Simon Pagenaud is no stranger to speed. First as an American Le Mans Series champion and then as the IZOD IndyCar Series’ latest Sunoco Rookie of the Year, “Pags” has shown true skill in whatever the motorsport discipline at hand might be.
Most recently, Pagenaud was able to test a Global Rally Cross Ford Fiesta at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The Schmidt Hamilton Racing driver joined INDYCAR Nation to talk about that experience, his excellent 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series rookie campaign, his plans for next year, and a couple of questions on driver and team chemistry.
Simon, thank you so much for your time. I understand you recently were able to participate in a test of the Global Rally Cross Ford Fiesta. How was the experience overall?
Pags: Growing up, I was always a huge fan of the World Rally Championship. In the past three years I have competed in some rallies and when i go home to France, I own a car that I use on a dirt track.
When I realized how much GRC was growing in the USA I thought it could be an opportunity for me to enjoy my passion for this kind of racing. Sam Schmidt hooked me up with team OMSE Olsberg to drive at Las Vegas Motor Speedway!
I enjoyed it very much as I love changing conditions and the sensation of driving on dirt. Those cars have a lot of power for their level of grip and I have to say driving sideways is immensely fun!
In terms of setup and adjustments you're able to make, what is the biggest difference between an IndyCar and the Rally Cross experience?
Pags: On both cars there are multiple options obviously on springs, ride height, and anti roll bars. The IndyCar will need a different compromise as its center of gravity is a lot lower and its tires have more grip. The IndyCar is a 2WD and the rallycross is a 4WD which means its twice as complicated to set up both differential.
I would say the biggest difference is the body movement. An IndyCar is fairly stiff. The rallycross car needs compliance because you go from tarmac to dirt so a lot of grip comes from the mechanical set up being as soft as you can sustain it.
Is that something you'd consider doing more of in the future?
Pags: Absolutely. I strongly believe that driving is the best training. Whether you drive on an oval, on dirt, on snow, a rally cross car, an IndyCar or a kart, you are always improving and perfecting your reflexes, eye coordination, mental abilities, and balance.
I am considering entering a few events in the very near future.
It's not a stretch to say you absolutely dominated the Sunoco Rookie of the Year contest. With that accomplishment, what sort of goals have you set for yourself in your upcoming second full season in IndyCar?
Pags: 2012 has been a blessing. We exceeded our expectation as a team and for me as a driver. There are always gains to make here and there, though.
We tested a few days ago at Barber and SSM has kept the same group on the 77 car; therefore everything is very smooth and efficient! Every driver has one goal which is to win, or forget it, you should do something else. Now my goal is to extract the best out of every situation, then we will see where we need to be in the championship at the end of 2013.
How would you describe your chemistry with the team at Schmidt Hamilton Racing? Is this a team where you'd like to see yourself here for the long haul?
Pags: I felt very welcome last year. I knew most members of the team already, which made it a lot easier. Those guys already had confidence in me and that was important.
My engineer and I captured the ALMS 2010 championship so the chemistry was pretty much flawless from the get go. We also have a moto which is to have fun in what we do so it will go even better.
It’s all dependent on SSM, my intention is to be in a position to contend for the championship every year.
Of course, there's plenty of speculation about you getting a teammate at Schmidt Hamilton Racing next year. As a driver, what can the right teammate bring to your racing effort? What can a poor teammate take away?
Pags: The right teammate could help us get double the information for the racecar and also on the driving. Engineers could share car data, i could share my driving data and his, and therefore go forward. It would also give a benchmark on where we really are in comparison to the competition.
In the case of double headers, it becomes even more important to have a teammate to collect enough information for the 2nd event. 2-car teams, even 3 car teams will have more opportunities to increase their performance compared to a single car team.
A poor teammate could bring a complete different atmosphere to the team, a waste of energy and focus from the members of the team. It would also induce some confusion in the data collected throughout the season.
There was some speculation you might have a learning curve on ovals last year, but instead you showed some speed, especially at places like Iowa and Texas. What type of skill set do you need to succeed on ovals, versus a road or street course?
Pags: I only know how I approached it myself and what worked and what didn't work. I am still very upset at myself for my mistakes in the pits at Milwaukee and Texas which cost me results. In the meantime it was a great experience and taught me what to do going into pit lane. I tried to remain as calm as possible and mostly tried to be one with the car as much as possible by understanding what she wanted me to do. Of course the difficult part is running in traffic. It requires you to be curious and explore different lanes. I have enjoyed that very much and found myself falling for the ovals. I am not planning on changing my approach next year as I still have a lot to learn and i know it can still bite me pretty hard, so patience will be the base of my foundation.
Over to sports cars for a moment. You won an ALMS championship in 2010. What are your feelings on the upcoming ALMS/GRAND-AM merger?
Pags: It seems to be a great opportunity for the sport. I hope we will continue to see fascinating cars like the Audi R18 or the Acura ARX 02 A. I believe it will be great for the fans. They will have the opportunity to see endurance racing grow into one big series with more cars, more drivers, the best from each side fighting against each other. It also means that sponsors will know better where to go since there will only be one series and therefore better return for them. Big events is what makes a series grow. Endurance racing in the US will become very attractive for drivers, teams, fans, sponsors if they have events such as Daytona 24, Sebring 12h, and Petit Le Mans!
Let's change gears here. Now that you've had ample time to hang around Indianapolis, what's your favorite place here (outside of the Speedway, of course!)?
Pags: My favorite place is Eagle Creek Park. I would love to build a house on the Lake. It’s beautiful and I wish I could wake up with that view. I love nature and trails, so I can go for a run, there's water for kayaking, and the trees make my day!
Can you imagine having a dock on the lake where i could drink my POT of coffee every morning!! Quite delightful!
How's the offseason going? Any big plans?
Pags: I have enjoyed the off season so far! What i enjoy most in the off season is working with the team on plans to improve. We review the previous season race by race and try to improve our situation. Of course there is a lot I can improve on my side, and I'm always looking at finding more here and there. I have also had the opportunity to go home to France and realize the impact of our season there as well. I went to Australia for the V8 Supercar race, I have been testing in sports cars on an HPD car, as you know I also tested in Rally Cross. I'm also trying to put my Rally program together in France for the 2013 season.
What does staying fit in the offseason consist of?
Pags: The offseason is THE opportunity to raise your game for next season. After one season I know what I need to work on. I have to work on my neck, my arms and my back. There is no power steering in an IndyCar, and it is the most physical race car I have ever driven. Therefore drivers have to be athletes and dedicate lots of time to their fitness programs.
My training program consists of running , cycling, training at the gym and rowing. Ideally you want to train almost every day to prepare your body. Training during the season is difficult because of all the travel and recovery time needed.
We're into the holiday season. Any big Christmas wishes or something on your list to Santa Claus?
Pags: Christmas wishes!! I'm wishing that I will have the best season ever and drive better than I could imagine in 2013! Also wishing good health and happiness to everyone.