Pagenaud starts clicking with MSR just in time for May

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Aside from Helio Castroneves, who will bid for his record fifth Indianapolis 500 win presented by Gainbridge on Sunday, May 29, there is perhaps no NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver more excited to be back at Indianapolis Motor. Speedway for the month of May as Simon Pagenaud.

The Meyer Shank Racing #60 Honda AutoNation/XM driver is one of three INDYCAR SERIES drivers to win races on both the facility’s road course and its oval, and only Will Power from the Penske team won at the IMS with more consistency. Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing is the other driver with wins at both circuits.

Like Castroneves, Pagenaud’s success in the racing capital of the world has come with two different teams – Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Team Penske – and he is eager to add a third team to that list.

“You can really feel the potential (with MSR),” Pagenaud said.

This combination was particularly evident last weekend at the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst, when Pagenaud gained 13 positions in the 90-lap race at Barber Motorsports Park to finish 11th. Only Power (15 positions) made a bigger gain in the fiercely competitive event on a track where overtaking opportunities are hard to come by.

Castroneves gave MSR its first INDYCAR SERIES victory in last year’s “500” and it looks like the combination of Castroneves and Pagenaud is about to bring the team co-owned by Michael Shank and Jim Meyer to new heights in the coming months.

It could start this month, and it would be unwise to overlook the experienced Pagenaud, who turns 38 on May 18.

Power leads the road course with five INDYCAR SERIES wins and five NTT P1 Awards to be the fastest qualifier, but Pagenaud has won three races (2014, 2016 and 2019) and one pole (2016). Pagenaud finished sixth in last year’s Grand Prix GMR and has always considered the 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course one of his favorite tracks.

Obviously the oval has also suited Pagenaud well, with a win from pole in 2019. He also has three front row starts and last year’s late charge caught Castroneves’ attention.

Pagenaud had started 26th a year ago, the lowest position of his Indy 500 career, and he had only moved up one position before the first pit stop. It took him 70 laps to crack the top 20, and 125 laps before his car number broke into the top 10. But after that, well, he was on the move.

Pagenaud’s speed was particularly noticeable in the closing laps. Sixth on lap 192, the Frenchman took fifth on the next lap, took fourth on the following lap and moved up to third with about a lap to go. As Castroneves revised Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou for the 199 lap lead, the Brazilian said he was most concerned about Pagenaud.

“Simon was really getting there at the end,” Castroneves said. “If the race had lasted a lap or two longer, it might have been different (result).”

Pagenaud emerged from last month’s Open Test at IMS optimistic about his chances of becoming the 21st driver in history to win multiple ‘500s’, but he also warned of the work that remains to be done. To do.

“It’s different (compared to last year) because I was on the same team for seven years,” he said, alluding to his long stint at Team Penske. “The race car setup hasn’t changed much, and we were in a completely different state of readiness at the start of May.

“(At MSR) it’s obviously a learning curve for everyone – them teaching me and me teaching them. We try to communicate and make the right changes for me and for the race car and make sure we’re building something that’s going to be a winning combination. But we are not there yet. So I can’t say I’m going to win the race tomorrow because that wouldn’t be true. We have work to do.

The official tests of the “500” begin on Tuesday, May 17. Before that, the Grand Prix GMR holds everyone’s attention with on-track activity on May 13 and 14.

“It takes time to (come together),” Pagenaud said. “Then you have to be very patient (and) keep the emotions in check. Like I said, the potential here is amazing, but we just have to be patient as to when we’re going to start unlocking results.

As Pagenaud walked away from the conversation, he recalled the attention Castroneves had given him last year. People should keep an eye out for him this year too.

“That would be wise,” he said with a smile.

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