Pagenaud’s comfort level at Penske on upswing, seeks big 2016

Photo: IndyCar

Those who’ve followed Simon Pagenaud for years, as he’s now been racing in North America for a decade, know his innate talent and versatility.

Yet something weird happened after he entered arguably the best team in the Verizon IndyCar Series, Team Penske, last year: he had his worst season yet on these shores.

It’s not that Pagenaud forgot how to drive, or his longtime engineer Ben Bretzman forgot how to set up a car.

But with the meshing of new parts – as Penske expanded to a fourth car for the first time in history – it produced some growing pains.

It was a new entry, with a new crew, and a new engine and aero package for Pagenaud, who’d been with Honda in sports cars and open wheel from 2008 through 2014. Last year was his first year with a Chevrolet, which made the struggles all the more surprising considering the Chevrolet aero kit had Honda’s number all year.

Pagenaud delivered a 5.2 average grid position, but it translated only into a 10.6 average finish. He scored one pole, no wins and only two podium finishes to end 11th in points, after top-five finishes each of the first three years.

With a year under their belt and a more cohesive chemistry in place, Pagenaud would be the early candidate to be “most improved driver” in 2016.

“Big time,” Pagenaud told NBC Sports at Phoenix when he asked how much better he feels going into 2016.

“I feel like I just need to do my thing. Ben and I have been working for years together, but now we’re comfortable in the Penske system, so we’re just doing our thing and that’s what we did for two days.”

The Phoenix test was a major confidence booster for the driver of the No. 22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet.

Pagenaud’s road and street course prowess is unquestioned and last year, arguably his best races came on the large ovals at Indianapolis, Fontana and Pocono.

But it was the short ovals where he felt he still needed to get better. It may only be testing, but Pagenaud seemed to have both the pace in single-car runs and the comfort level in traffic to make that necessary next step ahead of the race in Phoenix on April 2.

Given his teammates Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya and Will Power were also pacesetters, it was important for Pagenaud to measure up.

“It was awesome, great to get some testing,” he said. “Now, I’m pretty confident in what I need to do and what I need from the car.

“The Chevy package suits me a little better, too. It’s just a matter of understanding everything we have.”

Pagenaud expanded on what else he needs to address going into 2016.

“Yeah, it’s all about execution at the end of the day,” he said. “Superspeedways, we’ll be there, we’re super strong, probably the strongest. Street courses, we’ll be back where we were at Toronto, which means in the front two. On road courses, we should be strong.

“Definitely, short ovals have been our weakness in the past. We’ve worked on that. I wouldn’t say we’re dominant, we still have some work to do, but we’re definitely getting there.”

IndyCar results, points after Detroit Grand Prix


DETROIT — Alex Palou topped the results of an NTT IndyCar Series race for the second time this season, extending his championship points lead with his victory in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver, who also won the GMR Grand Prix (and the Indy 500 pole position) last month, holds a 51-point lead over teammate Marcus Ericsson (ninth at Detroit) through seven of 17 races this season.

Ganassi, which placed all four of its drivers in the top 10 at Detroit, has three of the top four in the championship standings with Scott Dixon ranked fourth after a fourth at Detroit.

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Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden is third in the standings after taking a 10th at Detroit. Pato O’Ward slipped to fifth in the points after crashing and finishing 26th

Here are the IndyCar results and points standings after the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix:


Click here for the official box score from the 100-lap race on a nine-turn, 1.645-mile street course in downtown Detroit.

Lap leader summary

Full lap chart

Best section times

Full section data

Event summary

Pit stop summary

Here is the finishing order in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix with starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (1) Alex Palou, Honda, 100, Running
2. (7) Will Power, Chevrolet, 100, Running
3. (9) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 100, Running
4. (4) Scott Dixon, Honda, 100, Running
5. (13) Alexander Rossi, Chevrolet, 100, Running
6. (12) Kyle Kirkwood, Honda, 100, Running
7. (2) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 100, Running
8. (11) Marcus Armstrong, Honda, 100, Running
9. (6) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 100, Running
10. (5) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 100, Running
11. (24) Colton Herta, Honda, 100, Running
12. (17) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 100, Running
13. (8) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 100, Running
14. (20) Agustin Canapino, Chevrolet, 100, Running
15. (15) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 100, Running
16. (18) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 100, Running
17. (25) Jack Harvey, Honda, 100, Running
18. (14) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 100, Running
19. (23) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 100, Running
20. (19) Benjamin Pedersen, Chevrolet, 97, Running
21. (22) Santino Ferrucci, Chevrolet, 97, Running
22. (26) Sting Ray Robb, Honda, 97, Running
23. (21) David Malukas, Honda, 85, Contact
24. (3) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 80, Contact
25. (27) Graham Rahal, Honda, 50, Contact
26. (10) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 41, Contact
27. (16) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 1, Contact

Winner’s average speed: 80.922 mph; Time of Race: 02:01:58.1171; Margin of victory: 1.1843 seconds; Cautions: 7 for 32 laps; Lead changes: 10 among seven drivers. Lap Leaders: Palou 1-28; Power 29-33; O’Ward 34; Palou 35-55; Power 56-64; Palou 65; Rossi 66; Newgarden 67-68; Kirkwood 69; Ericsson 70-76; Palou 77-100.


Click here for the points tally in the race.

Here are the points standings after the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix:



Engine manufacturers

Pit stop performance

Top 10 in points: Palou 273, Ericsson 222, Newgarden 203, Dixon 194, O’Ward 191, Rossi 176, McLaughlin 175, Power 172, Herta 149, Rosenqvist 148.

Rest of the standings: Grosjean 145, Kirkwood 142, Lundgaard 136, Ilott 116, VeeKay 108, Ferrucci 105, Armstrong 101, Rahal 99, Malukas 91, Daly 88, DeFrancesco 81, Castroneves 80, Harvey 78, Canapino 77, Pagenaud 72, Pedersen 61, Robb 55, Takuma Sato 37, Ed Carpenter 27, Ryan Hunter-Reay 20, Tony Kanaan 18, Marco Andretti 13, RC Enerson 5, Katherine Legge 5.

Next race: IndyCar will head to Road America for the Sonsio Grand Prix, which will take place June 18 with coverage starting at 1 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock.