Indy 500 winner hailed as ‘Superhero Pagenaud’ as he unveils Borg-Warner Trophy in France

Soiree Margnan Photo
Soiree Margnan Photo
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It’s been nearly a full century since a driver from France won the biggest race in the world. When Simon Pagenaud won the 103rdIndianapolis 500 on May 26, he became the first driver from France to win the fabled event since Gaston Chevrolet in 1920.

Pagenaud’s win was cause for celebration, and on Monday, the Indy 500 victory party made it to Paris.

He became the first driver to have his image unveiled on the famed Borg-Warner Trophy outside of the United States. Pagenaud’s sterling silver likeness, about the size of an egg and sculpted by William Behrends, was unveiled for the first time at a ceremony on the rooftop terrace of Le Meridien Hotel with the famed Eiffel Tower in the background.

Paris is called the “City of Light,” and that was a perfect place to showcase the impressive beauty of the Borg-Warner Trophy.

“It shines,” Pagenaud told NBCSports.com in a telephone interview Monday. “It’s on a rooftop in Paris, and it shines. People were mesmerized.

“To see my face on the trophy, it’s phenomenal. I’m looking at the trophy right now, and it’s next to the Eiffel Tower.

“It’s picture perfect.”

Pagenaud has earned a new nickname in France since Indy.

“They call me ‘Pagenaud Superhero’ in the headlines, and that’s pretty special to see that,” Pagenaud said. “I don’t want to sound pretentious, because that is not who I am, but it’s special to read things like that and be recognized in your home country. It’s very emotional.

“Again, I’m very grateful. It means a lot to be the first driver outside of the United States to have this unveiled in another country. I don’t want to take anything away from the U.S. It’s my country. I live there, and I love the U.S. I would not have the career I’ve had without the U.S.

Soiree Margnan Photo“Getting the recognition in France is phenomenal for me. It allows me to reflect in what I have accomplished by traveling the world with this win. I want to emphasize how grateful I am to BorgWarner for allowing me to realize a dream as a kid, which was to bring the trophy here to France. It comes from the heart. I feel grateful and thankful that I can bring awareness of our sport, which I believe is the best series in racing.”

The next stop for Pagenaud will be a trip to his hometown. The 35-year-old will travel Thursday to his home state of Vienne and unveil the trophy with a reception involving people who have helped him throughout his career. From there, it’s off to his hometown of Montmorillon.

BorgWarner made 1,000 T-shirts for townspeople attending the event.

“Going back to my hometown with the Borg-Warner Trophy, that’s going to be a very special moment,” Pagenaud said. “I’m so proud of where I’m at, at the moment, so proud of representing the Indianapolis 500, BorgWarner and France.

“The Leigh Diffey of France, Julien Febreau, the commentator on the Formula One races, will come to my hometown to present a great show we put together highlighting the Indy 500. Tonight in Paris was already emotional. I managed to manage.

“The words in French were difficult for me to come out because I had more emotion, and it’s a language, I speak less than English now. My natural go-to language for racing is English.

“I’m sure my French will fully come back by the end of the media tour.”

The Team Penske driver’s trip home also included a stop at the Hungarian Grand Prix in Hungaroring on Sunday. He began Monday’s activities in France at 4 a.m. He was still conducting interviews at 10 p.m.

His trip to the Formula One event in Hungary was arranged by Renault F1.

“I was received like an absolute king there,” Pagenaud said. “It was really great. The food was fantastic, and the car was phenomenal to see up close. I’m also friends with some of the Honda F1 people from when I worked at Red Bull. I got to see Pierre Gasly and Daniel Ricciardo, who I spent quite a bit of time with. We talked about Will Power, which was funny.”

He also got to chat with F1 drivers Nico Hulkenberg, Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel.

“Vettel really liked my ring,” Pagenaud said, referring to his Indy 500 winner’s ring. “I told him to come over and get one. We’ll see if takes the advice.

