fast. Not missing any pace. We just need the luck to turn for the 22 team, and we’ll be fine.”