AVONDALE, Ariz. – Simon Pagenaud’s career prior to returning to the Verizon IndyCar Series full-time saw him heavily involved in sports car racing. And for the better part of the last four years, he’s kicked off his new year of racing with a drive at the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
This year was different. Pagenaud, now set to defend his championship after a dominant 2016, then a whirlwind offseason of trips and media over the winter, didn’t saddle up in a prototype or GT car for the Rolex 24.
Having time with family and away from an extra race – even as the prevalence of IndyCar drivers continued at the Rolex 24 with eight of 21 full-time drivers and an additional four drivers who raced in 2016 also in the field – appears key for Pagenaud heading into the new year.
“Yeah, it’s been a busy winter with the championship and all the appearances everywhere in the world,” said Pagenaud, whose newly renumbered No. 1 Chevrolet has PPG signage this week.
“It was good for me to get some time off, stay with my family. That’s something I really needed. And rest, as well, quite frankly. Physically rough season last year, too. So it was good to get some time off and recharge the batteries.”
Pagenaud was still at Daytona, albeit as a spectator. And that in and of itself provided him a different vantage point.
“I went to Daytona, but for the first time I went as a spectator and actually enjoyed it very much,” he said. “It was the first time I ever watched a race with my boss there, so that was actually very cool. I might do it again some day. But I’d rather drive.
“But this year I just didn’t feel like it was the right thing to do for my program and for being pretty focused with Penske at attacking another title.”
Surprisingly, Pagenaud hasn’t had much running in an IndyCar since winning the championship. The team had a single-day test at Road America in October but that was it.
Pagenaud said this is his first time to really capitalize on winning a title. After both of his previous championships in the U.S. – 2006 in Formula Atlantic and 2010 in American Le Mans Series – he did not resume fully in the same series. In 2007, he advanced into Champ Car and in 2011, he had a season juggling both sports cars and a handful of IndyCar races.
“We reset it to zero, so here we are, another year,” he explained. “Last year was fantastic, but we have to use what we learned last year to do even better this year. So I’m very excited.
“It’s the first time that I’ve had the opportunity to actually capitalize on such a great season, so it was a good test today. Just trying to understand everything that we learned during the winter, going slowly test after test, and hopefully we can put the package together and come back and be strong for the race here.
“It was interesting, we come here, the track is perfect right now, temperature is not too bad, and we’re going to come back here in — whenever it is, when is it, April? And then it’s going to be very greasy, very loose, and it’s going to be very different. So you need to be able to counter effect that. Good time so far.
“It’s good to be back in Indy cars, too. I haven’t driven since September, so it’s pretty exciting. It’s pretty fast down here.”
After his Anaheim 2 crash, Eli Tomac was surprised he was not injured, but despite getting knocked down momentarily, he picked himself up, rode to last week’s win and reascended to the top of the SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Houston. This is the third time in three weeks Tomac has topped the rankings.
Last week, Tomac finished second in his heat before winning the Main – and that translated to near-perfect points in the Power Rankings, which award 100 for a win in the feature and 90 for a heat victory. Tomac’s average was marred by the Houston accident when he finished 13th in that heat before settling just outside the top five in overall standings. Racing is about bouncing back and last year’s Supercross and Motocross champion Tomac did just that as he chases a third consecutive title.
Jason Anderson earned his second consecutive podium finish with a third at Houston. He momentarily rolled past Aaron Plessinger into second during a restart following an accident involving Dylan Ferrandis and held that position for four trips around the track until he was tracked down by Chase Sexton. Afterward Anderson faded and finished 12 seconds off the pace, but along with a heat win, he easily leapfrogged Ken Roczen and Cooper Webb, who struggled in the fourth race of the season.
Webb held his position by passing Roczen in NBC’s SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Houston. Webb has been solid in 2023 with a worst moto result of seventh in the first Triple Crown race at Anaheim 2, but in order to be considered a solid challenger to Tomac he needs to win either a heat or main this week in Tampa.
Roczen was involved in the incident that sidelined Ferrandis in Houston. Racing for eighth at the time, his bike may have sustained some damage when Ferrandis landed on his back tire, but he was not overly impressive in his heat either with a fifth-place finish. That was enough to drop him three positions in the standings, but he still has Tomac in sight.
After his disappointing heat in San Diego when he crashed and sustained enough damage to place him last, Sexton has roared back. He won the overall in Anaheim 2’s Triple Crown format and narrowed the points’ gap slightly on Tomac. Last week he yarded the field in his heat race and won by a wide margin. A modest start in the Main kept him from getting to Tomac’s back wheel early in the Houston round, and he lost a little ground in the championship.
The 250 East division debuted in Houston and with only one race – and therefore no chance yet to stumble – three of their riders jumped to the top of the chart.
Hunter Lawrence had a perfect week with wins in both his main and heat. It wasn’t without drama, however, as he was forced to jump wide early in the feature to avoid contact with Tom Vialle, who was making his Supercross debut. Without a former 250 champion in the field, it is guaranteed someone new will grace the top of the box at Salt Lake City after the season-ender and it looks like it’s going to be Lawrence’s to lose.
It was more than four years ago that Jordon Smith scored his last Supercross podium in Detroit. Despite finishing second that afternoon, he was battling a wrist injury that eventually sidelined him. More injuries have followed, but Smith was a favorite to win the title in 2019 and he’s shown how well he can ride when he’s healthy.
Debuting third in the Houston SuperMotocross Power Rankings, Max Anstie moved from the 450 class last year to 250s in 2023 and the change has gone better than he anticipated. Finishing second in both his heat and main, Anstie was edged by Smith because he finished second behind that rider in their heat. That is Anstie’s first top-10 since finishing sixth at Southwick, Massachusetts last year on his 450. In that race, he scored fifth-place results in both motos.
Haiden Deegan proved the hype surrounding his graduation into the 250 class was well deserved and he landed fourth in his division and fifth overall in the SuperMotocross Power Rankings. In his first professional Supercross race, he finished fourth in his heat. In a field with twice the talent, he finished fourth again in the main. At Houston, he balanced aggression with patience. Now that he has a taste of that success, everyone will be watching him closely at Tampa to see if he can continue tiptoeing on the line.
Michael Mosiman, Jeremy Martin, and Vialle are tied for fifth in the 250 East division and seventh overall.
Vialle is the most notable of these three because he challenged for a podium position during the Main before making a mistake and falling in a turn. Significantly, this was not only his 250 debut, but his first time in Supercross. As with Deegan, he has generated a lot of attention for the coming weeks.
Hunter Lawrence – E
[1 Main; 1 Heat Win]
Jordon Smith – E
[1 Heat Win]
Max Anstie – E
Jett Lawrence – W
[2 Main; 2 Heat Wins]
Haiden Deegan – E
Cameron McAdoo – W
[1 Heat Win]
Mitchell Oldenburg – W
Michael Mosiman – E
Jeremy Martin – E
Tom Vialle – E
Stilez Robertson – W
[1 Heat Win]
Chance Hymas – E
Levi Kitchen – W
[1 Main Win]
RJ Hampshire – W
[3 Heat Wins]
Max Vohland – W
Cullin Park – E
Chris Blose – E
Derek Kelley – W
Enzo Lopes – W
Pierce Brown – W
* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner and 90 points for each Heat and Triple Crown win, (Triple Crown wins are included with heat wins below the rider’s name). The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days.