Q&A with Simon Pagenaud
We're pleased to be joined today by 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series champion of Team Penske, Simon Pagenaud.
Simon, welcome to the call.
SIMON PAGENAUD: Thanks. Glad to be on.
THE MODERATOR: For the last six months, we've talked about how you won your first title, how your dream came true winning that championship. How excited are you to get back behind the wheel of the No. 1 car and race for the first times a champion?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yes, we've had quite a bit of time for good celebration. It was definitely an amazing, amazing feeling. Fantastic 2016 season. I believe all my dreams came true, but also all the stars were aligned. It was a very enjoyable year, probably one of my best years so far.
But it's back to business now. I'm quite excited about it. I'm very, very enthused about what's about to happen in St. Petersburg and the rest of the year. The team, the No. 1 car now, is the exact same team as last year. We expect to unlock even more potential, which gets me very excited.
THE MODERATOR: We mentioned you'll be running the No. 1, signifying your championship in 2016.
Q: Some drivers who have used it had bad luck the following year. Do you believe in that superstition? Do you have any concerns about running No. 1?
SIMON PAGENAUD: No, not at all. I'm not very superstitious really. My only superstition is my routine that I have before the races.
No, I'm excited to run No. 1. It's a testament to a great previous year. It's also a testament and a thank you to our partners at Team Penske. They've followed us into this adventure. They've wanted to be our partners. We won the championship together. It's a way to say thanks to them. Here we are the defending champions.
It's a way to also be proud of what we've done, but also raise our game this year trying to keep it.
THE MODERATOR: If you are able to defend your title, you'll be the first Team Penske driver since Gil de Ferran. You refer to him as your Yoda. Has he given you any advice?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yes. It's actually the word 'defending' we've talked about a lot. Gil and I have a very similar approach on how to go racing. I would say I really understood better what it all meant last year. It's about defending.
Everything is back to zero. The counts are all back to zero. It's all reset. Now it's time to attack, attack a new championship, attack a new year. Last year, if I was so successful, it's because we attacked and we didn't look in the mirrors. The goal is to do the same thing, not defend, but attack a new season coming up.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions for Simon Pagenaud.
Q: Simon, there's several theories about the aero kit freezing this year, whether that means that Penske will retain its possession at the top of the tree or whether that gives other teams a chance to catch up. What is your take on that?
SIMON PAGENAUD: I think it's going to be interesting, for sure. I think it gives a bit of consistency to everybody in trying to understand the aero kit better. The aero world is still not fully understood, so there's always something to learn for everybody, I think. So I do think it's a way for the other teams to catch up.
We've also, I believe, kept improving during the winter because of the hard work of everybody on the race team. I expect us to be very competitive, like we were last year. I also expect other teams to turn things around, maybe like Andretti last year. I expect them to turn things around.
Q: Do you expect Ganassi to pull the Honda
challenge closer to the Chevy's level of dominance?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Absolutely. I think especially Scott Dixon is going to be really strong. He's shown in Sebring that they were going to be there. I expect Scott to be right there fighting for the championship.
And Tony is, I'm sure, going to be very, very strong on the oval with his package.
They're going to have a very strong end in Indy, as well. Let's not forget, it's the biggest race of the year. I think they're going to have a really strong package there. I do think they're going to be a great challenge.
Q: Does it feel like it's been a full year since you won the title, or does it feel like yesterday? Can you explain, with just such a long off-season, how long it seems for you to have won it?
SIMON PAGENAUD: It's been a long off-season, but considering we won the championship, how busy I've been, it feels like a blessing (laughter).
I've had time to prepare really well physically and mentally. Physically, you know, you need a lot of time to get ready to drive these cars, the high downforce that we have these days. It's unbelievable how high our heart rate can be during a race.
I was pleased that I had enough time to get ready. I was pleased that I was able to, you know, control my schedule better because of time. So this year was okay. It does feel like a long time ago, but I feel fresh and ready to go.
Q: With Phoenix being a little later in the schedule, starting off with three road courses, does that change the dynamic at all? Obviously last year your start of the season vaulted you into the position to win the championship. Does the dynamic change at all with three road courses to start off the year?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Well, you know, it's no secret that road course and street course are my strong suits. I'm trying to change the trends on the oval, and it's working out pretty good.
