Simon Pagenaud wrestles with mixed emotions in defending Indy 500 win

Indy 500 Simon Pagenaud
Jenna Watson/IndyStar via USA TODAY NETWORK

When the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opens Wednesday with its first practice for the 104th Indy 500, defending race winner Simon Pagenaud will be selective about his feelings.

The Team Penske driver will be embracing the chance to defend his title and become the first back-to-back winner in nearly 20 years. He will be reveling in being on racing’s biggest stage for the biggest race of the NTT IndyCar Series.

But he also is trying to block out that the atmosphere undoubtedly will be a stark contrast to his thrilling victory last year over Alexander Rossi — because the track’s mammoth grandstands will be devoid of a couple hundred thousand people cheering the closing laps for the first time in the race’s history.

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“Hopefully there is a battle that’s just as exciting for the fans, but it definitely is going to feel different, (and) the energy is going to be different,” Pagenaud said during a Zoom media availability Monday. “It’s going to feel flat. No reason to think differently. It won’t feel as energetic.

“It’s going to be very different, but it is the biggest race in the world and the fastest race in the world, and I’ve been very excited to get going and to please people with this competition. That’s really what I’m looking forward to right now.”

The stature of the Indy 500 is among the only certainties during a season filled with schedule upheaval and race cancellations.

The Mid-Ohio race weekend doubleheader, which was supposed to have been held Aug. 8-9 as the lead-in to Indianapolis, became the latest abrupt casualty. Its indefinite postponement underscores the most difficult challenge as IndyCar has returned during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“It’s the unexpected, quite frankly,” said Pagenaud, who was surprised by the Mid-Ohio announcement and needed a few days to switch from preparing for a road course to an oval. “We don’t know what tomorrow is about. A week ago. we were racing in Mid, Ohio and all of a sudden we’re not, and you prepare yourself (with) a regimen of training nutrition, hydration and preparation for an event, and then it has been canceled.

“It’s not easy to switch your mind to the next thing when you had a goal in mind, but Indianapolis (is) my No. 1 goal and he always has been since 2016. That’s my main focus every year. I know it’s happening this weekend and the next one. I’m very excited about it. So just want to get there and get going (and) strap in my car and get to feel good to feel what it’s like.”

One feeling that Pagenaud is sure about?

“Coming here being the defending champion just allows you to feel a lot less personal pressure,” he said. “Just allows me to be a lot more focused on doing the right thing and not worrying about the result, and I do believe when you don’t worry about the result, things come together better.”

The wait will be worth it for Pagenaud, who will have endured one of the longest waits as a defending winner when the race finally happens Aug. 23 (1 p.m. ET on NBC; 2:30 p.m. green flag). He enters the race second in the points standings to Scott Dixon with three podiums in six races (including the July 17 race at Iowa Speedway.

“It’s been a serious anticipation on my part just because I love that race,” he said. “I love the event and I want to go back. It’s the favorite feel I get throughout the entire year in the race car, and I was very worried we weren’t going to race this year. So I’m relieved that we are going to get to race, but it’s a pain that we won’t have any fans.

“I’m a very very spiritual person. As pragmatic as I can be with the race car. I am a very spiritual person for those who know me personally. I use the energy of the crowd to prepare me and give me give me wings. This year will be different, but the exciting part is to drive the race car at this track and when you know the history of the place, the previous winners and the stories for more than a century and you’re part of that. I just feel blessed I get to go back and I get to race it. It’s quite a great feeling.”

SuperMotocross set to introduce Leader Lights beginning with the World Championship finals


In a continuing effort to help fans keep track of the on track action, SuperMotocross is in the process of developing and implementing leader lights for the unified series.

Currently Supercross (SMX) utilizes stanchions in the infield that are triggered manually by a race official. At least two stanchions are used in each race as a way to draw the eye to the leader, which is especially useful in the tight confines of the stadium series when lapping often begins before the halfway mark in the 22-bike field. This system has been in place for the past two decades.

Later this year, a fully automated system will move to the bike itself to replace the old system. At that point, fans will be able to identify the leader regardless of where he is on track.

The leader lights were tested in the second Anaheim round this year. An example can be seen at the 1:45 mark in the video above on the No. 69 bike.

“What we don’t want to do is move too fast, where it’s confusing to people,” said Mike Muye, senior director of operations for Supercross and SMX in a press release. “We’ve really just focused on the leader at this point with the thought that maybe down the road we’ll introduce others.”

Scheduled to debut with the first SuperMotocross World Championship race at zMax Dragway, located just outside the Charlotte Motor Speedway, a 3D carbon fiber-printed LED light will be affixed to each motorcycle. Ten timing loops positioned around the track will trigger the lights of the leader, which will turn green.

SMX’s partner LiveTime Scoring helped develop and implement the system that has been tested in some form or fashion since 2019.

When the leader lights are successfully deployed, SuperMotocross will explore expanding the system to identify the second- and third-place riders. Depending on need and fan acceptance, more positions could be added.

SuperMotocross is exploring future enhancements, including allowing for live fan interaction with the lights and ways to use the lighting system during the race’s opening ceremony.