Pagenaud puts singular focus on title defense, forgoing Rolex 24

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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.”

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III