Curiosity, experimentation lead to Simon Pagenaud’s first podium with Penske

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Simon Pagenaud had just been told to come into the pits by his crew when the Frenchman got lucky.

The skies opened up.

Pagenaud was running his No. 22 PPG Chevrolet in third in Dual in Detroit race one, behind Marco Andretti and leader Carlos Munoz, when rain fell on the Raceway on Belle Isle for the second time Sunday.

But this time there was lightning.

Pagenaud convinced his crew that he should stay out and on Lap 46, IndyCar threw the caution flag and eventually the red. Once the race was called, Pagenaud had his first podium finish since joining Team Penske for the 2015 season.

“I don’t care, I’m just going to take it,” Pagenaud told ABC. “It’s my first podium with Team Penske. I’m over the moon right now. We haven’t had much luck this year.”

The podium’s significance carries more weight after Pagenaud’s result in last week’s Indianapolis 500. He had led 35 laps and was in the top five when his car suffered a malfunction around Lap 176 and dropped him like a rock through the field.

He would recover to finish 10th. Now he becomes the final Penske driver to score a podium finish in 2015.

It just took some curiosity and experimentation on a rain-soaked track.

“I really love these conditions and I wanted to stay longer on track as the rain was coming down,” Pagenaud said. “With these conditions, you can gain two seconds per lap sometimes compared to someone else being on rain tires.”

Pagenaud had started fifth on the grid, which began with the field having to navigate a 2.35-mile, 14-turn temporary street course that was fresh from an earlier dumping of rain.

“I was trying to find lines and experimenting. When it gets wet like this, you want to cross the dry line as much as possible and put the power down on a very different line,” Pagenaud said.

“So sometimes on the inside of a corner that’s where the grip can be and that’s where sometimes you have to run. In the rain, you have to be curious, you have to experience things and yeah, it was different in every corner.”

Eventually, the track dried and teams were able to rely on normal tires instead of those specifically designed for rain. But everyone knew it was a matter of when, not if, the rain would return. Pagenaud’s could do nothing but look at the radar on their pit box.

With the danger of rain, Munoz took a few chances, which included edging passed Pagenaud on his inside, which caused him to narrowly miss hitting the wall on his outside as Munoz completed the pass.

“I think it was ok. It was just difficult to get (cold tires going) and Carlos was going for it and there wasn’t much room for the two of us there,” Pagenaud said. “I just gave up the position thinking it was going to rain and that everything was going to happen later. It was a smart race on my side today.”