Simon Pagenaud might have finished second at Saturday’s Phoenix Grand Prix, but he’s currently first in the Verizon IndyCar Series championship standings. Pagenaud’s back to back runner-up placements in the first two races of the 2016 season have given him a four-point lead over defending series champion Scott Dixon.
That’s a far cry from the 2015 campaign where he struggled to even get the No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet on the podium. During Saturday’s post race press conference at Phoenix International Raceway, Pagenaud told media members including IndyCar Examiner how he feels about his strong start to the new season – and being number one.
“It was an interesting night, totally,” Pagenaud reflected. “It was exactly as difficult as I thought it was going to be. It was a great race. Very, very difficult to follow people, very difficult to get your balance right on the car, but we started with a lot of oversteer, struggled a little bit the first two stints, were having a lot of tire degradation.
“We adjusted really well in the race, but then we caught a yellow at the wrong time…so went a lap down, but fortunately my guys were just fantastic in the pits,” he continued. “I just want to say that’s when you see how much of a team sport this is. The guys have been tremendous since St. Pete.
“We were able to save a bit of fuel [on] the one stint before the end, and they did a magic pit stop so they put me back in the front. Once you’re in the front with clean air, it’s a lot easier and the car was spot on,” he concluded. “I was quite content with second. We’re building championship contention, so [I’m] pretty happy tonight.”
The Frenchman has had the strong start that many were looking for when he signed with Team Penske as a free agent before the 2015 season. Pagenaud was regarded then as the biggest driver on the market and coming to one of the top teams in IndyCar, he was expected to make an impact.
Instead, he finished 11th overall and only reached the podium twice. His two second-place finishes mean that he’s already eclipsed his best results from all of last year, which were a pair of third-place drives at Detroit and Mid-Ohio. And he now gets to enjoy, at least for two weeks, being the top driver in the championship hunt. How does that feel?
“That’s great,” he enthused. “It’s according to plan. Everything that didn’t go well last year is going well now. I had a lot of help from my guys, but I also had a great race car thanks to the team, and we’ve just got to keep doing exactly that. It’s great to see [his teammate] Will [Power] back and great to see he’s also healthy, and to be able to put it all together is cool.”
“This wasn’t my strong suit in the past,” Pagenaud concluded, pointing out that he also landed a career best on Saturday at Phoenix. “That’s my best result on a short oval. It’s not where I’ve been the most comfortable in the past, so now things are changing. If where we’re weak we finish second, that’s really good. It’s a long championship, and I’m trying to be consistent.”
Pagenaud will look to hang on to the top spot in two weeks when IndyCar action resumes at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on Apr. 17, 2016. Tickets and complete race information are available at the venue’s website.
For more on the Verizon IndyCar Series, visit the league’s website.