Simon Pagenaud’s Indy gameplan: Win Saturday’s GP and Indy 500

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In a sense, Simon Pagenaud is the IndyCar version of Tony Stewart at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Stewart, who grew up in nearby Columbus, Indiana, would make a pilgrimage with his father every year to watch the Indianapolis 500 in-person.

Then, when he became a race car driver, Stewart always dreamed of winning the 500. He ultimately went on to make five starts in the Indy 500, with a best finish of fifth in 1997.

But the now-retired racer somewhat earned a semblance of fulfilling his dream to win at IMS by capturing NASCAR’s Brickyard 400 twice there.

It’s kind of the same with Pagenaud. The French driver has competed in the 500 six times, with a career-best finish of eighth in 2013 (he was 14th in last year’s race).

But like Stewart, Pagenaud has two “other” wins at IMS: in the upstart warm-up race to the 500, the INDYCAR Grand Prix, which takes place for the fifth straight year Saturday.

Simon Pagenaud, driver of the #77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Dallara Honda celebrates winning the first-ever Grand Prix of Indianapolis in 2014. (Photo: Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Pagenaud has won the GP in 2014 and 2016. If everything goes right, he says, he’ll win for a third time Saturday – and then go on to finally capture the 500 in its 102nd running on May 27.

“My goal this year is to win both the Grand Prix and the Indy 500,” Pagenaud told MotorSportsTalk. “What a month of May that would be, right? That would be the greatest month of May ever for me. In fact, it would be the greatest month ever in my career for me.”

A third win in the Grand Prix Saturday would be a great early birthday present for Pagenaud, who turns 34 on May 18 (ironically, Stewart, turns 47 two days later on May 20).

“There’s just been something about the Grand Prix at IMS that has suited my driving style and ability,” said Pagenaud, whose Team Penske teammate, Will Power, has won the other two IndyCar GPs in 2015 and last year. “It’s a unique road course alone and in itself, along with part of the Speedway.

“You basically get the best of both worlds of racing in the Grand Prix, most of it being on a road course but also on the Speedway.

“It’s very European-style racing, pretty flat track with very technical corner and medium-speed corners in Turn 4. It’s very similar to actually the track I grew up on in France, so I think that’s probably why I like this kind of technique, corners technique.”

Even if he wasn’t racing at IMS, Pagenaud could definitely still use a win Saturday nonetheless. The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series champion’s best finish in the first four races of the 2018 season has been ninth at Barber Motorsports Park on April 23.

“It’s unfortunate we haven’t had a good start of the season,” Pagenaud said Thursday. “Performance is there anyways, it’s just we’ve got to turn things around a little bit.

“I don’t want to go into details about what happened at every race, it’s just what it is. It’s racing. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

“But certainly here has always been a good place for us, so we’ve got also some evolution coming that I should be more comfortable with, and I’m really hopeful that it would be the weekend where we can start showing our strength.”

Last week’s three-day test at IMS helped set a baseline for Pagenaud to build upon in Saturday’s race.

“The test was really good,” the Team Penske driver said. “We really found some things that I enjoyed with this car.

“We’re going to test some more things to make me feel it even better (Friday), so practice one is going to be important for the weekend.

“From there, it’s obviously a pretty quick weekend, a two-day weekend, so we try to put all we can into qualifying, and then from there it’s usually a race where you want to qualify well.”

After Saturday’s race, Pagenaud’s focus for the following two weeks will shift solely to the Greatest Spectacle In Racing.

“The Indy 500 is the biggest and most popular race in the world,” Pagenaud told MotorSportsTalk. “If you win it, you take your own career to a whole other level.

“If you win, you’ll always be known from that point on as an Indy 500 champion. That’s one of the biggest honors in all forms of motorsport. It’s something I’ve dreamed about my whole life. I’m ready to make that dream come true.”

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Three-time W Series champ Jamie Chadwick joining Andretti in Indy NXT Series for 2023

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Jamie Chadwick, the three-time W Series champion, will drive for Andretti Autosport in the Indy NXT Series next season.

Chadwick will make her debut in an American racing series in March, driving the No. 28 for Andretti Autosport with sponsorship from DHL. The 24-year-old will become the first female driver in 13 years to compete full time in the Indy NXT championship.

Chadwick joined the female free-to-enter W Series in its inaugural 2019 season, winning two races and the first of three consecutive championships. She has been a reserve driver for the Williams Formula One team and will continue in that role in 2023. She also has driven in the Extreme E Series.

Despite her success, Chadwick hasn’t landed a bigger ride in F3 or F2, and her break didn’t come until Michael Andretti contacted her and offered a test in an Indy NXT car.

The final three races of this year’s W Series schedule were canceled when funding fell through, but Chadwick still believes the all-female series was the right path for her.

“W Series has always been and will continue to be an opportunity to be racing for every female driver, so for my side, I looked at it while perhaps I would have liked to step up maybe earlier, at the same time being able to have that chance to race, get that experience, have that development, seat time… I was constantly learning,” Chadwick told The Associated Press.

“In that sense, I wasn’t frustrated at all. But on the flip side of it, now I’ve had that experience testing in the United States in Indy NXT and this is something I’m really excited about.”

Chadwick also is expected to have an enhanced role as a development driver next season with Williams, which chose American driver Logan Sargeant to fill its open seat on next year’s F1 grid.

“Andretti Autosport is proud to be supporting Jamie alongside DHL,” said Michael Andretti. “Jamie’s successful career speaks for itself, but Indy NXT gives Jamie the opportunity to continue her development in a new type of racing.

“We’ve turned out five Indy NXT champions over the years and look forward to continuing our role in developing new talent.”

Indy NXT is the new name of the rebranded Indy Lights Series, the final step on the ladder system before IndyCar.

Andretti will field two drivers next season in IndyCar that were developed in Indy NXT: Kyle Kirkwood, the 2021 champion, will return to Andretti after one season in IndyCar driving for A.J. Foyt Racing, and Devlin DeFrancesco is back for a second season.

Chadwick will be teammates in Indy NXT with Hunter McElrea and Louis Foster. She becomes Andretti’s second full-time female driver alongside Catie Munnings, who competes for Andretti United in the Extreme E Series.