Defending IndyCar champ Pagenaud eager to have some fun at Indy

Photo: IndyCar

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Simon Pagenaud can quickly recite his favorite and least favorite venues on IndyCar’s schedule.

Toronto has been nothing but trouble over the years. Indianapolis, on the other hand, has been fun.

It helps, of course, when Pagenaud comes to town in May with three major titles – reigning series champ, current points leader and defending IndyCar Grand Prix winner. He also has some momentum and is expected to contend for at least one more victory at Indy this month.

“The goal is to win. If you don’t win, then you probably should do something else,” Pagenaud said Thursday. “For me, it’s just a dream come true. You always want to be fighting at some level, and it’s exactly what you hope for.”

The 32-year-old Frenchman has been the most dominant driver in the series over the last 14 months.

A year ago, he won more races (five), more poles (seven) and had more top-five finishes (10) than anyone else. He also finished the season leading more laps and more races, running away with a 127-point win over Team Penske teammate Will Power in the final standings.

He can’t quibble with the encore, either.

Pagenaud has finished in the top five in all four races this season and grabbed the points lead after winning at Phoenix in late April. He’s done all this while dealing with more challenging obstacles than he had in 2016.

Pagenaud spent the offseason trying to turn himself into a better oval-track driver. After countless hours studying data, reviewing races and working on his race-day mentality, Pagenaud already has seen a payoff.

“Whether it’s hitting the pits faster or being able to manage your tire wear better or to have a better qualifying lap, things like that,” he said. “To me, the biggest improvement I could make was going to be on ovals and so I spent a lot of time on that, and I think it’s working.”

The first big test will come May 28 when he hopes to be starting near the front of the 33-car starting grid for the 101st Indianapolis 500, a race that hasn’t been kind to Pagenaud.

In five previous Memorial Day weekend starts on the 2.5-mile track, three with Sam Schmidt’s team and two for Roger Penske, Pagenaud has one front row start and has never finished higher than eighth. It’s simply not good enough in Pagenaud’s mind.

“After winning the championship, my No. 1 goal is winning the 500,” he said.

Practice for this year’s 500 begins Monday, with qualifying scheduled for May 20-21.

But it’s Saturday’s race, the IndyCar GP, in which Pagenaud has really excelled. He won the inaugural road-course race in 2014, was knocked out of the 2015 race with a bad gearbox and became the first two-time winner last season after taking the pole. It was Pagenaud’s third consecutive victory.

If he can do it again, Pagenaud can enjoy a couple more weeks in Indy with an even bigger lead in the standings.

“There are a few races where you know have bad luck and races you know you have good luck,” Pagenaud said. “For me, the bad luck has always been in Toronto and the good luck is always in the Indy GP. It (Indy) suits my style really well. It’s about braking and traction out of the corners, which suits me really well.

“The grand prix is my specialty and I have a lot of confidence going in and we feel like we can win that.”

More AP auto racing:

IndyCar disappointed by delay of video game but aiming to launch at start of 2024

IndyCar video game 2024

An IndyCar executive said there is “absolutely” disappointment that its long-awaited video game recently was delayed beyond its target date, but the series remains optimistic about the new title.

“Well, I don’t know how quick it will be, but the whole situation is important to us,” Penske Entertainment president and CEO Mark Miles said during a news conference Monday morning to announce IndyCar’s NTT title sponsorship. “Motorsport Games has spent a lot of money, a lot of effort to create an IndyCar title. What we’ve seen of that effort, which is not completely obvious, is very reassuring.

“I think it’s going to be outstanding. That’s our shared objective, that when it is released, it’s just widely accepted. A great credit both to IndyCar racing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, something that our fans love.”

In June 2021, IndyCar announced a new partnership with Motorsport Games to create and distribute an IndyCar video game for the PC and Xbox and PlayStation consoles in 2023.

But during an earnings call last week, Motorsport Games said the IndyCar game had been delayed to 2024 to ensure high quality.

Somewhat compounding the delay is that IndyCar’s license for iRacing expired after the end of the 2022 season because of its exclusive agreement with Motorsport Games.

That’s resulted in significant changes for IndyCar on iRacing, which had provided a high-profile way for the series to stay visible during its 2020 shutdown from the pandemic. (Players still can race an unbranded car but don’t race on current IndyCar tracks, nor can they stream).

That’s helped ratchet up the attention on having a video game outlet for IndyCar.

“I wish we had an IndyCar title 10 years ago,” said Miles, who has been working with the organization since 2013. “We’ve been close, but we’ve had these I think speed bumps.”

IndyCar is hopeful the Motorsports Game edition will be ready at the start of 2024. Miles hinted that beta versions could be unveiled to reporters ahead of the time “to begin to show the progress in a narrow way to make sure we’ve got it right, to test the progress so that we’re ready when they’re ready.”

It’s been nearly 18 years since the release of the most recent IndyCar video game for console or PC.

“(We) better get it right,” Miles said. “It’s something we’re very close to and continue to think about what it is to make sure we get it over the line in due course.”