Simon Pagenaud was dressed for real-world success in iRacing victory

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In this “virtual world” that has become the year 2020, Team Penske driver Simon Pagenaud tried to be as realistic as possible in Saturday’s Chevrolet 275 at Michigan International Speedway.

He wore his full DXC Technology driver’s uniform to compete in his sim racing rig at his home on Lake Norman north of Charlotte, North Carolina.

When he won by finishing ahead of Team Penske Virgin Australia SuperCars champion Scott McLaughlin and former NASCAR Cup Series star Dale Earnhardt, Jr., the “Fast Frenchman” even celebrated as if it were a real victory.

Pagenaud at last year’s Indianapolis 500 with Norman in Victory Lane — INDYCAR Photo

His wife, Hailey, gave him a celebratory bottle of champagne after he took the checkered flag. Pagenaud even got a few wet kisses from his prized dog, a Jack Russell Terrier named Norman.

Essentially, last year’s Indianapolis 500 winner and 2016 NTT IndyCar Series champion went “all in” in Saturday’s third race of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge.

“I’m just as excited as I would be for a race win,” Pagenaud said. “Winning is everything.

It was a high-speed contest at the 2-mile, high-banked oval that last hosted a real IndyCar Series race in 2007.

Pagenaud never had raced at the real Michigan International Speedway.

“It was a very different feeling, for sure,” Pagenaud said. “It was a very different situation. At the Indianapolis 500 we went all out and tried to take control. We had the fastest car, so we just wanted to control the race. I ended up being in the same situation with fuel on the other side, we were a bit short on fuel and we had to save.

“But today the strategy was different because we didn’t qualify so well. I didn’t understand how to run the best line to get speed out of the car. Maybe I didn’t practice enough qualifying runs.

“But I knew in race pace I was going to be good.”

Pagenaud decided to hang with a driver who has plenty of experience in a stock car at Michigan but was competing in his first contest in a virtual Indy car.

“I decided to just actually hang with Dale because he has so much experience in this kind of racing in general,” Pagenaud said. “We figured out that we were actually saving fuel and tires really well. It helped us to do only one stop.

“At the end I was a bit stressed out, I must say. I was very stressed because I don’t feel as much in control. My engineer, Ben Bretzman, who is my usual engineer, was telling me the fuel code, the fuel level, how much to save fuel, that I was fine. He was telling me basically not to race people around me, which is very difficult. It’s a very different space awareness. That’s what I’m struggling with the most.

“Today was a very stressful day, very intense, very intense.”

Pagenaud started iRacing in 2008 but took a long break from the platform. The virtual IndyCar race at Watkins Glen International two weeks ago was the first full race Pagenaud contested in iRacing after that lengthy break. He currently trains five hours a day to be competitive.

“That’s my nature,” he said. “I want to win races. When IndyCar announced this official racing, I wanted to be myself and I wanted to go out there and do the best I could.

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

“Winning is the most satisfying thing that I know. Being able to do what we did today to me is why I train so hard; it’s why I do this.”

Racing drivers get hooked on that winning feeling, and all that comes with it. That is why Pagenaud took Saturday’s race seriously, from the full driver’s firesuit to the bottle of champagne to the warm and friendly greeting from his prized pup, Norman.

“Norman comes at the end of every race to give me kisses,” Pagenaud said gleefully. “He was very excited today like he can be when I win a race.

“The biggest thing about the race suit is my fellow drivers, they think I sleep in my race suit. I just wanted to show that I do sleep in my race suit.

“I also wanted to give some love to DXC. In these tough times, our sponsors are there for us. DXC Technology has been a phenomenal partner. We transitioned from HPE to DXE. I’ve had lot of good luck with that car. I love these guys. End of the day it’s a relationship and we work really hard on it with Team Penske.

“I just felt like wearing the race suit was probably the best way to represent them.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field

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Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.

Houston Supercross numbers
Cooper Webb’s ability to close races makes him a Houston favorite. – Feld Motor Sports

Despite an accident in his heat in San Diego that sent him to the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), Sexton recovered to score a top-five that weekend. His podium finish in Anaheim 1 and overall win last week in Anaheim 2 makes him one of the three riders with a perfect top-five record. He is joined by Cooper Webb, who finished second in the first two rounds and fourth last week, and Ken Roczen, whose consistency in the first three races contributed to him grabbing the top spot in this week’s NBC Supercross Power Rankings.

There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.

Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.

Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.

By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.

With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.

This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.

Jim Pomeroy won the first race in the Astrodome during the inaugural season of 1974 on a 250, which was the premiere class at the time. Houston was one of three races held that year along with events at Daytona International Speedway and the Los Angeles Coliseum. All three venues return in 2023 with the first SuperMotocross championship finale returning to the famed LA Coliseum in September.

Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.

Two privateers have started the season on a high note.

Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.

Michael Mosiman scored his first 250 win last year in San Diego. – Feld Motor Sports

The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.

Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.

In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.

The other 250 riders with 2022 wins this week are Mosiman, who earned his first Supercross win last year in San Diego, and Nate Thrasher, who became the fifth new class winner at Daytona.

Jeremy Martin will attempt to extend a record this week in Houston. His division leading SuperMotocross podiums number 65. He has 26 wins in the combined sessions, which ranks fourth all time.

Last Five Houston Winners

450s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Cooper Webb
2021, Race 2: Eli Tomac
2021, Race 1: Justin Barcia
2020, no race
2019, Cooper Webb
2018, Jason Anderson

250s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Colt Nichols
2021, Race 2: Jett Lawrence
2021, Race 1: Christian Craig
2020, no race
2019, Dylan Ferrandis
2018, Aaron Plessinger

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

More SuperMotocross coverage

Supercross unveils 16th edition of a Ricky Carmichael designed Daytona track
Power Rankings after week 3
Malcom Stewart out for “extended duration” after knee surgery
Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
Talon Hawkins set to relieve injured Jalek Swoll in Houston
Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
Ken Roczen urgently needed a change
Chris Blose joins Pro Circuit Kawasaki in 250 East opener
Seth Hammaker to miss Houston with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list
Injury sidelines Austin Forkner for remainder of 2023 SX
Chase Sexton wins Anaheim 2 in 450s; Levi Kitchen takes 250s
Results and points from Anaheim 2