INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owen
INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owen

Indy 500 winner Pagenaud switches gears to Detroit

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DETROIT – It was a cold, overcast Thursday, but Simon Pagenaud was “Mr. Sunshine.”

The winner of the 103rdIndianapolis 500 was still living on adrenalin from the biggest victory of his career and going from one personal appearance to the next in advance of this weekend’s Chevrolet Grand Prix of Detroit.

It’s been a busy week for the first driver from France to win the Indianapolis 500 since Rene Thomas in 1914, but this is what a racing driver lives for.

Bruce Martin Photo“I’ve had six hours of sleep in the last 48 hours, but I don’t care, I can sleep later,” Smiling Simon told NBC Sports.com Thursday as he was about to give Pace Car rides around the temporary street course at Belle Isle to Chevrolet guests on Thursday. “I don’t feel tired at all. After the race, I didn’t feel human. But I got my sleep the last two nights so I’m ready to go.”

Pagenaud must switch gears from the biggest race of the year on the massive 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval to a tight, demanding 2.35-mile, 14-turn temporary street course on an island in the middle of the Detroit River.

On top of that, it’s two races in one week with 70-lap contests on both Saturday and Sunday.

And, it’s the “Boss’s Track” as Pagenaud’s team owner Roger Penske is the track promoter of the Chevrolet Grand Prix of Detroit.

“It’s pretty simple – we’re racers and all we want to do is set next challenges and next goals,” Pagenaud told NBC Sports.com. “I’m ready. I feel so energized. I’ve never felt so much energy in my life.

“Obviously winning carries, me with a lot of momentum. Now, I’m focused on Detroit. It’s a big race for us at Team Penske.

“I won my first IndyCar Series race at Detroit (in 2013); I’d like to add to those numbers.”

Pagenaud scored his first career victory at Detroit when he was with Schmidt-Hamilton Motorsports in 2013. That team is now Arrow Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports. He moved over to Team Penske in 2015 and has a second-place finish here in 2016 and a fifth-place in 2017.

The Indy 500 winner has won at Detroit in the same season just one time. That was Helio Castroneves in 2001.

There are plenty of past Indy 500 winners that have won at Detroit, including Bobby Rahal, Danny Sullivan, Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon, Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay, but never in the same season they won the Indy 500.

When Castroneves won Detroit after the Indy 500 in 2001, it was preceded by a race at the Milwaukee Mile short oval the week after Indianapolis.

“I would like to be the first and add numbers again,” Pagenaud said. “This is a fun track. I really enjoy it. This is a very physical weekend. I think that is an advantage for us.

“It is a grueling media tour after the Indy 500, and you go through so much emotion. Some may have struggled through the task at hand. I don’t feel that way at all. I want to get in the race car and have some fun.”

Pagenaud’s whirlwind started after taking the checkered flag in the Indy 500 last Sunday. He was honored at the annual Indy 500 Victory Awards Ceremony at the JW Marriott in Indianapolis Monday night, then flew to New York after it was over.

Tuesday began with a media appearance at 6:45 a.m. and concluded at 11 p.m. that night.

“It was awesome to be welcomed as the Indianapolis 500 winner,” Pagenaud said. “We got to the go to the Empire State Building and saw the set of Jimmy Fallon and also the set for Saturday Night Live on NBC.

“That was very cool as well.

“I was surprised that people knew about me in New York. The most memorable moment, though, was talking to President Trump.”

Because of severe weather on the East Coast, he was unable to get to Texas for another day of media appearances for Texas Motor Speedway on Wednesday.

He arrived in Detroit Thursday morning, attending the annual Detroit Grand Prix Media Luncheon followed by appearances for Chevrolet.

On Friday, Pagenaud strapped himself back in his No. 22 Chevrolet for the first practice for this weekend’s doubleheader.

He also switched into “race driver mode” as he described the challenges of Detroit.

“There are passing opportunities into Turn 3 and Turn 7,” Pagenaud explained. “It’s a good track for the show. It’s grueling for everybody. It’s bumpy. You have to be on top of your game, here.”

It’s been said winning the Indianapolis 500 changes the life of the winner. Pagenaud may discover that over time.

For now, however, He is enjoying the ride and the next stop is Detroit.

“I’m the same guy,” Pagenaud said. “I’ve won the biggest race in the world and that is a huge accomplishment for my name, my family name and my generation to come.

“This is satisfaction, but back to business this week.

“I want to keep rolling. I’m Detroit right now. I want to get going. I love driving and I want to feel those limits. I’ve set myself a new goal and that is to win the championships this year.”