Definitely, for us, on the 1 car, it starts with the tracks that we like. So starting off strong is very important for the championship. It gives you a bit more leverage during the rest of the season. So that's going to be the approach, is to start very strong, score as many points as possible where it's available, then see. But, yeah, that's going to be the goal.
I don't think there's a different approach this year than last year.
Q: Simon, now that you've won your first championship, do you feel clearing that hurdle, has it been a relief for you?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yeah, absolutely, it has been a relief. It also helped me grow into a different position mentally. I feel a lot more clear in my head because I'm not stressing about getting my first championship.
We always said that the first one's the hardest to get. I hope that's true. But I do feel more relieved, and definitely more focused on the actual job and not the results.
Q: Do you see yourself changing your approach this year, coming off of a title, or do you still have the same approach as usual?
SIMON PAGENAUD: No, my approach is going to be to attack and be aggressive when I need to be. Try to maximize the opportunity when I have a winning car in my hands, to score as many points as possible when I'm not having a good day.
That approach is the same as 2016. It worked for me.
I think I just found my stride. I found my line to walk on, and I'm going to keep doing that.
Q: Simon, we saw you driving in Embarcadero in San Francisco last year, winning flag-to-flag in Sonoma. Are you planning to do the same thing this year? How ready are you to do it?
SIMON PAGENAUD: It was definitely a great promotion stunt from INDYCAR in Sonoma, to drive downtown San Francisco. It's such a touristic place, that's how you're going to reach the most people with INDYCAR. It was a really good job from INDYCAR there, just
showing what an Indy car is on the street. It was fantastic. I was so glad to be part of it.
On that race, that race at Sonoma, I just felt like I had to take my destiny in my own hands. I went and tried to put the best weekend of my career together, which I did. My team helped me tremendously at doing the same thing.
This year, I'm planning on just being one with my team, being one with my car, and trying to maximize again my opportunities. Hopefully we can have domination again. I don't know what the future is going to hold, but I'm planning on doing a similar thing by being aggressive.
Q: You talked earlier about being very busy, all the demands that are on an Indy car driver. Social media has been added in the last few years. It's something that a lot of drivers do. It can take up a lot of time. How do you manage that extra that you have to do now being an Indy car driver?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yes, it's a great question. It is difficult, you know. As popularity rises, you really need to be careful about your schedule. The cell phones these days, you know, the technology is incredible.
You can be reached anywhere in the world at any time of the day, via email, via phone, or social media.
You don't really have any time for resting, and you can't really put yourself on the side. Also in this job, you need to be available any time of the day because something might pop up.
The schedule is very difficult to keep in line. There's always something coming up. Even though you may have something else planned, you need to make changes.
It's discipline. It's discipline. It's not something easy to do. But, you know, you need to surround yourself with the right people that can help you deal with your schedule and deal with social media for the right things, and guide you through what's the right message to send in terms of, you know, what you need to do for your fan base, what do they want to see, what do they want to hear from you.
It's an interesting thing that's really evolving. It's a business. It's becoming very interesting because you can really target what you want to do and why. So it's good to see.
Q: Are there things about it that you really like? Are there things that you would change when you see something you don't like?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Well, the biggest thing is you can't go out and party like crazy on Saturday night. There might be a picture coming up on your social media feed (laughter). You do have to be careful about things like that because, you know, you represent brands and partners. They want you to show the right image. And you should as an athlete do that and be mindful of that.
It's just that you have to be careful and think about these little things you might not think of an a daily basis. But it's important because you represent something, and people expect something from you.
You know, I think popularity is always something that people seek for, but it is also a discipline. You need to be careful what you do and how you do it. I wouldn't change it. It's the way it is. But it's an interesting society we're in right now.
Q: INDYCAR has always been much more open with fans. But this is another level of openness. You can actually talk one-on-one to people if you really want.
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yeah, it's definitely very open. I think that's what the fan wants. They want to know what you're up to, what you do, what's your passion.
Myself, I follow athletes sometimes and celebrities just to see what they do because we're all curious about that. It is very different. It's an interactive relationship. It's quite interesting.
It's a very open world, and there's no limits any more to reaching out to people. It's pretty cool to see.
Q: Simon, I understand your entire team has returned for the 2017 season. How unusual, in your career, is it for a whole group to come back, as guys change teams kind of as a routine? Is that something you campaigned for, to get the whole group back together?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yes, it definitely is. It's phenomenal to see that my team remained exactly the same. That's something that, you know, Roger, for example, always talks about human capital. It is something that I live for, that sentence.
