(This story originally appeared as exclusive content on the INDYCAR Mobile app.)
SONOMA, Calif. – As Simon Pagenaud and his Team Penske crew were wildly celebrating the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series championship-clinching victory in Victory Lane at Sonoma Raceway, Kyle Moyer was back in the paddock by himself looking over teammate Will Power’s Chevrolet Indy car.
Moyer is a team manager at Team Penske. He is in charge of Pagenaud’s No. 22 Chevrolet and its crew, including calling the race strategy for the talented driver from France. When Team Penske hired Pagenaud after the 2014 season to expand to a four-driver lineup, Moyer was lured away from his longtime job at Andretti Autosport where he oversaw that team’s four-car effort in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
With Moyer calling the race strategy, Ben Bretzman serving as the engineer and Pagenaud behind the wheel of the No. 22 Chevrolet, it appeared to be a championship in the making. But instead of success in 2015, it didn’t come until 2016.
So as the confetti cannons were firing away in Victory Lane and Pagenaud was drinking red wine from the crystal goblet trophy that goes to race winners at Sonoma Raceway, Moyer was not part of that crowd. He was enjoying the self-satisfaction of the championship season alone in an area he feels most comfortable – the INDYCAR paddock.
“It’s good,” Moyer said. “You had a good year and we needed to finish it. It got finished right and it got finished in the right way.
“We left no doubts.”
In 2015, the expectations for this team were high but instead Pagenaud didn’t win a race, claimed just one pole and finished 11th in the final Verizon IndyCar Series standings.
This year, Pagenaud led the series in victories with five, poles with seven and won the championship by 127 points, the largest margin of victory since Alex Zanardi beat Jimmy Vasser by 119 points in 1998.
“In the middle of the season last year, I remember Juan Pablo Montoya sat with me and Simon and Ben and said, ‘Just be patient – it will all come together,’” Moyer recalled. “At the same time, the whole team after last year left this team with a sour taste in the mouth. Everyone on the team and in the shop worked hard to make sure that wasn’t going to happen.
“We went from losing the championship based on tiebreaker last year (Montoya losing to Scott Dixon) to Team Penske finishing 1-2-3 in the championship.”
Pagenaud’s championship finish followed by teammates Power and Helio Castroneves gave Team Penske its first 1-2-3 sweep in the championship since Al Unser Jr. won the title over Emerson Fittipaldi and Paul Tracy in 1994.
It was also Team Penske’s 14th Indy car in the team’s 50th anniversary of racing.
This year’s key to the championship may have been a fourth-place finish in the conclusion of the Firestone 600 that had been rained out on June 12 and completed Aug. 27. In the closing laps, Pagenaud went to the outside to go four-wide for the victory before deciding not to risk it. He backed off and settled for fourth place instead of possibly ending up on the hook of a tow truck if he had crashed.
That move allowed him to gain 10 points on Power, who finished eighth that night.
It was a risk-versus-reward situation and the driver believed the reward of a championship was bigger than taking the risk of crashing.
“I think that was a good way toward it,” Moyer said. “That’s probably the only time we actually looked at it and thought, ‘What do we have to do to win the championship?’ The rest of the time we tried to stay aggressive. Everybody said if you are going to do this, you have to stay aggressive.
“We were aggressive at Sonoma and it all worked out. I think Simon drove great. He settled in and he feels confident. Once you feel confident – ask any driver that wins a championship and they will tell you it came in a year when they felt most confident.”
The 2016 championship was Moyer’s first since Ryan Hunter-Reay won the 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. He began that year on top of Hunter-Reay’s pit box, but midway through the year switched with team owner Michael Andretti and went over to call Marco Andretti’s race strategy.
So this is the first championship with a driver that he called race strategy for an entire season since Dario Franchitti won the 2007 title for what was then Andretti Green Racing.
“This never gets old,” Moyer said. “We go into the offseason trying to make it better. This year we went 1-2-3 in the championship – next year we have to find a way to sweep the top four in the championship.
“That’s kind of greedy, but that’s what we need to do.”
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