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