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Simon Pagenaud's journey to the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series championship included the help of many people and he was able to take his longtime engineer Ben Bretzman along for the ride.
The two have been together since the 2010 American Le Mans Series season with team owner Gil de Ferran. It continued with a fulltime Verizon IndyCar Series ride with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports before Team Penske hired Pagenaud for the 2015 season.
It culminated with Pagenaud's spectacular championship season this year. Pagenaud was part of a celebration that took him all over the United States and to his home country of France that lasted into mid-November.
Bretzman's celebration, however, was much shorter.
“After Sonoma (the season finale GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sept. 18), we flew out Monday and were back to work on Thursday,” Bretzman said. “My wife and I and daughter went on a short vacation a few weeks ago, but besides that it's been work.
“It's tough because as a team we won 10 races (in 2016) and it set the bar pretty high. Simon's average finish was 6.2 for the season and that is a very high bar. To try to do that again takes a lot of work. It's head down onto next year already.”
The good news, according to Bretzman, is the aero kit rules that are frozen for 2017 will make it easier for the teams to work on things as they are. The team has confidence from the success with the 2016 Chevrolet aero kit and will try to make finite gains on that package.
After a disappointing 2015 season when Pagenaud did not win a race, had just one pole and finished 11th in the standings, Bretzman helped engineer a spectacular 2016 season. In Bretzman's mind, this team can continue to achieve success in the upcoming seasons.
“Team Penske-wise for 2017, there is no reason we can't win more than 10 races,” Bretzman said. “With the driver lineup going into 2017, we could finish 1-2-3-4 in the championship. The potential is amazing.
“As for Simon and the No. 22 group, the one that keeps slipping away is the Indianapolis 500. In 2015 and 2016, both of those races I felt we were very strong. His mentality for how to race 500 miles at Indy is very strong. He is going to win that race. We have had such a good car the last two years, it's disappointing we haven't won that one. We just have to make it happen.
“The potential is limitless. We have a really good package at almost every racetrack. We'll see. It's up to the racing gods after that.”
The addition of 25-year-old driver Josef Newgarden to a team that already includes 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves and defending champion Pagenaud could push the team even further with Newgarden’s young, aggressive driving style.
“Josef brings a new energy that wasn't here the last two years and it's going to be fun,” Bretzman said. “I've tried to talk to him about what we went through in 2015 with Simon. You want to set your expectations high, but (team owner) Roger Penske and (team president) Tim Cindric understand it takes a little time to gel.
“It's exciting. He's very talented. We were lucky enough to have him test at Elkhart Lake and Gateway. He is extremely talented. He is going to be really good over the next few years how he grows over the group. He is going to push all of our drivers in every discipline.”