IndyCar Season Preview: Simon Pagenaud

Photo credit: Ned Leone

#77 Hewlett-Packard Dallara-Honda, Schmidt/Hamilton Motorsports

Born: May 18, 1984

Hometown: Poitiers, France

2011 HIGHLIGHTS: Pagenaud competed in three IndyCar races in 2011, twice as an injury replacement at Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and once at HVM Racing when Simona de Silvestro could not make it to Infineon due to a customs issue. His best finish was eighth at Barber. Meanwhile, Pagenaud also finished second in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Peugeot that he shared with fellow French IndyCar driver Sebastien Bourdais.

2011 LOWLIGHTS: Pagenaud had planned to run the Indianapolis 500 for Highcroft Racing, running a blue No. 16 that hearkened back to some of the race’s earliest, French-born winners, but sponsorship failed to materialize.

SEASON OUTLOOK: The 2006 Atlantic Series champion will compete full-time in major American open-wheel racing for the first time since he finished eighth in the 2007 Champ Car World Series. Pagenaud inherits the flagship car at Sam Schmidt Motorsports, which won the pole at Indianapolis with Alex Tagliani behind the wheel and scored plenty of solid road and street course finishes.

That should bode well for Pagenaud, whose bread and butter has always been turning both ways. The 2010 American Le Mans Series champion has raced on most of the series’ road and street circuits, whether in ALMS, Champ Car, or IndyCar. Meanwhile, the ovals will mark a completely new challenge for the flying Frenchman. Much like Bourdais, his countryman, Le Mans teammate, and former Champ Car rival, his overall finishing position at the end of the season should be decent thanks to a road and street-heavy schedule, but his ability to adapt to ovals will determine whether this team can finish in the top 10 or lag somewhere between 11th and 20th.

- Chris Leone

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