SIMON PAGENAUD’S SCHEDULE SINCE WINNING THE 103RD INDIANAPOLIS 500 ON MAY 26

Sunday:

NBC broadcast sign-off

ESPN SportsCenter

Local and regional TV affiliates

BAND TV

SMT: WDIV Detroit, L’Auto Journal, Radio Europe 1, KCWI Des Moines, KCRA Sacramento, KPIX San Francisco, CNNi, FOX 19 Cincinnati, WGCL Atlanta, WSYX Columbus, WLW Radio Cincinnati, WBNS Columbus, WLWT Cincinnati, NBC 5 Nashville, FOX Sports Radio, France TV, Canal +

Racer Magazine photo shoot

Monday:

NBCSports.com

The Ride with JMV – 1070 The Fan Indy

RACER.com interview

SiriusXM NASCAR Radio “The Morning Drive”

Borg-Warner Photo Shoot

Jostens Photo Shoot

Champion’s Photo Shoot on Yard of Bricks

Morning after press conference

Scrum with French media following press conference

Honda INDYCAR Race Report

Forbes.com

Road and Track

Sirius XM “The Real Spin”

For The Win

Dan Dakich Show – 1070 The Fan

Query and Schultz

Speed City Radio

Detroit News

Victory Celebration Red Carpet

Tuesday (New York):

610 The Fan Charlotte – Mac Attack

Good Day New York

NASDAQ Opening Bell (picked up by Bloomberg, BNN, CNBC, FOX Business)

Empire State Building photo opp: New York Times, FOX Sports, NHL Celebrity Wrap, AP TV, Agence France-Presse (AFP), KCS Presse, SSNEWSIMAGES,  SIPA USA, UPI

Reuters

SI Now

Sports Illustrated social media

Sports Illustrated photo shoot

Road and Track

WNBC New York

6th Annual “Toast on Top” Party: ABC News One, AFP, Adweek, Blomberg, Consumer Report, Forbes, Fox Sports (.com and First Things First), Front Office Sports, Good Day New York, Hearst Auto, Fast Company/Inc, New York Times, New York Post/Page Six, Reuters, Road and Track, Sports Illustrated, UEG Worldwide, USA TODAY, CNBC, FOX Business, FOX News, Wall Street Journal, SiriusXM, CNN Business, CBS This Morning, ABC News, Women’s Wear Daily, Bloomberg TV (Partners in attendance: Gainbridge, SiriusXM, BHV, NBC, Crown Royal, Firestone)

Wednesday (over the phone – weather prevented him from getting to DFW):

RPM Radio (Austin)

TrackSmack Radio

SiriusXM Radio “From Press Box to Press Row”

WWLS Sports Animal (OK City)

Texas Motor Speedway “No Limits” podcast

French Morning

Thursday:

Detroit media luncheon

INDYCAR’S contract at Laguna Seca not affected by new track management

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INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles told NBC Sports.com that INDYCAR’s season-ending race at WeatherTech Raceway in Monterey, California is not in any type of jeopardy after Monterey County officials sought a new management company for the Laguna Seca facility.

After 62 years of continuous management of the Laguna Seca Raceway, the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula (SCRAMP) was advised via email by County of Monterey Assistant County Administrative Officer (ACAO) Dewayne Woods last month. The email said, “…the County is now in negotiations with another proposer for management services at Laguna Seca Recreational Area.”

At a November 19 Board of Supervisor’s meeting, a proposal centered on Monterey County’s direct management of the Raceway and Recreation Area.  The Monterey County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to have a management group led by Monterey businessman John Narigi take over for SCRAMP.

The NTT IndyCar Series returned to Laguna Seca in September for the season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. It was the first time IndyCar had competed at Laguna Seca since September 12, 2004 after it had been a regular on the CART schedule from 1983 to 2004.

NBC Sports.com asked Miles if the new management group would impact the multi-year contract at the picturesque road course near Monterey, California.

“I’m happy to answer that,” Miles told NBC Sports.com. “We have following the situation closely for several months. At this point, we don’t have any concerns. Our sanctioning agreement is with the county and not was not with SCRAMP. The county is excited about the event and looking forward to the next edition in 2020.

“The county has appointed a new management team for the operation of the facility. There is plenty of work to do on their part and on our part to make sure they understand the requirements for the event and to make sure they execute well.

“The event is certainly going on. The financial underpinnings and the contractual obligations are between us and the county. They think they have selected the best possible management team and we look forward to working with them.”

Miles said INDYCAR vice president of promoter and media partner relations Stephen Starks has been working directly with the new management group at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca.

“The agreement is between us and the county and the county is absolutely comitted and excited about the future, they have appointed a new management team at Laguna Seca, and we look forward to working with them,” Miles said.

INDYCAR officials believe the series return to Laguna Seca was very successful in terms of promotion and spectator turnout.

