As Simon Pagenaud topped the podium at the Indianapolis GP this month, you could clearly tell he was savouring every drop of champagne. And who could blame him? After all, it had been a long time between drinks for the likeable French driver. Before his breathtaking masterclass in the challenging, changeable conditions on the Indianapolis road course, Pagenaud’s last victory was at the Sonoma season finale… two years ago.
For the 2016 IndyCar champion the win drought was hard to swallow and even harder to comprehend, making his victory last time out all the sweeter.
“I guess this is the sweetest victory I’ve ever had. We did everything right this weekend and slowly but surely we got there” said Pagenaud.
With the monkey firmly off his back and his confidence riding high, Pagenaud is now keen to follow in the footsteps of his team-mate Will Power, who went on to clinch his first Indianapolis 500 victory after dominating the Grand Prix last year. He’s certainly made a good start towards bringing Roger Penske a staggering eighteenth victory at the Speedway, putting his bright yellow Chevrolet on pole during a tense qualifying weekend.
“This is the best day of my life so far,” said Pagenaud. “Obviously, it’s one of the most stressful days in racing, but being able to get it done today is just awesome. We’re in racing to win and Penske aims to dominate, it’s just an honour to be a part of this team. I’m ready to win this thing now, let’s go do it.”
Despite having grown up in Europe the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is still special to Pagenaud. He gets the tradition, the history and that indescribable ‘something’ that makes this place and this race something different, something beyond a regular event.
“The attendance here is amazing, being the biggest sporting event with regards to so many people in one place. But there’s also a kind of aura around the race track, almost like an electricity. It’s a legendary place where speed records have been broken, and it’s the fastest anyone goes on a closed circuit. For all those reasons and more, it makes this above any other race.
“You get a real buzz here. My first time was actually very intimidating, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. I got very emotional before the start, just being part of it. And now being able to fight for the victory is even more special. I think for me as a racer and a competitor I want to race to win, so being able to master this unique place and have a car to do it with is incredible.”
It’s fair to say that Pagenaud’s turn around in fortunes, and on-track entertainment, has already been pretty incredible this month of May. It might be almost 100 years since a Frenchman last won the Indianapolis 500 but, on current form, it’s hard to bet against ‘Pags’ adding his likeness to the iconic Borg Warner Trophy on Sunday afternoon.