“Overall, it was overwhelming to see the reaction and impact the Indy 500 has, even in the Formula One world. It is definitely the biggest race in the world, and I could tell.”

Typically, the winning driver of the Indianapolis 500 has his face on the Borg-Warner Trophy unveiled after the season, usually in December at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum before the start of the Performance Racing Industry (PRI) Show.

This year, sculptor William Behrends’ process of making the face that is ultimately a sterling silver image attached to the trophy was sped up so the French-born driver could unveil it in front of his adoring fans in France.

He is the fifth driver from France to win the Indianapolis 500.

“Personally, it’s a huge honor to present it in France,” Pagenaud said. “I’m glad and excited to bring some awareness to the biggest race in the world in France.

“It was very emotional to me. For some reason, speaking in my native language brings a lot more emotion.”

Pagenaud said those who saw the Borg-Warner Trophy for the first time were shocked by its size, how realistic the face looks and its value.

The man behind taking the Borg-Warner Trophy on the road for Monday’s unveiling is Fred Lissalde, President and CEO, BorgWarner, Inc. Lissalde is also from France.

This won’t be the end of the celebration for Pagenaud, however. At a later date, he will get the “Baby Borg” Trophy, a smaller version of the Borg-Warner Trophy that Pagenaud will get to keep.

Before that, however, Pagenaud still has a championship to try to win. He is currently third in the NTT IndyCar Series standings with four races remaining, beginning with the Aug. 18 ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway.

“Just before I left the United States, I made sure my race engineer, Ben Bretzman, and I were on the same page,” Pagenaud said. “We prepared the setup for Pocono, so we already know where we are going. I took time to study tapes of Pocono. As soon as we are done on Thursday, I will focus on Pocono, and that gives me a whole week to think about it and get ready.

“I’ve been training to make sure I stay in shape. This is the strongest I’ve ever been.

“All of this continues to give me energy and such a positive attitude. It gives me confidence that I’ve always needed, and as you can see lately, I’ve risen to the top.

“I have no question that when we do go to Pocono, we’ll be fighting for it.”

NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E and Ian James set to race ahead of electric motorsports’ curve

James McLaren Formula E
NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team
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As Formula E enters their ninth season and McLaren Racing is set to compete in last year’s championship winning car, Ian James is passionate about pushing electric motorsports forward at a critical stage as race technology begins surpassing that of the street cars.

Midseason, McLaren acquired the assets of the Mercedes-EQ team as they were already on their way to winning a second consecutive championship. With those assets in place and coming off a successful debut in the Extreme E series, James is set to usher in a new era in electric car racing.

Last week’s announcement that Jake Hughes will join Rene Rast behind the wheel of the NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team was the last piece of the puzzle.

McLaren’s electric portfolio is building with the Formula E team coming one year after they entered the Extreme E rally series in 2022 with Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour. There were a lot of lessons to learn in that series with growing pains during the first three of five rounds. Rounds 4 and 5 were a completely different matter with the team crossing the finish line first in Chile before being assessed a time penalty.

In the final round in Uruguay, they scored an elusive podium.

“McLaren kicked off the season in Extreme E at the beginning of this year, so our first [electric] race took place Neom, actually out in Saudi,” NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team Principal James told NBC Sports. “At the time, we were in very early discussions about opportunities with the Formula E team. I actually went out there to meet with Zak [Brown, CEO McLaren Racing] and that was my first taste of Extreme E.

“Since the transition, I joined them in Chile in Atacama Desert, and then Uruguay last weekend. [The second-place finish was] a lovely way to round out the season. The fact that they got that podium. It was very well deserved. It’s a great team and a great series actually. It’s just so very different from anything else. The team’s done a great job in getting set up, and it’s nice now to, we’re trying to use that momentum that we’ve got from Uruguay to get us into next season when it kicks off next year, which will be great. I think we’re mid-March is looking like the first race, so a little bit of time to get things prepped for that.”

