Simon Pagenaud started climbing the open wheel ladder in Europe. In 2006 he journeyed to the United States and won the Atlantic championship. From there it has been a journey of both open wheel and sports car. Regardless of the formula Simon Pagenaud has never stopped growing as a driver.
Mecca of Speed: When you won the Atlantic championship and moved up to ChampCar what did you find to be the biggest change?
Simon Pagenaud: The biggest thing was the difference in power between an Atlantic car, or any other car I had driven in the past compared to the ChampCar. At that time, they had about 800 hp and I had never driven such a powerful car.
That was a big jump, it took me the whole season to get adjusted to it. It wasn’t the overall speed that was the problem. The chassis of the ChampCar was very similar to the Atlantic car, the overall power was the big difference.
As seasons went on I drove other cars including a LMP1 car at Le Mans with 900 hp. I am now comfortable with high horsepower cars so the power is not even in my mind now. It’s an evolution of experience and time. Time is your best friend.
Mecca of Speed: You have driven for a variety of sports car teams including Highcroft Racing and de Ferran Motorsports here in the U.S. Is there any driver or team member that made an impact on your development as a driver?
Simon Pagenaud: The guy who has had a big impact on my career is Gil de Ferran. It started in sports cars and has never stopped. We still talk on the phone just about every week. I call him my Yoda. We have a very similar approach and I believe it’s because he taught me so much. He was an open book when I was driving with him and for him in 2008-2009. He was always been very open to teaching me whatever I wanted to know. I could ask him any question and he would explain everything that went through his mind on the subject when he was racing at the top level of the sport.
I still apply his approach, which is very similar to mine to this day. It’s very nice to have a friend who you can talk to and get advice from.
Mecca of Speed: What is your overall approach to a race weekend and season?
Simon Pagenaud: I study a lot. I trust my talent but I study to be prepared for what may happen. I study all the data and set-up of the racecar. I try to understand what can we make the car better for me at any time during a race with different possible scenarios.
I study the differences from track to track so I know what the best compromise is for the track we are at. Before a race we get together in Charlotte because we live there and go over strategy and possible set-ups.
On Mondays after a race we review what we did during that race.
During the winter I do a lot of work with my engineer. We put together a schedule of all the test days and the things we want to try to accomplish.
That is my overall approach.
Mecca of Speed: Do you use any driving simulators?
Simon Pagenaud: Chevrolet has a great driving simulator back in Charlotte. Every Chevrolet team is giving time on it. It’s like driving in real life, it’s incredible how realistic it is. I have my own simulator at home, which I use just about every day.
Mecca of Speed: Winning the Indianapolis Grand Prix helped you land here at Team Penske. Having raced with a variety of teams, what would you call the Penske difference?
Simon Pagenaud: It’s a much bigger organization and a different type of race team than the ones I have driven for in the past. It’s about understanding the environment and how to get the best out of the whole team.
One thing Team Penske does really well is resolve problems. The engineers here are focused with a goal of everything they do will be the best. There are policies throughout the organization that you need to follow to be in line with the Penske way. If you do that you are in good shape. I’m trying to stick to those standards as much as possible.
The potential of this team is endless. If you are a good driver and adapt to the environment your possibilities for success become much, much stronger. To me this is the best team in the market.
Mecca of Speed: If there was an opportunity to do a one off race again with another team like Peugeot at Le Mans would that interest you or is your focus only with Team Penske?
Simon Pagenaud: I tell you I’m really happy here. I have no desire to go anywhere else. This team is the best team in the world. We are leading the championship and our goal is to win it so I have no desire to do anything else.
You have to dedicate so much time to be successful in this series there is really no time to do anything else. In the future if Penske chooses to go to Le Mans I would love to go back but we have so much to finish in Indycar before thinking about other opportunities.
Mecca of Speed: Now that you have had plenty of testing with this car at Road America, is the aero kit effective for changes to the set-up?
Simon Pagenaud: Yes, you can change a lot of things. The 2016 Chevrolet aero kit fits me a lot better than the 2015 kit. The car is very stable, a lot of down force. It’s all about understanding the aero package so you can then adjust the mechanical package.
So far it’s been working really well. We have been able to get a lot of driver time on track, which I believe is how you get the most out of the car.
Mecca of Speed: You were testing at Watkins Glen at the start of the week. As two old school road courses how does Watkins Gen compare to Road America?
Simon Pagenaud: They are both very similar in the sense of speed is elevated compared to the other track in the series. The room for error is also very small, mistakes are going to have big consequences. I really like that because it shows the best drivers are willing to take more risks and still able to keep the car under control.
I had a great time at Watkins Glen, the new tarmac has a lot of grip. Almost too much grip for an Indycar but we will extract the most out of it and have a good time when we are back there for the race later this season.
Mecca of Speed: Thank you and good luck with the rest of the season.
Simon Pagenaud: Thank you