Q&A: Simon Pagenaud heading into final quarter of IndyCar season

Photo: IndyCar

During a chat with Simon Pagenaud on Wednesday, the Verizon IndyCar Series points leader was his usual mix of reflective, candid, funny and insightful as he prepares for the final four races of the 2016 season.

Ordinarily we’d break this out and we did so in looking at Pagenaud’s back and its status heading into Pocono Raceway this weekend. On the whole, here’s more about the driver who is determined to win his first series championship. He leads teammate Will Power by 58 points going into this weekend’s ABC Supply 500 (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

MST: Going back to Mid-Ohio, you had the pain and then made the pass on Will. How did you push through the weekend and then dig deep to make the pass?

Simon Pagenaud: “There was obviously a lot of pain, but there was no doubt in my mind I’d be racing. I didn’t get to this point to give up now.

“I wasn’t going to hedge the issue. But the paramedics did a tremendous job helping me through. It wasn’t the most comfortable weekend! But it gave me extra motivation… it showed what I’m made of and my dedication.”

“It was awesome, right?

“I think that was a very important move at this point in the championship. Like Will said, I was pretty determined. And it’s like he did at [race two of] Detroit.

“When you’re in that position you have to take it. I had to show some authority. But Will played it really well. I thought it was great racing and it was a great, clean battle.”

MST: You’ve been in title-contending situations before in other series. Do those help you know heading into the final four races of 2016?

SP: “I love it. I love these kind of situations. Everyone asks about pressure, but I love it. I embrace it. I love these situations. It’s exactly why I do this. It’s now rewarding, because you’re in a position to fight for what your dream is. I actually perform better in these situations… I need pressure. That’s what I’m thinking.

“Going back to Petit Le Mans [2010] winning the championship, that was one of my most aggressive races. It didn’t need to be. Everything flew so well for me. Definitely, experience from past is helping. Honestly, I’m just doing my thing.”

MST: Let’s flash back to 2006. You were the new kid, longer haired, never raced in America before, then you won the Atlantic Championship. That was 10 years ago. What was that experience like?

SP: “It was my first full year – I had to win, otherwise I’d go back to France and do another job! And that was way more stressful than anything experiencing now.

“That was… ‘This is gonna be your life for the next 20 years,’ or you go do something else! It was enjoyable, but it was very stressful. It laid the roots of what I built the last 10 years. A lot of dedication and determination, and driving with all the guts.

“Yet I was trying to be smart. That year in Atlantic was about having consistency and being smart… I couldn’t [screw] it up really!

“I only won once and Graham [Rahal] won like five times.”

MST: Gil de Ferran has been your mentor for a while. He won his first title at Team Penske. Do you two talk about that particular moment?

SP: “I talk to Gil all the time! But we can’t talk anything about details, or anything confidential to the race team… that’s just not something we do. He’s been with Penske before. He is still my Yoda! His advice means a lot to me. Sometimes we don’t always agree, and he says fine! To me, he is a great mentor. He reflects on things I’ve done in the past, and he gives even better advice now than back in the day. I respect the way he looks at racing.

“When I first moved to the team we talked about that transition. But it was a lot easier for Gil back then, because the car was already going. It was a different time. No issues to get going. Getting a championship first year [in 2000] was incredible. Here obviously it has been a different situation, we had to build the 22 team, and a four-car team. It’s quite a bit more heavy.”

MST: The next three races will be pivotal. Have you guys found something to improve the car for Pocono and what do you think Watkins Glen will be like, having tested there?

SP: “At Indy, right before the race, we found something we really liked. If we didn’t have the mechanical [issue] I thought we could fight for the win. It did feel awesome in Indy. Our setup in Indy was almost identical to Pocono last year. Pocono is one of my favorite speedways. The Honda packages should be good.