“We were really pleased,” Miles said. “I think we under-estimated how outstanding it is both for the race and for the venue and the region. I thought it was better than we expected but it bodes well for the future.

“We’re going to be looking at how to take better advantage of it in the promotion of the series.

“There is plenty of room for growth and they will find ways to manage that from a traffic perspective,” Miles said. “We thought it was a great success. We think it can be even bigger. We have the commitment of the county and look forward to working with the new management team.”

Miles and INDYCAR are optimistic of continued success at WeatherTech Raceway with new management. However, the decision to end a 62-year relationship with SCRAMP was a surprise.

“This news comes as a surprise to the SCRAMP organization,” said Tim McGrane, CEO of WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and SCRAMP, who took over the position in June 2018. “We were starting to make real progress on getting the facility and the raceway operations turned around and poised for the future, but it appears at this time we may not have the opportunity to see these plans through.”

SCRAMP believed the Monterey County Board of Supervisors denied the chance for it to continue with its plan.

“As the existing facility operator, we were stunned by the fact that we were not provided the opportunity to discuss our proposal with the ACAO,” McGrane said. “The entire process has been unconventional, ranging from the bypassing of the County’s usual Request For Proposal (RFP) process, the announcement in mid-October requesting proposals from any interested parties with only two weeks’ notice, and complaints that SCRAMP had not met deadlines to submit a proposal when in fact a submission date had been agreed upon in May, and subsequently met, has been challenging.

“We have been in this position before with the County administration, but we, our fans, racing series and teams, do have to look at the possibility of the era of SCRAMP operating Laguna Seca Raceway coming to an end.”

In 2015, Monterey County began private talks with International Speedway Corporation (ISC) who, after a careful review of the operational parameters of the facility, determined not to submit a formal proposal for management of the track. In 2016, the Monterey County Administrators Office entered into negotiations with another group to replace SCRAMP for 2017 but were unable to agree to terms that were mutually acceptable. The County then reverted back to a three-year agreement with SCRAMP to continue running Laguna Seca.

According to a statement from SCRAMP, in 2018, the SCRAMP-run Laguna Seca Raceway attracted 263,888 attendees and generated $84.4 million in direct spending generated by event attendees over 26 days of the seven major events. 2019 saw SCRAMP orchestrate the long-awaited and highly successful return of IndyCars to Laguna Seca, with a larger than anticipated spectator count for the weekend.

2019 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey

“We’ve delivered an extensive, forward-looking proposal to the County for a new, long-term 20-year management and operating agreement that incorporates solid plans for revenue generation and expense reduction, expansion of the use of existing facilities, and development of Laguna Seca into a world-class destination,” said CEO McGrane. “We are building the right team, both paid staff and volunteers, with extensive motorsports experience, institutional knowledge, and the dedication to lead this important Monterey County asset into a successful future. We hope we still have the opportunity to present our plans directly to the County Board of Supervisors and we would be proud to continue SCRAMP’s 62-year stewardship of Laguna Seca on behalf of Monterey County.”

The Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula, a 501(c)4 not-for-profit, was formed in 1957 by local business owners and civic leaders. SCRAMP’s goal was to raise the funds needed to construct a permanent motor racing circuit to maintain the tradition of sports car racing on the Monterey Peninsula which had begun in 1950 in the Del Monte Forest at Pebble Beach. SCRAMP is comprised of a Board of Governors, Race and Events Committees, and hundreds of loyal volunteers who donate thousands of hours each year to ensure the successful operation of events here.

The SCRAMP organization acquired leased land from the US Army at Fort Ord on August 7, 1957, and the now-legendary track, built with funds raised by SCRAMP, held its first race, the 8th Annual Pebble Beach at Laguna Seca SCCA National Championship Sports Car Road Races, on November 9 & 10, 1957. In 1974 the site was transferred from the Army to Monterey County, who together with SCRAMP, have managed the facility through this year.

SCRAMP’s current three-year management and operating agreement with Monterey County ends on December 31, 2019. SCRAMP currently employs a full-time professional staff of just over 40 team members.

INDYCAR, itself, is about to have an ownership change as racing and business icon Roger Penske and the Penske Corporation completes its acquisition of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis 500, INDYCAR and IMS Productions sometime after January 1. Miles and the INDYCAR staff as well as the staffs at IMS and IMS Productions will be retained.

Miles will become CEO of Penske Entertainment and will continue his duties that he currently has. Since the sale was announced on November 4, Miles and key officials have met with Penske and his top officials on a weekly basis.

“It’s been great,” Miles said. “We are covering tons of ground. Roger and his team are all about adding value.

“It’s a very focused effort that is making great progress.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500