Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud covering all bases in IndyCar title chase


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What are the odds of an IndyCar driver having a perfect season while contending with high-speed ovals, wall-lined street circuits, teammates amassing 72 career wins and rivals maniacally driving around him?

Simon Pagenaud is trying to find out. Actually, we all are.

Pagenaud has been so close to spotless this season, the only things to scrutinize are a couple unlucky mechanical issues, two untimely caution flags and teammate Will Power’s midseason counterpunch.

Pagenaud has won three races, finished second in three others, won five poles and not put a dent in Roger Penske’s cars this season. Has he even touched wheels with another driver? Probably, but the sidewall lettering on his tires remains legible.

The one-time American Le Mans Series champion has been so good, so consistent, so flawless, the only reason he hasn’t wrapped up his first IndyCar championship is because Power has been even hotter in recent weeks, finishing first, first, second and first from June 5 to July 17.



Photo: Pagenaud takes the checkered at Barber Motorsports Park

Simon Pagenaud takes the checkered at Barber Motorsports Park.


The four-race hot streak has allowed Power to gain 77 points on Pagenaud during that stretch, and the gap between them—47 points heading to Mid-Ohio—is more than can be erased in a regular race.

The other reason Power has even crept back into title contention is because Pagenaud seems to have been slapped with bad luck at every turn lately. An unspecified engine problem popped up late in the Indianapolis 500, leading to a 19th-place finish. If that wasn’t bad enough, the 500 is one of two races this season where double points are distributed.

Pagenaud went to Detroit’s Belle Isle circuit in early June and in the first race led half the laps. Problem was, a caution came out at the wrong time, forcing him back in the pack. Then, on the last lap, he had no choice but to slow dramatically to finish with fuel in the tank. Instead of winning, he finished 13th, a 30-plus-point difference.

At Road Atlanta’s June 26 race, Pagenaud was primed to finish second until a similar engine gremlin resurfaced. Again, he should have finished second. Again, he finished 13th.

Toronto’s July 17 race dealt the 32-year-old Frenchman yet another cruel ending. He was tracking with race leader Scott Dixon en route to podium finishes when the caution came out before they could make their final pit stop. Because Power and others had stopped before them and stayed on the lead lap, they got the all-important track position. Dixon and Pagenaud were forced to scramble, finishing eighth and ninth, respectively.



Photo: Simon Pagenaud


Add up the points Pagenaud lost through no fault of his own, and he leads Power by at least 140 points heading to the final five races. That was his message to team officials after Toronto.

“Guys, I haven’t made a mistake yet,” he told race strategist Kyle Moyer and engineer Ben Bretzman. “Yes, it’s going to be tough to do a full season without doing a mistake, but I believe it’s possible, and we’re nearly there.

“Certainly, I think we’ve run some really good races. Lady Luck hasn’t been our side lately, between the technical issues and two yellows that caught us out in Detroit and Toronto. You can’t account for everything, although we’re trying to.”

Pagenaud was on pace to shatter Power’s modern-era points record in an IndyCar season (671). Now in his fifth season in this series, Pagenaud still could break the mark, but the championship is what matters.

If Team Penske’s equipment holds, the No. 22 crew continues to deliver error-free pit stops and Pagenaud keeps driving as cleanly as he has all season, that season title will come, in part because of Power’s inconsistency.












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