Joe Skibinski / IndyCar

Simon Pagenaud feels no stress as he pursues second championship

Leave a comment

PORTLAND, Oregon – With two races remaining in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series, Simon Pagenaud has already had what can only be described as a “dream season”.

The Frenchman found success early on in the season when he passed Scott Dixon for the lead with five laps remaining to win the IndyCar Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, the first victory for the No. 22 team since the season finale at Sonoma Raceway in 2017.

One week later, Pagenaud won the pole position for the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500, a race he then went on to win the following weekend after a memorable battle with Alexander Rossi for the victory.

A complete sweep of the month of May at Indy would already make any driver’s season, but Pagenaud wasn’t, and still isn’t done just yet.

He won from the pole on the streets of Toronto in July and now with two races remaining, he sits second in the championship standings, 38 points behind his Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden.

A second championship would obviously put an exclamation point on Pagenaund’s already successful 2019 campaign.

“It’s been going very well for us,” Pagenaud told NBC Sports. “2016 was pretty awesome, but I think I’m having the most fun I’ve ever had. Winning Indy really allowed me to just step back and enjoy things a bit more.”

This team has been very, very focused – more so than ever – and I’ve been able to unlock some doors mentally speaking that have allowed me to be more aggressive in some instances, but also still calculate my position, so at this point we have been slowly marching toward the front of the championship.”

Steve King/IndyCar

With a second title within reach, one might assume that the next two races would be extremely stressful for Pagenaud.

However, Pagenaud is not going to let any negative emotions get in his way. In fact, he feels no pressure while pursing championship number two.

“My goal is to win the championship,” Pagenaud said. “But the way to win it this year, I think, is to just focus on myself.

“I think when you have fun, things roll for you and you attract the right side of the universe. I really believe that.

“My goal is really to  keep doing what I’ve been doing, and I think it will sort itself out at this point. I already feel so fortunate to be in the position I’m in. I’m in the best team, I’ve won the biggest race in the world, and I’ve won this championship before. I feel no stress. I feel no anxiety. I just feel like it’s time to go, and I’m only looking forward. It’s really the ideal situation.”

In regards to ideal situations, finishing 1-2 in the final standings would certainly be the ideal situation for Team Penske, and Pagenaud knows that if he is going to race his teammate for the championship, he needs to race him carefully.

“I would try not to get together [with Newgarden],” Pagenaud said. “That’s the main goal.

“Having a teammate fight for it is not always great because you have to take care of each other and you want one of the cars to win. I want that, so I always take extra care with Josef more than I would with someone else.”

Make no mistake though, just because Pagenaud doesn’t want to cause unnecessary trouble for his teammate, doesn’t mean he doesn’t want win the championship. He just understands that at the end of the day, racing is really a team sport, and he wants to share a possible title with the whole crew.

“We wouldn’t be here without them,” Pagenaud said. “It’s a sport that everybody thinks is a selfish sport where the driver does it all. But really [as drivers], we’re at the end of the cycle.

“You got mechanics that repair our cars. We haven’t had a mechanical issue all year. You’ve got the shock department. The do a lot of work understanding the dampers. I could go on and on. There’s a whole team behind us that’s just trying every bit to get better.

“If you forget about them, you’re not going to win.”

Live coverage of the Grand Prix of Portland begins Sunday, September 1 at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter 

Newgarden, Rossi ready for a red-white-and-blue INDYCAR finale

1 Comment

MONTEREY, California – In an international series that personifies diversity from all over the globe, the two main combatants in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship are from the United States.

Josef Newgarden of Tennessee takes a 41-point lead over Alexander Rossi of Northern California into Sunday’s double-points season finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud of France, is just 42 points out of the lead.

It’s been quite a while since the two drivers entering the final race of the season were both Americans. Four of the top 10 drivers in the series are from the United States. Last year, five of the top 10 were from the USA.

All but one race in the 17-race NTT IndyCar Series schedule is contested in the United States.

Patriotism still matters in IndyCar.

“I think so,” said Andretti Autosport driver Rossi, who is the last American driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. “I know I’ve read a lot of things from other drivers saying, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s not important, no one cares.’