 

James McLaren Formula E
The NEOM Mclaren Racing Formula E Team was created through the acquisition of last year’s championship team from Mercedes-EQ. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

Synergies exist between the single seater and rally series. Lessons learned about battery power and sustainability in the electric SUV carry over so long as one is mindful of keeping focus on the individual needs and nuances of each series.

Especially now that electric racing technology has caught up, and is ready to surpass, the existing technology that has gone into building street cars.

When internal combustion engines gained the upper hand soon after automobiles were invented, racing paced alongside. The pressure of competition pushed the development of their commercial equivalents. The same has not necessarily been true of electric cars. Street cars were not designed to undergo the same stress as racecars – and that vulnerability showed up on the racetrack.

“Formula E has come along a long way,” James said. “I think one of the most notable developments is in the battery technology. In Gen 1, you had the drivers jumping from one car to another car midrace because the battery technology and capacity simply wasn’t where it needed to be to do the full distance. That obviously changed in Gen 2 and we saw a power increase as well to the 250 kilowatts.

“Now going to Gen 3, we have 350 kilowatts in a smaller battery. But that means that we’re relying on the regeneration of energy and for that reason, we’ve got also the opportunity to regenerate on the front axle as well as the rear axle now. So, there’s all sorts of things that are developing in the right direction.

“In terms of throttle response, actually, we’re now in a situation with electric racing and the motors that it’s instantaneous. And one of the advantages of electric over combustion engine is that the torque is instantaneous as well, so that gives you a lot more room to play with.”

No matter the power source, racing has always been about resource management. Drivers and teams select tire strategies they believe produce the fastest elapsed time and fuel conservation comes into play.

On one hand, electric racing is the same, but there is a critical difference. With the battery as both the power source and an integral part of the engine, there are multiple reasons to manage it.

In electric racing, the brain of the car is the software – and that is where James sees the greatest room for advancement.

“As we are working with our drivers and engineers – and start to look at functionality to improve our efficiency and our performance, that’s something we’ll continue to push because that development is open throughout the season,” James said. “That’s going to be our focus going forward and provides enough of a challenge for us to get our teeth into.

“What’s going to be fascinating is as Formula E continues, is to really look at which areas of development on the car are going to be the most relevant and ensuring that we can focus on those together with the manufacturers so we continue and use the series as a platform for technical development that can then feed back into the road car side of things as well.

“At the end of the day, that’s what motorsports always been, a very powerful tool for, and I see Formula E as no exception.”

James McLaren Formula E
Jake Hughes and Rene Rast were chosen for their ability to drive fast and execute the necessary strategy for energy management. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

Selecting Rast and Hughes as McLaren’s Formula E drivers was not simply because they know how to drive fast. James believes both drivers have the mental aptitude to execute energy management strategies throughout the race and squeeze maximum performance.

“As with many other motorsports, you’ve got a certain amount of energy that you’re able to deploy during the race and the management of that energy is absolutely crucial,” James said. “What we’re seeing typically in electric motorsports now is the hardware side of things. The efficiencies that we’re seeing in the powertrain as a whole, they’re getting up to the sort of 96%, 97%, 98% efficiency, so the gains that you get through that further and further become more marginal.”

With much more room for improvement, software is a different matter. To make the best decisions, the drivers need data, and that is where James believes McLaren Formula E will make their greatest impact.

“And then you really switch that focus to the software and that’s where you’re going to see the most the most improvement and the most gains,” James continued. “It’s then using that software to ensure that you’re deploying the energy in the most efficient manner during race, and thereby giving the driver the most performance. And that’s something which is incredibly complicated, but I find it a fascinating area to work in.

“The benefit of being involved in racing is you can really push the envelope in a way that you can’t do on road cars. And I think that that’s where that value comes in. It means that you accelerate the development a lot quicker. We will get ahead of the curve – and we are getting ahead of the curve now – and that will mean that the electric motorsports remain part of the overall development process.

“The key to that is also making sure that the racing’s exciting and fun for the fans. If we can, we can tick both of those boxes, then it’s got a very bright future ahead of it.”