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.”