INDIANAPOLIS – Many times over, the fastest driver does not win the race.
Perhaps that is why there is a quiet confidence coming from the reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion, Simon Pagenaud.
And there should be. He drives for Team Penske – the 16-time Indianapolis 500 champions.
“I think it is 50 years of experience for our team that makes the difference,” said Pagenaud, driver of the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet.
“We … failed to make one race in ’94, so they’ve been on the back foot once out of 50 some years. It’s an impressive group. Honestly, we’ve got the best people in the paddock. We’ve got the best strategists, best crew and I believe best preparation as well. The race is different than qualifying, you’re talking about four laps against 200 laps and it’s a lot more than just speed in the race.
“We saw it last year with (Ryan) Hunter-Reay and Townsend Bell getting together during pit stops, a lot of incidents in pit lane. I do see that as something very important during the race, so it’s not just about speed on track.
“It’s going to take a lot more than that to win this race and I think we have all of the ingredients.”
An added benefit for the 33-year-old Frenchman is coming into today’s 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil after claiming his first oval win last month at Phoenix Raceway. A big reason for his oval prowess, he puts the emphasis on the mental strategy involved.
“You’ve got to drive more with your head and that’s something I enjoy,” Pagenaud said. “The key is to master it and understand it in a way to be successful. One guy that I’ve always looked up to was Dario Franchitti. I think it was a very similar style to mine and I have a very similar style to his, and he was very good at picking his moments. I enjoy that.
“I enjoy when a plan goes well and that’s what I like. That’s me.”
The 10-time Verizon IndyCar Series race winner isn’t concerned about starting 23rd today, believing the long race enables an opportunity to discover what is needed in order to become a threat. It is also a confidence booster when you can move toward the front.
“You learn so much when you are in traffic at the back,” said Pagenaud, who has a best Indy 500 finish of eighth in 2013.
“You learn a lot at the beginning of the race, so you have time to adjust the car and go forward. Whereas when you start at the front, if you ever go to the back, you lose confidence and it’s really hard to adjust the car and come back to the front by the end of the race. So I think it’s better to have a trend that goes upward than downwards.”
All five Team Penske entries have lacked some pace on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, but Pagenaud remains confident he can contend for the victory.
“I think we can, yes,” said Pagenaud. “We have a really good race car. We don’t have the outright speed like the Hondas, but we do have everything else that we need. All the ingredients, like the crew, pit stops, are really important here – we have about seven pit stops. That counts in the race. Strategist, for me, Kyle Moyer has been excellent all year long. My engineer (Ben Bretzman) has been awesome with adjustments with the car, too.
“I do think I have everything else to win the race.”
The 101st Indianapolis 500 airs live on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network beginning at 11 a.m. ET today.