“I can’t really get onboard with that.

“I think me as an American, growing up, being a fan of the Olympics and everything, like you cheer for Americans, right? That’s what you do as a patriotic person. Canadians cheer for James. We see the Swedish contingent that comes to the races for Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist.

Getty Images“I think Americans will cheer for Americans. I would love to see an American to win the championship. I think it’s important for the young kids watching hoping to be IndyCar drivers one day, that they see someone who grew up in Tennessee or California or wherever. It’s like, there’s a lot of relate-ability to that for a young kid with aspirations of being a racecar driver.”

Since Sam Hornish, Jr. won the final of his three IndyCar Series championships in 2006, just two American drivers have won the title – Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012 and Newgarden in 2017. During that span, Scott Dixon of New Zealand won four of his five NTT IndyCar Series championships and Dario Franchitti of Scotland won all four of his IndyCar titles.

The last time two Americans had a chance to win the championship in the final race of the season came in 2001 when Hornish won the championship over Colorado’s Buddy Lazier. Connecticut’s Scott Sharp was third and Arizona’s Billy Boat was fourth in the final standings that year.

That was a much different time and place for IndyCar. At that time, many of the top drivers were in CART while the old Indy Racing League featured a predominantly American lineup. Once unification brought the two sides together in 2008, the championships have been fought on American soil, but international drivers were victorious.

The last time two American drivers finished 1-2 in CART was 1996 when Jimmy Vasser of California defeated Pennsylvania’s Michael Andretti for the crown. In 1992, Bobby Rahal of Illinois defeated Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. of New Mexico for the CART title.

Prior to that, the IndyCar “National Championship” was dominated by drivers from the United States.

 

While Rossi openly choose to wrap himself in the American flag, it’s not as important to Newgarden.

“For me, it’s never been something I put a lot of emphasis on,” said the Team Penske driver. “I’m proud to have grown up in such a wonderful country as the United States, but what I’ve always loved about the IndyCar Series is that they bring the best of the best from around the world. That’s always been important to me.

“It means more I think when you have the best from all over the place coming to compete at the Indianapolis 500, during the whole championship. You really feel like you have that in the IndyCar Series. You get the best drivers from around the world.

“To pair with that, I think we need strong Americans running, as well. So for sure, having guys like Alex and Graham Rahal, some young guys coming up like Colton Herta, myself, it’s really great to have young American competition representing as well and running so strongly.

“What I’ve always loved is the great mix of talent from around the world. To me that’s just so important. If it was all Americans running in the championship, I don’t think it would mean as much. I like that we have that great diversity and that great mix from around the world.”

Although these two drivers are both from the USA, they are fierce rivals. They have mutual respect for each other, but they sure aren’t considered close friends.

“Josef and I honestly aren’t that close,” Rossi admitted. “He never lived in Indy when I moved here, or he was just moving. I actually never really hung out with Josef.

“We obviously have a lot of respect for each other. We raced together for a short period of time in Europe. We have a lot of mutual friends.

“Josef and I don’t talk or socialize really. So, it doesn’t have any impact.”

Newgarden agrees that these two men choose to embrace the rivalry.

“I think it’s just really business,” Newgarden said. “He lives in Indianapolis. I live in Nashville. I don’t see him too often outside of the racetrack. We go and we compete. He’s a great competitor. He’s definitely a tremendous talent, has done a great job in his career.

“It’s been a good, competitive relationship I would say.”

With the return of American drivers capable of winning races, championships and Indianapolis 500s, it has sparked a rejuvenation in IndyCar racing. With drivers from all over the world fighting it out for glory, this series that was born and bred in the United States can take pride in featuring some of the best racing in the world as the series continues to grow in popularity.

“I think we just need to continue a focus on our product,” Rossi said. “I think we have the best race product on the planet in terms of entertainment, the variance of winners that we have throughout a season, how many guys are capable, teams are capable of winning races.

“But that’s an ever-moving target. I think IndyCar has done a good job of placing the priority on that. I just think we need to continue doing that and everything will be moving in the right direction.”