I do believe in consistency being the key to success in racing. It's a job where everything is changing every second of the day. You might be fastest in practice one at 10:30 in the morning, and then the next practice you might be 20th. Everything changes really quickly. It's not like a business where you get your results every quarter. Racing changes all the time.
If you can have the least amount of changes, keep the same people onboard, you can find consistency, and it helps you gain time on things. I'm very excited about having every one of my guys back together. The crew is exactly the same. My engineer, Ben Bretzman, has been with me since 2010. Kyle Moyer is going to be my strategist.
It's very exciting. For me it's a source of motivation.
Q: When you reviewed the 2016 season, how long did that take? Did you look at every race, break it down that way, or just go through the highlights? SIMON PAGENAUD: Yeah, it took us a long time. We sat down for about two weeks with Ben Bretzman and Kyle Moyer to go through the whole season, practice, even test days, practice, practice, qualifying, race, review every single stint, every single time I was on black tires or red tires. Tried to understand what was good at the time, what wasn't good, comparing our notes.
It's a long process, but something I really enjoy doing. It helps me gather data for myself as a driver going into the next season.
Q: In terms of the popularity of INDYCAR within France, have you seen it spike? This is the first time I've heard so many French journalists on the line on one of these conferences. I'm hoping that's an encouraging sign that IndyCar is gathering momentum in your home country, maybe mainland Europe in general.
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yes, I was thinking the same thing actually. It's a good surprise to see the interest growing there. I was very pleased to hear that. Canal Plus is doing a tremendous job on the TV to show the races. They found that French people really enjoying the racing, really enjoy the competition of IndyCar.
Obviously it helped, you know, to have a Frenchman win the championship last year. I'm very proud to carry the colors, and I'm very proud that it's definitely picking up over there, as well.
I think the interest in Formula One has gone down, for the reason that, you know, they love IndyCar for the opposite reasons: because it's such high competition. I think that's the reason. I hope we can keep growing it over there.
Q: What do you think would be the biggest factor, the biggest difference, for what you would have to do this year to win the title compared to last year? SIMON PAGENAUD: It's a tough question. I can't read in the future. I would really struggle to say that.
But one of the first ones that comes to my mind is just adapting to the new PFC brakes really, compared to last year. That's going to be the only difference on the racecar. That might change the way the car behaves on entry of the corner since you're trail braking into the corners with those cars.
You know, I think what you have to deal with is sometimes the outside factors, you know. You may have good luck one weekend, things might go really well. Some other weekends it might not be the case.
You can't control it. You just have to bounce back or keep going depending on the success. But I think the main thing is to remain walking on the line I've been walking on, finding the limits and not going above or under, and keeping that a trend during the season.
Also, you know, keeping my crew, keeping my guys, motivated throughout the season with zero pressure on them, so they can focus on the task at the time. I think that's going to be key.
That's really what I'm going to focus on. Yeah, just trying to focus on the job only, not focus on results.
Q: Do you feel there is more pressure on you or your team to back up what you did last year? SIMON PAGENAUD: No. I feel less pressure because, for me, I'm talking only for myself, for me, I was always stressed out or anxious about not getting my first championship in IndyCar. So now that it's done, I feel like, you know, since I've done it once, I can do it again. It's just a matter of, you know, providing my best game on the table, to the table. That's really what I would say about that.
Q: Do you feel like last year was your best year? Did you feel like you did everything kind of the best that you had done?
The goal is to raise that game again this year, find new limits. I've been able to do that every year, raise my game every year, and improve areas where I wasn't happy about myself.
Last year was definitely my best year since I started racing.
Q: Simon, an off-the-wall question. What are your dog Norman's plan for the season? Last year you seemed to think he was definitely a positive for you in terms of winning your championship.
SIMON PAGENAUD: He has been and he still is. He's a joy in our family, that's for sure. He's a great dog. He just turned a year old. He just packed his bag today.
He's ready to go tomorrow (laughter).
It's great. For me just going back to the motorhome, having him there, no matter what the day is, if it's a good or bad day, he's always the same. It brings me a sense of consistency in emotion. I think it also helps you relating on a bad day, finding positive out of it.
I think that's really what he does. He's some kind of therapy for me.
THE MODERATOR: Seeing as we have no further questions, we will conclude today's call and thank Simon for his time today.
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