“Last year at Pocono it was definitely difficult toward the end. There were a lot of yellows, and tough to get in a rhythm, trying to fuel save. You gain so much by fuel saving. People may not want to lead… it bunches it up and creates issues. Same problem with fuel conservation!

“Watkins Glen… oh man, it’s absolutely nuts!! The tarmac design they have is really grippy. The tires are very consistent. Not much degradation. There’s very high pace and the commitment level is what impresses me the most. So much downforce but also so much grip, it’s doubly what we get! There’s a video game kinda feel! You brake as little as possible. It’s hard to feel the car. Push those commitment limits, float with the limits. The reaction is really fast.

“Passing will be difficult… but you can make it happen before the Bus Stop. Push to Pass is awesome for acceleration. It might be more of an advantage uphill. Should be good device. Honestly… there could be a big game of downforce levels. Some might trim out, or put more on.”

MST: How much more at home do you feel in Charlotte in year two compared to last year?

SP: “It’s funny, my dad’s just visiting in Charlotte right now. Since I have the home here, he comes more often to the house than the races. There’s more time to spend, and there’s extra bedrooms!

“But certainly my life is evolving a lot. We moved into the house two years ago. Being a homeowner is quite a change! This new area is something important in life. Our dog, Norman is a joy to us. So he helps me with other things besides just racing.

“I’m evolving as a human and as a man, and evolving as a race car driver. With the support of Hailey [McDermott, girlfriend of four years]… I have a much better balance.

“Time has helped be better focused as well. I’m in a very good spot.”

Peacock to stream all Supercross and Motocross races in 2023, plus inaugural SuperMotocross Championship

Peacock Supercross Motocross 2023
Feld Entertainment, Inc.

NBC Sports and Feld Motor Sports announced that Peacock and the NBC family of networks will stream all 31 races of the combined Monster Energy Supercross, Lucas Oil Pro Motocross and the newly created SuperMotocross World Championship beginning January 7, 2023 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California and ending October 14 in the place where Supercross was born: the Los Angeles Coliseum.

The combined series will create a 10-month calendar of events, making it one of the longest professional sports’ seasons in the United States.

The agreement is for multiple years. The season finale will air live on Peacock and the USA Network.

Peacock will present live coverage of all races, qualifying and heats across both series. The 31 total races will mark a record for the combined number of Supercross and Pro Motocross events that NBC Sports will present in a single season.

NBC, USA Network and CNBC will provide coverage of all races, including the SuperMotocross World Championship Playoffs and Final, through 2023 and beyond. For more information about the Peacock streaming service, click here.

“With our wide array of live and original motorsports offerings, Peacock is a natural home for Supercross and Pro Motocross races,” said Rick Cordella, Chief Commercial Officer, Peacock. “We’re looking forward to providing fans with an easily-accessible destination to find every race all season long, including the exciting finish with the newly formed SuperMotocross World Championship.”

MORE: A conversation about media rights created the new SuperMotocross World Championship Series

The NBC family of networks has been home to Supercross for the past several seasons and this is a continuation of that relationship. The media rights for both series expired at the end of 2022, which allowed Supercross and Motocross to combine their efforts.

In fact, it was that conversation that led to the formation of the SuperMotocross World Championship (SMX).

The SMX series will begin on September 9, 2023 after the conclusion of the Pro Motocross season. Points will accumulate from both series to seed the SMX championship, which creates a record number of unified races.

“The SuperMotocross World Championship adds a new dimension to the annual Supercross and Pro Motocross seasons that will result in crowning the ultimate World Champion,” said Stephen C. Yaros, SVP Global Media and Supercross for Feld Motor Sports. “We are thrilled to be extending our relationship with NBC Sports so our fans can watch all the racing action streaming live on Peacock and the option to also watch select rounds on NBC, USA Network and CNBC.”

Complete 2023 coverage schedules for Supercross, Pro Motocross and the SuperMotocross World Championship on Peacock, NBC, USA Network and CNBC will be announced in the near future.